Drake Is Corny and Courageous

The rapper's new album, Nothing Was the Same, honors hip-hop's past, present and future.

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Album cover for Drake's Nothing Was the Same

(The Root) -- Drake's new album, Nothing Was the Same, sold more than 658,000 units in its first week, with the single "Hold On, We're Going Home" demoting Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" from the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The Toronto-born-and-bred MC's personal best week ever puts him in second place this year to Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience in most first-week album sales.

Damn! At least the people agree on something: Drake has the pedal to the metal on pop culture. The numbers don't lie. And neither do I.

As a hip-hop scholar and aficionado, I'm always asked to reveal my favorite rapper. That's difficult because it assumes that hip-hop culture is a static lifestyle with fixed ideas, perspectives and modes of storytelling. So I'm usually quite skeptical about naming just one person to the throne. I've resolved this issue by creating "Dr. Joyce's 2013 AP Class of MCs." Right now my No. 2 Advanced Placement MC is Aubrey "Drake" Graham, and here are three reasons the singer-rapper gets prime real estate on my list:

1. Drake is hip-hop's clutch MC. In basketball there is the point guard, and then there's that whiz kid shooter positioned just beyond the three-point arc during win-or-lose moments. He's primed to take the shot when the ball touches his hand. Swoosh! Nothing but net with the flick of an accurate wrist. That's Drake. When he gets the ball, he scores. Love him or hate him. His form might not be the same as the others' -- he might even look corny when he plays -- but still, he makes it happen, forcing everyone who loves the game to respect him.

2. Like Drake's sentiments in "Furthest Thing," my taste in music is "somewhere between psychotic and iconic" -- which brings me to the second reason Drake is my clutch player. Somewhere within the extremes of off-the-wall madness and vogue exceptionality, the 26-year-old megastar feminizes hip-hop, and that's not a bad thing. As I wrote that last sentence, I could feel my hypermasculine, overly aggressive hip-hop heads saying, "Hip-hop ain't 'bout feminizing."

Actually, it is. Hip-hop is rooted in the womb of safe spaces that offer opportunities to celebrate success as well as express frustrations, vulnerabilities, secrets and codes about love, loss, grief and hustling. Somewhere along the way, many MCs neglected to remember this. Not Drizzy.

Of the 15 songs on his 69-minute compilation, nine of them address relationship issues with women, family and friends. The others are odes to poppin' bottles, cashin' big checks or falling victim to the beguiling female passions. Funny how he always seems to refer back to experiences with love and lust even when he veers off into the brash braggadocio of hip-hop.

 

3. Whether through sampling, interpolations or features, NWTS honors the past, present and future of hip-hop culture. I can hear Fat Pat's verse from "25 Lighters" chopped and screwed on "Connect," as well as crunk inspiration from Lil Jon's "Who U Wit" on "Started From the Bottom." More than anything, however, Drake populates NWTS with references to Wu-Tang Clan, showing his special affinity for the mark Wu left on hip-hop.

I'm a huge fan of the nine-member collective, owning all Clan and solo member albums, along with the Wu-Tang Manual, which the group's primary producer, The RZA, published in 2005. Suffice it to say, my Wu roots run deep, and so do Drake's. It's clear on a couple of cuts: "Pound Cake," which features Jay Z and a Timbaland-inspired interpolation of Wu's "C.R.E.A.M."; "Worst Behaviour," a nod to Ol' Dirty Bastard; and "Tuscan Leather," one to Cappadonna.

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