Aubrey Graham aka Drake is many things.
Patron saint of sensitive men with dreams deferred and a penchant for the petty.
Patronus to women who like men that tow the line between swagged out confidence and corny boy next door.
Self-professed lover of his bed and his mom.
Man whose texts Rihanna leaves on ‘read.’
In 2018, I’m giving Drake a new moniker. Bop King, Snatcher of Wigs. Drake has watched from the mountains as hip-hop's advancements have been overseen by a child. Multiple of them in fact. I’m looking at you Lil Pump and 6ix9ine. I know this makes me sound like a crotchety old-timer. Too bad. Don’t @ me. I like my music with > 30 words and at least 20% of those words enunciated. If I wanted any less, I’d listen to our president speak.
Drake released his latest single on Friday, April 6th titled “Nice For What” and nothing was the same. For starters, the song is a serious, serious bop. I’m talking replay value on 100, club turn-up guaranteed, lyrics as IG captions for all the days.
"With your phone out, gotta hit them angles"
"And you showin' off, but it's alright"
"That's a real one in your reflection, without a follow, without a mention"
I can picture the exact selfie I'd take for each of these lyrics. Can you? Let the captions inspire (not kidding).
Truthfully, When I listen to this song, I sometimes hit my angles for no reason in particular. Yes, I look crazy, but it’s alright because it's my life. And the angles are fierce. Besides, the song is just that good. And while “Nice For What” is an excellently produced and performed single, it’s the video that makes the song a pop-culture gem. It’s music video as statement. It’s music video as art. I would say your fav could never. But let’s be real, she's probably featured in the video.
And after a few days of watching from the mountains (didn’t they tell you I'm tribe Jabari?), I decided to dissect why “Nice For What” feels like a pop culture juggernaut. I also began to wonder, are we witnessing the start of Drake’s “Imperial Phase”? I'll breathe more life into that question later.
But first, if you haven't watched the “Nice For What” video, it's too late. Here is the link though for your convenience.
“Nice For What” starts with a spoken word sample from Big Freedia, a popular ‘bounce' artist from New Orleans, Louisiana. ‘Bounce’ is a sub-genre of hip-hop that originated in NOLA and features heavy, repetitive drum beats and call and response lyrics that hype the crowd and encourage energetic, spirited dancing.
If you’re wondering is "energetic, spirited dancing” a euphemism for vigorous twerking, you would be 100% correct.
The song starts with Big Freedia asking:
“I want to know who motherf*ckin' representing in here tonight?” During these words, we see solo shots of a carefree, confident Olivia Wilde (Thirteen from 'House') serving “who’s gon' check me? I’m fabulous." Already in this opening shot, Drake answers Big Freedia’s question. Who is representing in here tonight?
Strong, confident, women. Nasty Women. Women who'll be nice for what?
In comes a sample of Lauryn Hill’s 1996 classic song “Ex-Factor.” We hear the instantly recognizable lyrics “I keep letting you back in / how can I explain myself?” over a minimal beat. It’s at this moment you realize Drake did not come to play with these heaux. He came to slay.
He next pays respect to Louisiana (love the recognition) and says:
"something for y'all to cut up to, you know"
Drake is talking directly to female listeners here. "This song is for y'all. Thank me later."
Don't think for one second think Aubrey doesn't know what he's doing. It's this earnest intention that endears us to Drake.
For the rest of the video we see a cast of famous women in settings that showcase them at their best, most natural, most boss-tactic self. We see Misty Copeland sensually dancing ballet (tbh didn’t think this was possible) in a dark club-lit studio. Issa Rae, looking like straight money bags, leads a board meeting comprised of white men and exudes awkward charm and humor. We see Rashida Jones hitting that selfie-angle like a damn dodecahedron. Just all the angles. All the perfection.
I can go on and on.
So I will. (It’s my blog, I can write if I want to)
We see supermodel Jourdan Dunn riding a horse looking like Equestrian Royalty. Dunn is serving "I do not believe in your equality" and your honor, we accept. We're just not on her level. Literally. She's on a horse!
Next, we see Tracee Ellis Ross, black America’s favorite Auntie, doing Tracee Ellis Ross tingz (would we expect any less?). Dressed in a sparkly jump-suit, she dances with her signature carefree energy looking extra alive in a barren cold tundra. 10 points for her!
Next shot is Tiffany Haddish aka the Last Black Unicorn and instigator of #WhoBitBeyonce-gate. She's smoking a cigar and making lung cancer look sexy. Yara Shahidi, Hollywood's newest it girl, is decked out in a trade school sweater (Harvard) serving young intellectual meets sisterhood of the woke traveling pants. Zoe Saldaña is up next and we see her preciously playing with presumably her children, glowing in motherhood, inviting us to see a soft edge to her otherwise glamazon persona.
The penultimate women we see is Michelle Rodriguez, who plays the same role in every movie - hard ass who’d cut a heaux, looking like in this video - a levitating hard ass who’d cut a heaux. There’s an intense, but zen-like energy to Michelle Rodriguez that’s accentuated by the absence of music and a strange yellow haze.
After a prolonged shot of a levitating Michelle Rodriguez, comes in my opinion the most beautiful and striking part of the video.
