You can annually expect the Grammys to get things wrong, especially when it comes to rap. So it was a pleasant surprise to see the committee nail the Best Rap Album award this year: They gave the award to Drake’s Take Care, which was the right call, even if Nas’ Life is Good and The Roots’ Undun were probably better albums.
Drake deserved the award because Take Care represented what a good rap album should sound like in our era: it was a well-rounded major label release that contained stellar rapping with production that felt current, yet forward thinking.
In Take Care, Drake straddles that line of commercialism and pure B-boy rap better than any rapper in the game.
Drake is the most well-rounded rapper we have now, which is why I feel comfortable saying Drake is this era’s Jay-Z.
It’s a strange statement to make, considering that Jay-Z is still very much relevant. But I’m referring to the young guys who came up: dudes like Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, A$AP Rocky and Meek Mill.
Drake can make a hit record anytime he wants and he can rap bar for bar with any MC, no matter how legendary — and he’s proved himself on both accounts.
Yet, I get blank stares when I make the Jay-Z comparison.
So let’s examine.
We have a revisionist history when it comes to Jay-Z. He’s the most beloved rapper in hip-hop, and no one seems to remember his early struggles: his debut LP, Reasonable Doubt is a classic, but it was a commercial failure, which is why he was quick to embrace a mainstream sound.
Jay-Z finally really broke through with the Hard Knock Life project, which still stands as his biggest seller.
During those late ’90s, early 2000 years, the Reasonable Doubt introspective Jay was gone, and he was fully engulfed in the jiggy era.
Nothing wrong with that, but Jay was more polarizing than we like to remember, and he was especially hated by the Rawkus-loving rappity rap folks out there, even though his skills as an MC never left.
(Jay would later justify his commercial stuff on The Black Album’s “Moment of Clarity:”
“I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars; They criticized me for it, yet they all yell “holla.”)
In 2001, Jay-Z got into some kind of groove, and produced an album that could be embraced by the mainstream and Harry Hardcore out there, The Blueprint. After that album, Jay was universally held in high regard.
Which brings us back to Drake. There’s something polarizing about Drake, to the point where I feel like his spit isn’t given the respect deserves.
A lot of it has to do with the exterior: Drake doesn’t look or act like rapper should. And he sings too much. Fine.
But he is an impressive MC who drops lyrical bombs, like last night’s “5 AM In Toronto,” on the regular.
Drake knows there’s this misrepresentation that he’s not a great rapper. (If you don’t believe me, listen to what he’s saying on “Lord Knows.”)
That’s why I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first two solo Drake songs we heard this year — “Started From the Bottom” and “5 AM In Toronto”— are both cut from the same hard cloth; we haven’t heard a “Marvin’s Room” yet, folks, and I don’t think we will.
2013 is going to be the year when we bury that ‘Drake isn’t a great rapper’ storyline.
I can’t wait for the day when I have to remind people that everyone didn’t always love Drake.
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