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Drake: Culture Vulture or Culture Appreciation?

Is Drake a really a culture vulture? Short answer is… maybe. Sort of. Ok, maybe there isn’t exactly a short answer to this question, but this has been debated furiously between music fans for the past couple of years with Drake reaching the peak of his popularity. What most people can agree on is the fact that there is an extremely thin line between taking influence and being inspired by a culture or sound, and blatantly stealing from a culture for personal gain. To fully look into to this subject, we must fully delve into both the Canadian superstar’s career, to identify if Drake organically started ‘borrowing’ from other cultures as well as what exactly is culture vulturing.

Drake is an artist that has always worn his influences on his sleeve and throughout his career, he has clearly stated and adjusted his music according to the sounds he’s feeling at the current time. For example, in Drake’s early career with the release of his mixtapes, ‘Room for Improvement’ and ‘Comeback Season’, had a more neo-soul and soulful hip -hop sound; probably taking influence from the likes of hip hop groups Little Brother and Slum Village. However, his following breakthrough project, ‘So Far Gone’, where he first linked up with the producer 40, clearly drew big influences from R ‘n’ B music as well as the Southern Hip-Hop sound.  Now, at this point in Drake’s career, where he was very much an upcomer, there was no mention of Drake being a culture vulture, even as a young, Canadian rapper, using the chopped and screwed sounds coming out of Houston, Texas. In fact, he was applauded for his unique twist on Hip – hop and eventually launched him to become one of the most exciting prospect in rap for a long time.

After, this point Drake went on to release albums ‘Thank Me Later’ and ‘Take Care’ which displayed Drake’s ability to make both club bangers and smooth, slow jams; sticking with and improving his ‘signature sound’. After this, however, is where we started to see Drake begin to use other genres and cultures in his music by remixing songs from other artists from genres that didn’t follow his usual sound i.e. Trap and Electronic music. A first example of this was the track ‘Wildfire’ by British electronic producers SBTRKT and his remix of the track ‘Versace’ by Migos. To call these tracks cultural appropriation would be a stretch, in my opinion, and I very much believe that these tracks were Drake showing his versatility, but there is no doubt that Drake benefited from jumping on these songs.

The first instance I can recall of Drake being labelled a ‘culture vulture’ was when fellow rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, who took to twitter to voice his feelings towards Drake posting a video of himself dancing to a Kodak Black track. Earl stated: “Drake can be a bit of a culture vulture on young rap niggas and I don’t want lil Kodak to be a victim of it” and then later tweeted, in response to a fan, “I feel u but I still feel like drake overall statement isn’t “check out this new shit I heard” it’s always self-serving. I can see this point view, as it is true that Drake is much more likely to remix an artist’s song, or use their sound rather than just simply shouting them out, and he rarely does a selfless co-sign. But, Drake is one of the biggest stars in music. Period. He definitely doesn’t need to work with artist or remix their tracks to remain relevant, and this is a common counter argument for anytime he is labelled a culture vulture.

Another artist who called out Drake on his cultural appropriation, was dancehall legend, Mr. Vegas, who found an issue with Drake’s recent use of dancehall-influenced records, such as on the song ‘Controlla’. Mr. Vegas made it clear that this wasn’t just simply due to him using the genre, but more him not giving credit to the artists that influenced him. He also pointed that it is not just Drake who has partaken using the dancehall sound and not giving credit to the artists. In a DJ Vlad interview, he pointed out that dancehall artist, Assassin, had been featured on both Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Blacker the Berry’ and Kanye West’s ‘I’m in it (Ft. Justin Vernon)’ without receiving any credit as a featured artist. Therefore, unless you are familiar with Assassin’s work, you will have no clue it was even him on the record, which is quite clearly unjust. This ideology was also shared by, dancehall artist, Sean Paul, who also stated in an interview with the guardian that: “It is a sore point when people like Drake or Bieber or other artists come and do dancehall-orientated music but don’t credit where dancehall came from and they don’t necessarily understand it.”

Regardless, of major artists in the dancehall scene calling out Drake and sticking up for their genre/culture, these feelings hasn’t been reciprocated by all their peers. Popcaan made a video response to Vegas threating and demanding him not to violate ‘Drizzy Drake’; asserting he knows nothing about OVO and Unruly. Konshens, also recently commented on the subject stating that although he thinks Drake is a culture vulture, so are many artists, including himself, and people need to stop bitching and enjoy the music. It is very easy to see both sides of this argument.

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Lastly, we must touch on the most recent allegations of culture vulturing, and that is the appropriation of UK rap/grime culture. This has been a very controversial topic of late, as although some think he’s selflessly pushing the UK music culture as a genuine fan, others believe that Drake is doing this all for personal gain. This is much closer to home for me and my thoughts on this matter, is that it may be a mix of both. Although I cringe when I hear Drake try to use a London accent and slang on tracks such as ‘No Long Talk (Ft. Giggs)’, there is no denying that Drake is clearly a fan of UK music and its culture, which is clear to see throughout his career. We can go all the way back to when he released his mixtape ‘Comeback Season’ in 2007, and the track ‘Closer’ where he referenced Craig David, Shola Ama and Artful Dodger; showing an interest in Garage music. Drake has also previously shouted out artists such as Sneakbo, who he claimed inspired the hook for ‘Cameras’, and Ard adz; claiming he stumbled across these artists while watching a documentary on UK gangs. He also made sure that UK rap legends Giggs and Skepta appeared on his most recent project ‘More Life’, and this is a complete rarity in the US Hip Hop Scene. Unlike with the dancehall influences, Drake has given clear credit to the artists in the UK that have influenced him and this is something that should be celebrated rather than dismissed as Drake simply jumping on a bandwagon.

So, overall I do believe Drake is somewhat a Culture Vulture, but the real question is: Is this such a bad thing? He has used these genres to make music that have become worldwide successes and has opened the mind of many music fans to other genres such as grime and dancehall. Even ‘One Dance (Ft. Wizkid & Kyla)’ which used the sample from the funky house classic ‘Do you mind’ by Crazi Cousins, became one of the biggest hits of the year and exposed a very different sound to millions of fans around the world. Ill end this with a quote from Pablo Picasso for everyone to ponder ‘Good artists borrow, great artists steal’.

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