Everything Was the Same: @Drake and @Beyonce’s Divergent Paths

A reminder for those who live on Mars, both Beyonce and Drake have recently released albums — Beyonce the deeply personal and broadly-praised visual album Lemonade and Drake’s win-weary and redundant Views. While both are an acknowledgement and interpretation of fame and power, the similarities end there.

Perhaps no more apparent in their careers have the two artists been more different in style or substance — with Beyonce willing to experiment with sounds and style just as much as she’s willing to experiment with her stories and stances.

Her music has evolved and matured. Lemonade is as complex as it gets. Go ahead and ask around:

From Clover Hope over at Jezebel:

This is an ethereal, haunting confessional, sonically scornful and then later vulnerable. Beyoncé, the artist, is allowing herself misery, before finding reprieve. By the end, she and her man are moving mountains, kissing up, rubbing and feeling, making up for now, an act of forgiveness as relatable to scorned women as it is the resilient mothers of dead young black boys, as shown in the faces of Sybrina Fulton, Lesley McSpadden and Gwen Carr in “Freedom,” Beyoncé’s potent liberation song with Kendrick Lamar. It’s a particularly tense visual, after hearing Texas Beyoncé sing the equivalent of whistling a second line-assisted threat while parroting a father’s words: “When trouble comes to town/And men like me come around, oh my daddy said shoot.”

Or Brittany Spanos at Rolling Stone:

On Lemonade, Beyoncé’s choice to include both a raucous blues-rock track — “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” featuring Jack White — as well as an Americana romp — “Daddy Lessons” — is as political as the poetry she intertwines with her songs on her visual album. Lemonade is, in part, an album about black legacy, and her choice to tap more fully into rock, a genre she has touched lightly upon before, is an important nod to the often forgotten place black women had in inspiring and forming the genre. Seen in this light, the fierce and vengeful tone of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” takes on a broader cultural meaning.

Lemonade, sweetness made from something deeply sour, is a beautiful thing.

You won’t hear reviews like these for Drake because the formula is essentially the same. He’s still drunk texting his ex’s, he’s still weary of his friends, he’s still on top and tired of it. The music and the persona haven’t changed.

Rembert beat me to the punch over at Vulture

…But what does Drake want? With Views, it’s clear — Drake wants to be the biggest, so Drake doubled down on Drake and made another Drake album. With this album, Drake has done little more than give us a dispatch from the world’s biggest rapper…

With Drake you know what you’re going to get and that’s OK. The shit’ll get you hype in no time and you’ll love him for it. When you’re thinking about your ex or the one that got away, put Drake on. When you want to dance to something mindless — Drake and 40 are there for you. He’s still a ridiculously talented rapper, but we all know there’s no risk here. And his music — like most music — likely won’t stand the test of time because of it.

The evolution (or non-evolution) of the music is one thing. The transformation of the people is another. Beyonce has grown to be more than just a pop icon.  She’s a mother now. A philanthropist. Someone more ready and willing to place her music in the line of fire to push an agenda. An agenda aimed at lifting up black women.

See here from Ijeoma Olua at The Guardian:

This expectation of black women to suffer in silence is passed from generation to generation. Beyoncé explores this inheritance unflinchingly: “You remind me of my father – a magician, able to exist in two places at once / In the tradition of men in my blood you come home at 3am and lie to me.”

…Beyoncé celebrates the beauty and strength of black womanhood by featuring black women who have stood tall despite constant persecution for their blackness. Quvenzhané Wallis, a brilliant young actor often mocked for her kinky hair, unique name and dark skin, stands proudly next to the queen Bey knowing that she belongs there. Serena Williams, the most gifted athlete alive today who is still mocked for her large, strong body and distinctly black beauty, twerks defiantly at the viewer.

Of course this voice is needed and appreciated by many, but it comes at a popular price. Beyonce is in many ways choosing a side. Her black womanhood will no longer come after your comfort. And it’s the rest of us who will have to get used to it. In response, Beyonce faces criticism from police officers, the odd media pundit, and white people in general.

This is the central joke behind an SNL skit that came out after Beyonce released the song Formation. If you didn’t know before, you know now. Beyonce is a black woman. White tears be damned.

Again contrast that to Drake who in so many ways has decided to do the exact opposite. Playing the part exactly how it was written. Frank Guan, in an excellent piece over at n+1, dissected Drake and struck at something critical at what makes Drizzy King.

…the reason Drake has become obscenely rich, the reason you’re reading this, is that he figured out how to make music that aspiring white professionals could not only enjoy but feel at home in. It was easy for them to see themselves in him, and he and 40 made it easier still. He was black, but light-skinned and Canadian, bland and pacific…

…Drake’s superpower has always been his ability to float across the threshold, rigidly policed from both sides, that defines American being. Black but Canadian, he could keep some measure of coolness while at the same time being resolutely uncool — as uncool, with those sweaters and air balls, as any white person. The countless “Drake the type of nigga” jokes (the type to sing the alphabet and cry when he gets to X, to remind the teacher we had homework, to high-five you with both hands and lock fingers) that used to circulate online can be distilled into a single line: he’s the type of black rapper who poses zero threat to white people. One has to look back all the way to Will Smith to find another persona — try not to confuse it with the real man — so thoroughly unmenacing and broadly appealing: so bankable.

This floating back and forth, this level of complacency with a comfortable white audience is what Drake is embracing (or perhaps more fairly, not confronting) and Beyonce is shirking. Granted, Drake is still only 29 years old. He has plenty of time, and surely the talent, to change course. But why? The formula sells and the awards will still pile up. And if it was going to happen, you’d think it would start soon. Kendrick Lamar is a year younger and is already experimenting and evolving. Rhianna reinvents herself with every album. Beyonce is only 34 and her evolution started well before Lemonade or her titular album from 2013.

Besides, stasis is the norm. Most artists — hell, most people — don’t evolve. We don’t ultimately reinvent ourselves or find our authentic voices. And Drake more than most of us has all the incentive in the world not to change.

But still, there’s always the chance. Maybe there’s a nagging voice in the back of his head wondering what could be different. Maybe his music could be doing and saying more.

Maybe next time, nothing will be the same.

 

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