Each year, Big Ghost Ltd, as "Ghostface Killah" does the world a great service by creating a well-crafted and deeply contemplated list documenting the "10 Softest Niggas (or Rappers) in the Game." This July, the sixth annual hit the interwebs. Drake naturally made number three in 2014 and number two in 2013. That year, he described Drizzy as: "Drake aka the Patron Saint of Tenderness aka the Human Glee Episode aka The Inventor of the Audio Scrunchie aka the Merchant of Cuddles otherwise known as The Wizard of Pause." In 2011, Drake scored spots one, two, and three on the list. This is why the internet doesn't suck.
I had already read a review of Drake Vs Lil Wayne before attending the bromantic rappers' show Wednesday night at Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach. So I knew what was coming, like word for word. The two throw jabs at each other, soft-ass insults, and sometime during the middle, the audience votes for one or the other to win the battle through an app. Lil Wayne rightfully won this show. But it's probably rigged, because the crowd cheered more for Drizzy.
I'll talk about that more later, but first, I want to address the idea of softness in hip-hop and explore the way that softness was exemplified by these YMCMB superstars.
To begin, there are two issues at play here: authenticity and masculinity. You can assume that being soft is sort of a castrating adjective, and it is, but there's more to it than that.
So, I'd like to circumvent the ideas surrounding how women are portrayed in rap, the lyrical and visual objectification of females by those in the genre. That's a whole 'nother bucket of crazy, and a somewhat adjacent issue. The "ideal" of masculinity in hip-hop isn't even the most important thing to look at when it comes to the idea of being soft. There are so many different approaches to what a real man is within the genre. It depends on if you ask a Juggalo or a dude who jocks Rick Ross. The way each male rapper relates to females certainly brings up a huge bag of WTF, but hey, if I rapped about guys I messed around with, things might sound a lil more similar to Lil Kim than Drake. Because Kim was never soft, and Drake is.
Being very, very strongly uncool is also soft. And if we're gonna talk uncool, obvi, after like dudes like Mac Miller, the half-Jewish, Canadian former actor who spent a lot of time in a wheelchair to please horny tweens is going to be your first target. He's all "real niggaz" and everyone real's like, all awkward, "Uh... What's up?"
Lil Wayne, though a truly brilliant and clever wordsmith and decent tastemaker, still has the corniest soft spot for all things lame, like his tragic taste in rock at its worst with Rebirth and working with acts like this poor chick Porcelain Black. Like the least awesome stuff ever made. Why would anyone hard bring that kind of weak shit into our sonic universe?
Possibly because times are soft in hip-hop these days.
Kanye West told the BBC in 2013, "Now the rappers are the new R&B niggas. Rappers are the new radio. Rap is the new rock 'n' roll. We the real rockstars, and I'm the biggest of all of them." This statement doesn't entirely make sense. But what matters to us is that he's sort of recognizing that rappers nowadays are like R&B singers of the past. In 1998, as part of Black Star, Talib Kweli rapped the line: "While R&B singers hit bad notes, we rock the boat of thought." Back then, much rap had real meaning, R&B had radio play.
I'm a feminist. I think men are allowed to have feelings, but sometimes things Drake sings even embarrasses me. I grew up, like you all did (hopefully) listening to the greats. Let's talk Tupac for simplicity's sake.
Was Tupac "soft"? He studied jazz and ballet in high school. But when he sang about his mama, a former Black Panther, or rapped over a cheesy ass Bruce fucking Hornsby tune, somehow Pac never made us cringe. He got personal, he got political, but he had enough message in him (Thug Life!) to substantiate his rhymes.
Obviously the world has shifted since "Changes" was recorded in '92. Like so much. Rapping about street violence is, for like a million reasons, passé. Now we have to hear about how much pussy these dudes got coming their way in some car that costs more than I'll make in a decade. And almost none of it is delivered in a fun way. Where's the Mystikals of today?
That bombast paired with overly emotional lines Drake spouts ("I never had you, although I would be glad to/I'd probably go and tattoo, your name on my heart") sometimes just makes me want to summon Biggie back from the grave. Where is Mos Def when you need him mos? I like party rap as much as the next sloppy drunk college girl at Cafe Iguana, but even that's gone soft. Jay Z used to be awesome big pimpin', but now he's all Tom Ford (make me barf) this and Tom Ford (I'm still barfing) that.
Drake is a millennial's rapper. He's got feelings about girls. But not too, too many. He's not Usher for fuck's sake. He's romantic in a way. He's complex. His words sometimes are reminiscent of listening to your girlfriend two bottles of Chardonnay deep, contemplating her singleness.
It's not like there's no room in hip-hop for sensitivity. A man that can express his emotions is impressive and, forgive me, sexy. And looking vulnerable to women isn't the typical hip-hop way, but there's romance in hip-hop. However, sometimes Drake says shit so corny that if Taylor Swift said it, it'd sound harder.
But like Kanye sort of alluded to, these days, everyone's singing their own hooks and there's not that much difference between Chris Brown and Drake. Young Money's got Nicki Minaj whose ass is even fake and her music is next level not genuine. On the other end of the authenticity spectrum is someone like Kendrick Lamar. He's not old school tough at all, but at least he's from Compton and has some deep songs that don't overstep the boundaries of good taste. He's when keeping it real goes right.
I think Big Ghost Ltd taking a second to call out rappers who make the genre look weak isn't just humorous, it's important for those of us who admire the music and the show.
I have a lot of respect for Tunechi a true artist. I'm glad he "won" the beatdown at Cruzan. I've never seen him that happy before. His last show there was lackluster -- and that's a compliment. This show was jumping, crowd was diverse, and the feeling was drunk. People were in love with this shit. White boys ran from the bathrooms to their seats, knocking teenaged chicks into stale beer puddles on the ground the second Wezzy hit the stage, yelling out lyrics on their way.
The whole thing was choreographed like a good Broadway play. And these men are great actors. They played for the crowd and to the crowd's liking. The show went from doing full songs, to a hook battle, a DJ battle, and then to the hits, back to back. But to say soft is an understatement when Drake jumped onto a small platform, hugging a tall black pole, to fly out over the crowd, Britney style. Wayne called it his stripper poll. Yes. It was just that, but like an emotional stripper poll. Poor Weezy also said something like, "I didn't know we was getting all emotional and shit." But then met Drake's soft songs with his own slower jams. It was a soft-off, if you will.
To come full circle. It's good to have diversity in hip-hop. Being soft has its place, and that place is in Drake. It's not a bad thing inherently, it's just not that cool. And Drake's impressive work with Nothing Was the Same is a move in the right direction toward creating something real that'll stretch beyond a great night at a huge amphitheater and into the next generation.