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Understanding Drake's Meme Appeal

This Week In Drake

By Ray Downs

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He's so thoughtful, he plays Grand Theft Auto just to rescue the hookers.

He's so awkward, he'll cover his male friend's eyes from behind and say, “Guess who?”

He's so sensitive, he flushes the toilet after he farts in it.

How the hell is Drake so popular when people relentlessly make fun of him to such hilarious degrees? This question has been bothering me for quite some time because I like Drake's music. It's nice to drive to, especially alone, in the rain, while I'm reflecting on my feelings. But along with Drake's music is the constant reminder, in a never-ending stream of memes, that Drake's persona is incredibly corny.

It seems paradoxical: Why would I like a rapper more the more memes there are making fun of how lame he is? Can I truly enjoy “Hold On We're Going Home” when there's a meme of a sad-looking Drake head sitting in a bicycle basket wrapped-up like E.T. and says, “Just Hold On, We're Going Home”? At some point, do I also become a target of Drake mockery, holding his hand as we wonder why they're doing this to us? And how did Drake become so memeable, anyway?

To figure out the answers to these questions, I sought out the pop culture and online humor wisdom of writer Michael Arceneaux, a contributor to publications like Ebony and The Atlantic, and Twitter comedian Desus (@desusnice), also of Complex's “Desus vs. Mero” podcast. According to Desus, Drake didn't just become meme-worthy; he took advantage of the fact that he was already basically a walking viral marketing campaign for the idea of softness.

“I think Drake will ultimately go down as the GOAT [greatest of all time] rapper of social media,” Desus said over email. “He started as an easy target for memes, realized the social value of being a piece of content, and started creating situations/photos that he knew social media would devour. The lint rolling at the Raptors game? Genius. Almost a week later and he's still getting talked about on Twitter/Tumblr/Sportscenter/etc. He realized there's LEVELS to this shit b and he's utilizing it to the full extent.”

At the time Desus told me this, people were still just making fun of Drake’s lint obsession. But a few days later, Drake's acknowledgment of it got official, and the Raptors gave out Drake-inspired, OVO-branded lint rollers to 1,200 fans at their Tuesday home playoff game against the Brooklyn Nets. Fans were holding Drake products in their hands, and Drake was the talk of social media—that’s what the pros call “interactive marketing,” I think. There are companies with huge marketing teams dedicated to the hopeless task of trying to get anyone to talk about their products on Twitter, but Drake makes himself a trending topic effortlessly, just by understanding exactly what fits the image of him as a meme. Drake knows what he’s doing.

 

Self-promotion mastery aside, Drake’s memeability basically comes down to his image of nerdiness, Michael suggested. Sure, Drake might be famous for his feelings, but it’s really his dorkiness factor that gets him all that internet hate/love/buzz.

“I like Drake, but it's just so easy to make fun of him,” Michael explained. “I make jokes about him being soft and being sensitive, like the Sade of rap or whatever, but I actually like him. I actually kinda like that he's not so much like everybody else. Other rappers, like DMX, are far more emotional, but Drake is this kind of soft and kind of corny, goofy dude.”

We're now a society where criticism, celebration, and communication through internet GIFs and memes is par for the course, so it follows that these are the ways that we would choose to talk about our star rappers. And, as Michael pointed out, Drake is the first rap megastar fully of the Internet era, which means that he's been inviting this sort of stupid chatter since the moment he became famous.

“It’s also Drake is the new face of hip-hop,” Desus said. “It's not just a black inner-city thing. Drake is biracial, Jewish, from a two parent home in Canada, but he's just as valid and authentic as any other rapper because this is what hip-hop is now. It's not 2001 anymore—the average rapper isn't rocking Dickies with a blunt in his ear. And I think people might be upset that 'the other' has become 'the new normal.'”

So: A rapper with a new type of backstory and a new type of Internet-savvy fan, who's in on the joke. Drake makes it easy to make fun of him, which also makes it easier to reconcile why I still like his music despite the memes. Drake's music is Drake, and so are Drake memes, so to enjoy Drake is to enjoy the whole corny package. Drake knows there's a financial incentive here. He’s probably sitting next to that waterfall in his mansion right now, sipping wine spritzers as he makes memes of himself because that's how on top of the self-promotion game Drake is.

At the same time, the memes can drift into the realm of middle school-level racism and homophobia, taking stabs at Drake's light skin and his perceived femininity. What's to be done with that? While some of the memes take these angles too far and are simply not funny, there are some that still hold humor in that Wayans Bros kind of way. In fact, the first Drake meme to really get my attention is the one where he is wearing a tight pink t-shirt that says “Team Light Skin” as Drake, with skin much lighter than usual, sits elegantly behind a Mac with a glass of something on his desk as he looks suspiciously off to the side.

That meme has the problematic parts of Drake memes—skin color and using femininity as a joke—but it is just so damn weird that I could not help but laugh. Does that make me a bad person?

“With me it's just jokes,” says Desus. “I enjoy Drake's soft ass music, but there is definitely an undercurrent of racism/homophobia in the memes that makes them funny in a mean-spirited way that gets a pass because Drake is worth like $35 Million (American, no idea what that is in Canadian maple leaves or whatever currency they use up there). Drake is the king of lite-skinned dudes and having that title means he has to catch these stones being chucked at my yellow hued brothers.”

Michael added that Drake's style just feeds that weird stereotype in black sub-culture:

“He's already perceived as soft and light-skinned dudes in general are seen as soft, so he become like the joke or the stereotype for that. And the fact that he's so goofy and somber—it just plays into that.”

Like most things Drake-related, Drake seems to have had a rare gift for landing right at the cross-section of whatever people are talking about, whether it's jokey racial needling or the NBA playoffs. When it comes to Drake, the memes are just part of the package. But will we ever see an era where Drake has transcended his meme reality?

“Eventually the Drake memes have to stop,” Desus said. “He's like 27 now and look at what he's accomplished. He's regularly having sex with Rihanna, he's hosting SNL, he's the face of the Raptors. Jay wasn't near this point when he was 27, so imagine Drake at 30. But Drake being Drake will probably do something to keep the memes popping because he's the Meme GOAT.”

The story of Drake memes is one that contains multitudes and is likely only beginning to unfold. Drake has given the Internet some of its best memes. Without Drake, where would we be? But maybe I’ve been asking the wrong questions all along. Maybe the true question is: Without memes, is there a Drake?

Ray Downs is the type to sit at his computer and wonder why you haven't liked his article on Facebook yet. He's on Twitter - @RayDowns

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