News & Politics

Drake's "Shot For Me" As a Template for Modern Masculinity

A close reading of how one of the world's biggest rapper-singers does manhood differently.

Photo Credit: Lunchbox LP at Flickr.

I dont even know what to say b. Like forreal…after hearin this shit…I wouldnt be surprised if this ni—a could pollinate a flower wit his fuckin breath son. Im pretty sure that son gets up in the morning n plays his harp for his cats n then slides down the muthafuckin banister in his satin man nightie n has a full glass of breast milk before he goes to the studio n hammers out some pooned out shit like this b.Big Ghost

Please take it as read that Drake is the worst. Take Care shows a dark, sophisticated id that Tyler, The Masturbator could only fap fap fap searchingly for. Thing is, Drake’s always going to have a little brother air about him, and that makes him seem less "threatening" than Kanye. It doesn’t help that the ostentatious Drake plays second fiddle to a guy who’s just looking for a bitch that can fuck right, cook right. Or that he and that bitch have a weird, Made-In-Disney media manufacturedness to it.

The sum total of the largely external perception of Drake is that he’s "soft," "effeminate," "girly," "gay," or what-have-you. I think this is because it’s probably more fun for most people to read funny things (or look at memes) that make fun of Drake, rather than actually listen to Drake. Which is fine. I’ll listen to Drake.

A lot of what gets lost in music criticism (in certain circles, maybe) is too fine a focus on a record’s literal message, or on its sonics. This is not a surprise, since the entire reason I like(d) Drake centered on his songs all sounding to me like the platonic ideal of what an awesome song sounds like. You don’t need Nic Southall’s ears to know that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy actually sounds like shit. Drake’s two albums — and this, as well, contributes to his "soft" image — Thank Me Later and Take Care sound like the wing-strokes of a beauteous angel tribe as they flap past the sixty-third moon of Jupiter on their way to the christening of fresh-born universe. I mean, house producer Noah “40” Shebib needs to win some piece of every award ever offered to Drake, because he’s at least half the reason why Drake is near the top of my list of favorite rappers.

You know, it might be me (it is), but I’m afraid of dying a violent death, and I don’t smoke weed. I don’t get most rap music. I don’t get most music — full stop — but I try really hard to get most rap music. It seems like it should be relatable, except it’s not, and I don’t think it’s supposed to be. At least, not any more than any other music. But the personal being the political, and rap being about personal struggle, gives it a documentary air that sucks the wind out of most critical arguments.

I celebrate rap as an aesthetic object.

This essay started out by me asking myself a sort of leading question: “Am I a bad person for liking Drake?” Because I really do think that Drake and Take Care better bears out all that “avant-garde need not be moral” bullshit that was being turned over earlier this year. Being a big fan of Drake means constantly asking yourself, “Am I crazy for liking music without even listening to the lyrics?” Or, more pointedly, “Am I crazy for liking music despite its terrible lyrics?” Or, most appropriately, “Am I just terrible at listening to music and/or being a person in culture because I actually kind of like Drake’s lyrics?” You ask yourself a lot of questions when you find yourself wholeheartedly liking Drake. The big thing for me about Drake is that he gets to the center of a lot of questions/issues surrounding masculinity, and these issues affect everyone. (I’ll be lining up over here for my PhD in Men’s Studies, now.)

And so, even though I sort of wrote about Take Careearlier, I think I sort of missed my intention. So, let’s just jump in.

Drake’s “Shot For Me” is a Raymond Carver story, told in the first person, by Ray Carver after he already knows how monumentally overblown is his literary reputation. It’s all that, but by Drake. So — 

 

“Shot For Me” is perhaps the most understated song on a relatively understated album. It starts all deep bass bdzow bdzow bdzow, and then immediately rises up into some fairy aery lofty soft shit.

I can see it in your eyes, you’re angry.

You think that this is going to be a typically ‘soft’ Drake song. ‘Aww, baby. I can see that you’re angry, but don’t be angry, girl.’ And then Drake’s going to soothe her. You can tell he does a lot of soothing. Except, he does the opposite.

Regret got shit on what you’re feeling now.
Mad cause he ain’t like me.
Oh you mad cause nobody ever did it like me.

