Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Drake's "Trophies"

Drake is basically the biggest thing in rap right now. We've all come to accept that right? I think when even Kanye West, the biggest ego and most important rapper of the 00's says now that Drake has overtaken him in sheer popularity that we can crown Drake the king. (Note: I realize also that there's a man who calls himself "King Kendrick" but, personally speaking, I'm not impressed by such blatant power grabs by rappers with so much left to prove.) Even if you hate Drake, you're talking about him, arguing about what he signifies.

The point is, Drake knows this. He knows he's on top. So what do you do if you're Drake? Ruminate on that. Thus, enter "Trophies." The title is already typical rap provocation: he won, now he's collecting, and in the verses he does just that, talking about ordering drinks through a walkie talkie in a house so big that he hasn't seen his friends who live with him for two days.

But the chorus has substantive surprises that make the song a worthy addition to Drake's already canonical collection of self-reflection.

What's the move?
Can I tell the truth?
If I was doing this for you 
then I have nothing left to prove

This line almost comes off as weirdly defeatist, as though Drake has already achieved the best of what he can achieve as an artist, he's already proved that he's "Last name ever/first name greatest," and this contradicts the more jovial tone of the verses. The production reflects this, switching from the glorious trumpet blares to filtered synths, light piano textures and a seeming lack of percussion. Drake continues:

I'm just tryna stay alive 
and take care of my people
and they don't have no awards for that
Trophies . . . trophies
And they don't have no awards for that
this shit don't come with trophies
Ain't no envelopes to open
I just do it cuz I'm supposed to

This chorus is brilliant, and highlights a truth that artists rarely like to discuss: that at some point after great success has insured that art now pays your bills, that the grind of the artistic lifestyle can make it less of a passion and more of a job, even if an artist can continue to create great work. And whereas this revelation might come off as insufferable from someone else, Drake remembers why it is that people choose that lifestyle: he has friends and family who probably rely on his continued commercial success. And that's where he finds his motivation, and that's part of what makes this celebratory anthem, which could've been so bland, so memorable.

- Austin C. Howe, Maryland, 2014

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