We hear “watch the breakdown” and the "Ex-Factor" sample comes roaring back with Letitia Wright aka Princess Shuri from Black Panther overlooking her hometown, the City of London. The camera pans out and the credits of the featured woman roll. Letitia Wright looks effortlessly cool and composed. The view of London is gritty, and not-instantly recognizable as London, as we don’t see many of the city's famous monuments. Instead, we see council flats and nondescript city buildings, distorted by a hazy orange-brownish air. Fans of Drake are well-aware of this man's love affair with the London hip-hop scene. I would contend that ending with a shot of Letitia Wright, who is a rapper herself, overlooking London is Drake paying homage to a main source of his creative inspiration.
The choice to end the video with a pensive Letitia Wright is great. Letitia, who made her pop-culture debut just 2 months ago, represents a young black woman with a bright future in Hollywood, marching to the beat of her own drum. Much like her BP character, Shuri, Letitia’s new-found stardom, agency, and effortless cool ends the video on an ascendant note. Not only that, the vantage point of the last shot is high in the sky, and we appear to be floating over London. Transported up high by the visuals and the music. Drake is serving us views. And by the end of the video, you feel like the game has been won. Drake conquered your heart.
At its core, “Nice For What” is Drake’s ode to independent women who refuse to be confined or judged by the male gaze. The women were bold, confident, carefree, vulnerable, sexy, funny, sensual, and everything in between. The imagery felt authentic and empowering. The male gaze was totally absent. And while Drake is in the video, he’s never shot alongside a woman. We barely see his face, and rarely if ever does he make eye contact with the camera. His male gaze is literally absent.
This is in opposition to all the women in the video who stare directly at the camera. They make eye contact with us and if you are a fan of any of these women, you can’t help but feel, or literally yell “yasss, do you boo! Go on with you bad self.” I mean I thought seeing Tiffany Haddish milly rock in a bathtub filled with jewels smoking a cigar only happened in dreams. My dreams at least. Thankfully, the 22 year old director, Karena Evans, took care when coming up with these visuals. She blessed us with a whole new suite of gifs.
In addition to the visuals, the lyrics of "Nice For What" bolster the song's pro-women message. These four lines encapsulate the song's mantra:
“That’s a real one, in your reflection
Without a follow, without a mention.
You really piping’ up on these niggas
You gotta be nice for what to these niggas"
The first two lines are a clever modern day way of being strong without somebody there providing external validation. When you’re out here living your best life, why do you got to be nice? For what?
Throughout the song, Drake describes a woman operating outside of an axis where value is ascribed by proximity to a man or being in a relationship. This makes "Nice For What" a low-key modern day female empowerment song, rapped by a man who goes by ChampagnePapi. There’s a Jezebel think piece somewhere in here I'm sure.
Given the thesis of this song, I think sampling "Ex-Factor" is an interesting choice. For me, there's a disconnect between the message of "Nice For What" and the "Ex-Factor" sample, where a woman is perseverating over an ex. I mean Drake's line "had a man last year, life goes on" is in stark contrast to the chorus from the sample:
"Care for me, care for me, you said you'd care for me
There for me, there for me, said you'd be there for me"
I don't know why Drake decided to include the "Ex-Factor" sample, but it does set up an underlying dramatic tension to the song. The two thematic elements have great synergy and the tension works. But why? Why does does Drake introduce the tension, and how does it augment or complicate the message of “Nice For What.” Some of y’all may be thinking, relax Chidi it’s a damn song.
To that I say “Hit the road like I hit dem angles”
Truthfully, I don't have the answer to why, but many theories could be put forth. Nevertheless, this sampling will go down as one of the greatest for how it synergizes with the bounce beat and the conversation it invites with the base song.
“Nice For What” is Drake’s most recent contribution to the music landscape. Before this, he released "God’s Plan", which has been on the top of the charts for the past 10 weeks. It’s clear that for this next album Drake is assuming his ultimate form. His recent singles and videos have definitely taken his artistry up a notch.
I love how this Twitter user put it:
Aubrey Drake Graham is not playing games in 2018. In fact, he may be entering his imperial phase with this newest album. The imperial phase is when artists are at their commercial and creative peak. During this phase, every thing an artist touches turns into gold. Think Usher circa “Confessions", Lady Gaga circa “The Fame Monster" or Iggy Azeala circa ...
Here is why Drake may be entering his imperial phase. More than any other mainstream artist right now, Drake seems to have a pulse on the culture. He blesses the landscape with the bops and imagery that keeps us talking, sharing, and feeling good. And if "God's Plan" and "Nice For What" are indications of his future sound, his next album is going to be fire. Moreover, Drake is being his authentic self while making music with a message. His authenticity, no matter how contrived, is danceable, marketable, and destined for the charts.
The 6 God is ready. The question is, are we?
While we reflect on this, let’s continue dancing to "Nice For What” with energy and with spirit 😜. And in the meantime:
Aubrey Drake Graham.
You're hitting all the angles.
- Wahala Jr.
PS: If you liked this post and the blog in general, please share, tweet, DM, and reblog the link (I think I covered all my bases!). I would greatly appreciate the love :).
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