Ever since the release of Drake’s Nothing Was the Same album, the Internet has been awash with memes calling his masculinity into question.
You might have seen one or two – or several: There are the various memes making light of the NWTS album cover art, which features a split illustration of Drake as an afro-headed child and as an adult rapper (the original), but set it against a blissful blue sky with Care Bears and some rainbows in the background. Don’t forget about the other memes, which have superimposed Drake’s head onto a box of tampons. Just about everyone has a joke about how NWTS is the equivalent of taking bubble baths and writing old flames “miss me” letters. And then there are the personal favorites, the Drake is the type of dude/n*gga…:
…If You Say Your Exes Name 3 times in the Mirror, Drakes Appears and Cries With You
…to Get Nudes from a Girl, photoshop them with clothes on, send them back to to her, talking about, “I’m jus saying you can do better…”
…to eat two gummy bears at the same time so they don’t have to die alone.
…who cries on Maury because he is not the father.
It’s funny to people because Drake is soft, thus less of a man. At least, that’s what the people who make these Drake-is-soft jokes and memes are trying to insinuate and want us to remember. For all intents and purposes, the album has been hailed by critics as his most “self-aware” to date. The album itself, particularly its artwork, hints at some serious introspection about his evolution from boy into manhood. This introspection makes the self-proclaimed light-skinned Keith Sweat of rap atypical of the rough and tough, mean mugging, gangsta leaning, ho-smacking, “real ni**a,” which makes up the Hip-Hop landscape. For all intents and purposes, this should be a good thing.
However, it is clear that the general public still has an aversion to rappers who talk about their feelings and emotions. It’s clear, based on the tone of the laughter from these memes, that rappers are not supposed to go through heartache or understand unrequited love. Real dudes aren’t supposed to cry. Real dudes aren’t vulnerable. Real dudes have many uninvolved emotional conquests. Those who step out of the mold are instantly disregarded as effeminate or gay. We stifle the free emotional expression of men to the point where more gentile and homosexual men aren’t even included in the definition of “masculinity.”
In a community where men are desperate to be seen as masculine and hard at all times, we help to perpetuate these narrow ideas of what is acceptable masculinity. And we, as the general consumers of this music, cynically pass around those memes and say these jokes, as subtle but definite ways of reinforcing destructive ideas that the only love worth sharing is for money and Maybachs.
However nothing is further from the truth, as illustrated by this interview with Rosalind Wiseman, author of Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World:
“The thing that really disturbs me is that there are so many wonderful dads, who want the best for their sons, who aren’t having conversations with their sons about healthy relationships or acknowledging that they will fall in love. Falling in love in high school is a huge adrenaline rush–it’s got intense highs and lows. Your heart can break, you can be betrayed. It’s horrible, and you don’t know what to do, or you wonder if you’ll ever have a girlfriend. These are things that all boys struggle with, but even really good dads don’t have conversations that acknowledge that experience. And then there are a lot of other fathers whose relationship advice is limited to this type of scenario (told to me by the boys themselves): A very attractive 18-year-old woman walks by and the dad nudges his son and says, “Go get that.” Great young men want to have rich emotional lives, but everywhere they turn, people are forcing them to live the stereotype of being a sexist, not-caring, emotionally disengaged, superficial guy. It’s amazing because we turn around and get angry with them when they go over the line, without acknowledging what we do as adults that stifles and silences and shuts boys up from being emotionally engaged people.”
Honestly, I wouldn’t at all call myself a fan of Drake. Artistically, I’m just not that impressed outside of a tune here or there. Likewise, some of his themes, while spoken in more gentile ways, are equally problematic as his more aggressive rap counterparts. With that said, I can also appreciate the emotional rawness he is willing to reveal and bare on his tracks. Sometimes a dude just gets into his feelings. And as a society, who is interested in curbing the more destructive aspects of repressed masculinity, we should kind of be more open to that. Otherwise, we are chastising rappers for being degrading and violent, even when we give them so little space to express anything else.