Drake is not meme-worthy: He's a living, breathing, dancing meme. Ever since social media got a hold of the album cover for 2011's Take Care, the rapper's every move has been a subject for scrutiny, parody, think pieces, GIFs. After the debut this week of the music video for his latest single, "Hotline Bling," it's safe to say that Drake has become a master at capitalizing on his awkward, boastful, at times slightly petty and emotional persona.
Helmed by Director X, the "Bling" video features Drake dancing — solo, often in wide shot — very much as if no one's watching. Later on, he's joined by choreographer Tanisha Scott, who was asked to craft a routine reminiscent of her work on Sean Paul's "Temperature" video. The whole thing screams, "meme me," and the digital masses responded immediately. Drake's awkward dancing has been mashed up with the Latin classic "Suavemente," the Peanuts theme song, even a ukulele in the spirit of this week's Canadian elections.
Right now, Drake is winning: He's hung onto the spotlight between album cycles and nudged viewers into laughing with him, more than at him. But if it was just the memes you were paying attention to this week, you missed a charged discussion about the song itself.
There are the lyrics, deemed problematic by feminist critics, in which Drake's narrator trolls a woman for not living by his definition of a "good girl." And there is the musical vibe: "Hotline Bling" borrows elements from Virginia singer D.R.A.M.'s hit song, "Cha Cha." When Drake first premiered "Hotline Bling" on his Apple Beats 1 show, it was titled and socialized as a "Cha Cha" remix. As it started to climb the charts, though, that characterization morphed into something less defined.
In an unused excerpt from his recent FADER cover interview, published well after the original story ran, Drake says "Hotline Bling" — which is built upon a sample of Timmy Thomas' 1972 R&B track "Why Can't We Live Together" — is an example of when artists put a twist on a similar rhythm (or "riddim"), a practice popular in music derived from Jamaica. "In Jamaica, you'll have a riddim and it's like, everyone has to do a song on that. Imagine that in rap," he told The FADER. The question remains: is it inspiration or theft? Does it matter either way, if Drake sits on a throne of his own?
While Drake raps about competing for the crown, he wears one that is made to fit only him (though its legitimacy is up for debate). His co-signs and remixes have moved artists, some already on track for success, an inch closer to the mainstream, from D.R.A.M. to Migos to Fetty Wap. This summer he slid past ghostwriting allegations, strategically making Meek Mill, who called him out, look foolish. He used a rap beef originally intended to shut him down to his own benefit, turning a diss song, "Back to Back," into yet another hit. These days, Drake's moves have become as talked about, if not more so, than his music.