I love that line, “Regret got shit on what you’re feeling now.” It reminds me of the part in Kill Bill where Bill stands over the violently incapacitated Beatrix “Black Mamba” “The Bride” Kiddo and says, “I bet I could fry an egg on your head right now, if I wanted to.” It’s a double-asshole thing to say, because 1) it’s true, but 2) he’s saying it for someone who definitely does not want someone saying things for her. It’s what she’d be saying if she had a voice, but her voice has been taken away. I can practically see it in her eyes that she’s angry. But she’s not given a voice to express that anger. Her lack of voice is an ongoing theme of the song.

About what it’s about, the situation is strange; picture: Drake’s talking to an ex who’s so not over him that she’s just angry. Not hurt, but angry. I think I may have been there before, on the dumped side, and anger is the most pathetic stage of rejection.

All the care I would take, all the love that we made
Now you’re trying to find somebody to replace what I gave to you
It’s a shame you didn’t keep it.
Alisha, Catya, I know that you gon’ hear this

It’s at this point, according to some white devil sophistry, Drake’s calling out specific exes. But not before he points out how sweet and tender he is. That’s sort of the whole point of the song, in fact. It’s about how sweet and tender Drake is. It’s like Drake in a nut. The drum programming is a hip-hop kit’s version of a John Tesh joint. (Except for the trunk-rattling bass, which is, to be honest, all it takes for me to at least enjoy listening to a song.) The rest of the song sounds like there’s an 80s prom seeping up through the floorboards. The thing is, Drake isn’t sweet. He’s the worst: he’s venomous, sly, and without mercy.

Bitch, I’m the man, don’t you forget it
The way you walk, that’s me
The way you talk, that’s me
The way you’ve got your hair up, did you forget that’s me?
And the voice in your speaker right now that’s me
That’s me, and the voice in your ear
That’s me, can’t you see
That I made it? Yeah, I made it
First I made you who you are and then I made it
And you’re wasted with your ladies
Yeah, I’m the reason why you always getting faded

It’s this part, this is the second part that just gets to me. “The way you walk, that’s me.” Even, “the way you talk, that’s me.” There’s no part of her that’s not from Drake, from his example or guidance. Her whole personhood’s been stripped away, figuratively. And now, literally, “the voice in your ear / that’s me.” The fact that she’s gone from a figure in the story to being addressed, literally, in real life as someone hearing the song, is proof itself that Drake’s made it. This is, if you think about it, the progress and force of the narrative, just devastating. Just, devastating. The point’s made clearer: “I’m the reason why you always getting faded.” As in, breaking up with Drake has given this woman a drinking problem, and the song he’s using to tell the story is called “Shot For Me”. It’s a song in which he exhorts his ex, whom he’s ruined and upon whom he’s left only anger and alcoholism, he smugly tells her,

Take a shot for me.

THIS GUY!

I really do not think Drake gets enough credit for being an intricately tuned asshole savant asshole. He’s the Rain Man of douchery. Drake’s a comfortable inhabitant of the post-“Runaway” world. (Side note: What happened to that post-“Milli” world we were supposed to have? It evaporated faster than Obama’s post-racial America.) Thing is, Drake doesn’t need to call himself a douchebag, asshole, or scumbag. Even less does he hoist a toast to them. Rather, he just is an asshole, and his toasts are meant to push the frazzled, beat-down women in his wake further into a pit of despair. I mean, yes, that is some scumbag shit.

To keep the parallel going, all the “that’s me” from above is, to me, a lot more realistic (and thus more cutting) than that “Yeezy taught me.” It’s also much less funny, which might also be the point. Kanye’s id is totally up front and comfortable flexing, and therefore comfortable with its own inherent absurdity. Drake, like the Canada he hails from, has a slight inferiority complex. His strokes cut more deeply, and his jokes don’t quite stick their landings. He’s a meaner version of Yeezy, with a decadence that’s just within reach of everyone, maybe — no golden Louis Vuitton slippers or $3,500 t-shirts — and thus easier to lampoon. Sweaters? Fancy showers? Cover art that is, instead of baroque gold itself, just a depiction of some goblets and a Greek owl? I think my grandma has one of those on the mantle. It’s his understandable indulgence that makes him more like us, and thus, a better target for our scorn. Because self-hatred isn’t just a symptom of the rich. Mogul get emotional.

