Do you know what’s wonderful about Drake? Not any of the obvious things, for starters. Not his consistent, chart-topping hits off albums that drop so regularly you could set your watch by them, not his meme-ability, his heart-rending lyrics, his beauty, his charm. Not his fascinating obsessions, breakups, his celebrity beefs, his SNL appearances. None of that.
It’s his ambiguity.
In music, singers use lyrics to define themselves. They use superlatives. They are the greatest, the king, the champion, the one who made it. They fit themselves into categories: The Cool Girl, the Queen, the California Girl, the Weirdo. We don’t hear much about what people aren’t, especially in pop.
But Drake is fond of telling us about what he’s not. He’s not a rapper, though he has rapped. He’s not a heartbreaker, though he has broken hearts. He’s not a braggart or a traditional success. When he sings about ambition, it’s something that–for the majority of us listening, who have not reached Drake’s heights–is hard to understand.
On “More Life”, his ‘playlist’ (not an album, Drake insists) that dropped over the weekend, he samples a voicemail from his mom, talking about how his negative attitude may be holding him back from “what he wants to achieve.” But what could Drake possibly want to achieve? He’s probably the biggest star in music right now, and has been able to hold on to the title for years. He’s been able to appeal to a huge audience without breaking apart (i.e. Kanye) compromising who he is (Taylor Swift) or how he sees himself. Of course–that’s because we still don’t really know how he sees himself. We know a Drake song when we hear one, and Drake himself is such a specific kind of star, such a specific kind of presence–but we still can’t really define it. He doesn’t give us a way in.
Drake’s lyrics are about inward struggles, but they’re outward-facing. They’re often addressed to a nameless ‘you’, and the object of ‘you’ often switches many times within a song. ‘You’ can start out as an ex-girlfriend, and end up as a rival. ‘You’ can mean, literally us, listening to it. We don’t know. We can’t know. We probably don’t want to know. It would be the key to truly getting Drake– who he is, and what his teasing plans for world domination might look like– and that, we seem to know, as an audience, might well be the end of him.
“More Life”, the non-album, is another intriguing whisp of the lovelorn, hopelessly ambitious Drake persona. It begs us to try and open the Pandora’s box of the Drake enigma, and gives us just enough new information to make sure we never actually follow through.
In short, it’s a cocktease, and a wonderful one. Of all the artists working today, Drake might be the one who fully understands the power of the star persona, and he’s not going to let us in on the secret anytime soon. Thank God for that– it would probably mean the end of the music.