At the end of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth, decided the truth wasn’t good enough. Tasked with revealing the innermost feelings of Bruce’s would-be love interest, Rachel Dawes, Alfred sets fire to her final letter so as to spare Batman the heartbreak. If Drake were in Mr. Pennyworth’s shoes, Bruce would’ve just had to deal with it.
Some 14 years into his mainstream career, the 6ix God has made a living of keeping it a blue note, turning diaristic writing into the stuff of chart-topping albums and cultural ubiquity. Brooding over the forlorn ambiance of his Thank Me Later track “Light Up” 13 years ago, the baby 6ix God pledged his fans unyielding honesty: “I got to feel alive, even if it kills me/Promise to always give you me, the real me.” As of his latest album, the newly released For All the Dogs, Drake has stayed true to his word. But it turns out, a lot of folks wish he were more like Alfred.
While the LP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, it also earned him the worst critical reception of all his projects. On Metacritic, a site that compiles reviews from critics across the internet, it’s currently resting at a score of 53, by far a career low. Most of the criticism involves calls for thematic maturation. After his years of rapping about social climbing girlfriends, lonely private flights, and other people and things who aren’t good enough, critics—and even longtime Drizzy fans—are calling for the Toronto native to switch up his playbook.
Though his criticism wasn’t as one-note as viral clips would have you believe, Joe Budden made his opinion known during an episode of The Joe Budden Podcast: “You gonna be 37 years old. Get the f**k away from some of these younger n**gas, and stop f**king these 25-year-olds.” On Twitter, more than a few listeners tied ChampagnePapi into the lineage of Kevin Samuels and Andrew Tate: “Drake really went from wanting to be Little Brother, to being Bun B, to being [an] RnB hook singer, to [now] being a incel….. YOU SEE HOW HAVING NO IDENTITY F**KS YOUR MIND UP!?!?”
Maturity and the concept of content monotony aren’t new ideas, but recent criticism reveals The Boy is being held to different standards than his peers. After all, Pusha-T’s been rapping about coke and only coke for almost 25 years. Meanwhile, Future’s songs continue to present him as a swashbuckling trapper with an affinity for fast cars and clandestine quickies in designer flip flops. Sure, they might switch up soundscapes, but topically, they rarely veer off course—and nobody asks them to. No one’s told Push to become a backpacker, and Future’s been given no critical incentive to give his toxicity a rest. So then, why do we want the 6ix Dog to learn a new trick? Some of it has to do with situational proximity.
To fans and critics, Push and Future represent the fantastical, drug lords in a far off land of dungeons, dragons, and Dracos—foreign whips and enchanting baddies. For a variety of reasons, you’ll never see Big Meech bring the tigers in, and unless you’re wanted on an outstanding warrant for using Limewire 20 years ago, you’ll never have to worry about the Feds doing a sweep. We’re all detached enough from their situations to find vicarious thrills in their music—it’s a mostly innocuous form of cultural tourism. Hendrix and King Push are avatars for the obscene realities of the trap. For most listeners, the 6ix God represents something more tangibly irritating.
Most fans only want artists to speak their truth if it reaffirms their own—if it matches the message of the TikTok video they recently reposted.
Drake is the f**kboy you know. He’s Kyle or Tyler or DeAndre or Todd. His less-than-harrowing background—the same one that used to endear him—has become a blade that slices both ways, one that’s attached to the usual evolution of a jaded “nice guy.” It was cute when he reminded you of a bleary eyed simp, but those dudes have a tendency to grow bitter. The man of your dreams can become the regrettable ex-boyfriend who still makes time to hit you with a weekly subtweet. It’s a subdued, but accessible brand of misogyny.
Pusha-T threatening to steal your girlfriend and make her get rib-removal surgery is probably worse than Drake complaining about a 20-something not being emotional enough. And yet, Pusha’s “Games We Play” quip is so over-the-top it borders on comedy. To an average person, Drake’s barb is infinitely more plausible, and so therefore, more hurtful. But that doesn’t make it more reprehensible.
Rap critics and fans don’t always have an issue with gender politics and metronomic subject matter; it just depends on the flavor, and it doesn’t look like Drizzy’s interested in updating his inventory. At least not prematurely. As a famous bachelor with the power to distort reality with his wealth whether he wants to or not, Drake simply has a different set of concerns than, well, pretty much everyone. If you were robbed at gunpoint because your girlfriend set you up, you might get the impulse to search through your next lover’s iPhone 12. If you find yourself in a romance with a woman who complains about expensive vacations, you might want to hit up a Pimp Named Slickback. Drake plays a different game with different rules. And even if he weren’t justified, it’s based in reality.
During a September episode of his podcast, A Safe Place, Drake’s frequent collaborator Lil Yachty recalled asking the 6ix God why he didn’t write conventional love songs anymore. Recapping the convo, he explained that Drizzy couldn’t write about things he wasn’t experiencing. “For him, everything is real,” Yachty explained. “Everything is pulled from something. Maybe he hasn’t been in love in a while to make love, deep love music or whatever the case may be.”
Drake might not be interested in making another “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” and he might not be handing out too many flowers in his music. But if Yachty is to be believed, at least he’s being honest. But that’s not always enough. In fact, it rarely is. Most fans only want artists to speak their truth if it reaffirms their own—if it matches the message of the TikTok video they recently reposted. Being unapologetically yourself is only good until… well, until you need to make an apology.
If we’re taking Drake at face value, there’s a solid chance he’s a self-centered frat bro who seriously needs to grow up. He tells on himself all throughout For All the Dogs. Yet what critics are asking of Aubrey is, perhaps, to be fake as hell. To keep it real, but only situationally. Those prescribed expectations don’t seem sound.
As it relates to trending topics, we don’t want the truth as much as we want a glassy surface that’s clear enough for us to see our reflection. Fair enough. But you can learn just as much about the world when looking at someone else. By turning the mirror on themselves, artists reveal an unfiltered existence, filthy pores and all. When we don’t allow that honesty, we erode the truth, limiting reality to our narrow prescriptive parameters as we frolic in a fantasy land. That leaves us in a disorienting state where no one knows what anyone actually thinks—a Matrix-like simulation no one should want to be a part of. Even Alfred got tired of the cap.
Toward the middle of the The Dark Knight sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, Alfred, determined to make Bruce move on from his past, tells him that Rachel had, in fact, chosen Harvey Dent to be her husband. Alfred’s revelation was a harsh one, but it was better than clinging to a failed fairytale that kept his friend grounded in grief and false hope. Before, Alfred thought that this reality wasn’t good enough. But the world taught him that it had to be.