No. Drake only seems soft because he bears a surface resemblance to us, but he’s a cold killer. It’s only after he lyrically dismembers his ex that he actually softens up.

Ok, look, I’m honest. Girl, I can’t lie, I miss you.
You and the music were the only things that I’d commit to.
I never cheated, for the record, back when I was with you.
But you believed in everything but me, girl, I don’t get you.
She says, “I know you changed, I never see you.
Cause you’re always busy doing things.”
I really wish she had a different way of viewing things.
I think the city that we’re from just kinda ruined things.
It’s such a small place. Not much to do but talk and listen.
The men are jealous and the women all in competition.
And all your friends telling you stories that you often misinterpret. And taint all your images of your Mr. Perfect.

Even softening up, though, Drake’s still an asshole. He admits to over-working, and says something cheesy like “you and the music were the only things that I’d commit to,” and then blames their dissolution on living in a small city. (Toronto? See, there’s some inferiority complex stuff going on.) It’s still kind of poignantly small that Drake refers to himself as “Mr. Perfect.”

“Take A Shot” is a really weird song. I guess it’s technically just two verses plus two very brief choruses. But the two verses seem like at least four verses, really, and the choruses are just one line, which really perfectly punctuates the end of each verse and twists them like a knife or the last couplet of an Elizabethan sonnet. And then there’s that prayer-coda. And the musical coda. It’s just a very weird, very compact, very well-built song. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. That second verse ends,

I could tell that you been crying all night, drinking all summer.
Praying for your happiness, hope that you recover.
This is one I know you hated when you heard it,
And it’s worse because you know that I deserve it

After the relative softening of the whole “I can’t lie, I miss you” part, Drake piles it back on. I mean, his ex must look like shit. Angry, cried-out eyes. She looks all bloated and boozy. And then he says he’s praying for her happiness, and hope she recovers. “Recovery”, of course, with the double meaning of getting over him, but also as in recovering from alcohol abuse. But, still, wishing her recovery and simultaneous back-sliding into drink isn’t the worst. It’s that everything he says, he says, is true, and he deserves his success. And his freedom from them. Thus, a parting toast:

May your neighbors respect you.
Trouble neglect you. Agels protect you.
And heaven accept you.

The first few times I heard the song, I thought the toast was just another cheesy Drake-thing. But once I actually listened to the song a few times, it was clear that the toast is the coup de grâce. It may be some bullshit old Irish toast, but with its conclusion of “And heaven accept you”, you know it’s just his way of telling her to just drop dead. The raucous coda that finally closes the song gives us a good grave-dancing groove.

If you think an air of opulence and a taste for gold and fine knitwear is soft, then I guess King Henry VIII was soft, too. I think there are some cultural assumptions that sort of undercut what I take to be one of Drake’s most captivating artistic traits: his headstrong puissance and complete self-satisfaction. Because he writes about relationships at all in a context that’s not simply about getting head, he’s taken to be ‘girly’ — or worse, gay! (Or is girly worse? Girls and gays both get fucked by guys, so they’re both pretty bad.) Because he doesn’t write about murdering people (very much…), he’s not a manly man, or he’s not a rapper, at least, because we all know young black males only have one form of social power: the sacrifice of their lives in the violent pursuit of ours. The total mischaracterization of Drake, popularly, does a terrible disservice to how colossal a shit-heel he really is. It also sort of under-serves people in the sense that, for instance, most rapes are perpetrated by acquaintances. Or how most women are murdered by their husbands and boyfriends than by strangers. There’s this myth of a hyper-masculine bogeyman, but all there are are men. Drake’s supposed unmanliness is as pernicious a stereotype as any.

I love Drake’s music, especially “Shot For Me." It’s got an epic, life-encompassing sweep to it, even though it passes by in an effervescent moment. It is about a shitty, shitty person, but I mean come on — most art, I think, is probably by, for, or about shitty, shitty people. You don’t have to be a bad person, though, to enjoy music about bad people. As a piece of art, “Shot For Me” works for me. For all the reasons above: depth and compression of storytelling, coasting on a swept grandeur that suggests planets moving under the motion of angels fucking. There’s a depth to “Shot For Me” that’s missing (for me) from a lot of songs. It’s sinister and depressing, yet totally uplifting like all success stories are. It’s a marvel in the form of a stone in your shoe. A portrait of the artist as every man you’ve ever known.