culture vultures & More Life
It's been just over a month since Drake dropped his latest project, More Life. A project he deemed a playlist, not an album. A playlist on which he brings together artists from all over the world taking their vibes and waves with him. More Life features Giggs + Sampha + Skepta from the UK, Quavo of the Migos + 2 Chainz + Young Thug from ATL, Kanye's Chicago, PARTYNEXTDOOR to rep the 6 and Black Coffee from South Africa. More Life is a conglomeration of multiple cities and cultures sounds all brought together by Drake, one of the biggest names in pop today. (Yes, I said pop. Drake isn't a rapper anymore).
Regardless of what you think about the playlist - I personally am still working my way through it, because I don't have an eighty-one minute long attention span, but I digress - there's something to be said for Drake's ability to bring together artists from all of the world. Love him or hate him, you have to give Drake his props.
In the month since More Life dropped, I've had many a conversation about the project, Drake's role in the music game, and never letting anyone ride your wave. The most interesting of these conversations being about the last point, wave riding by Drake and the form it takes. A form some have deemed cultural appropriation.
Listen, we all know Drake is a culture vulture. His British accent is atrocious. And while Toronto has a prominent Caribbean culture, Drake is Black and Jewish. So, his interest in other sounds rightfully warrants some interrogation. Maybe he puts artists on tracks to help them out, provide a platform, and promote the music he loves or is inspired by. But, maybe he's simply amplifying voices he thinks could eclipse his and steals their wave. What you think about that is up to you.
More important than whether or not Drake himself is a culture vulture, is a larger question raised by More Life. The question being, can Black people appropriate other Black cultures/ethnicities?
Most people I talked to are divided about the issue. Some, would argue that yes. An African American putting on Jamaican culture, when its not a cultural group they directly belong to is appropriation. Others would argue that given the nature of the diaspora and that we all likely came from the same or similar origins, no, you can't appropriate another Black culture as a Black person.
I personally am not sure where I fall for a number of reasons. One, as a Black person who can trace her ancestry past the American South but whose family only identifies with being from Alabama, Mississippi, or Georgia, who is to tell me that I'm not actually a descendant of or connected to XYZ ethnicity? Plus, where is the line between appropriation and appreciation? My best friends are Jamaican and Belizean respectively. If they speak to me in patois and I speak some back because they've taught it to me, is that appropriation? Should I not listen to Caribbean or African music? Where is the line?
When I go to Ghana, it's obvious to myself and everyone I interact with that I have some connection to the land, the people, the bone structure, hair texture. Sure, it could be the same in Nigeria or any of the old Gold Coast countries. But, why is engaging with that possible side of myself wrong as a Black American?
Can we only engage with that which we are directly? What are artists allowed to be inspired by?
I understand the arguments on the other side of the aisle though. Drake isn't British so he shouldn't be rapping with a trash British accent. Drake ruins whatever wave he gets on. Drake is just putting on these cultures and their sounds for profit - not for the benefit of that cultural group/place. But, if Giggs being on a Drake track means more people look into and learn about what it mean to be Black and British + come to appreciate UK Grime is that such a bad thing?
When did we learn to hate and separate ourselves to such a strong degree? When did we forget that at the end of the day, we're all just one big happy Black family? Maybe we didn't all come from Kings and Queens, but at we did all come from somewhere. Together.
Image: MTV UK