Late in 2016, Drake, ever the innovator, announced the release of his concept album ‘More Life’ – self-dubbed “a collection of songs that become the soundtrack to your life.” What exactly this means, I don’t know. Whether Drake even has the ability to nearly back up so bold a claim, I’m highly sceptical. Yet neither of these really matter, it’s the scale of ambition that’s so impressive, and so typical of the enigma that is Drake.
Throughout his career he has strived for greatness; starting off as an actor on the popular Canadian teen-drama 'Degrassi: The Next Generation’, he quickly decided he would become a rapper, self-released a mixtape, ‘Room for Improvement’ (the title already indicative of his desire never to be satisfied), and two mixtapes later was involved in one of the biggest record label tug-of-wars in recent memory. He has since grown into arguably the biggest name in Hip-Hop, continuously setting the tone of popular music.
Reading about this new project, I couldn’t help but draw a rather unexpected comparison, one that on the face of it seems completely ludicrous, but hear me out – is Drake a modern day Ezra Pound?
For those unaware, Pound was an early 20th Century Modernist poet, famous for being the mentor of the great T.S. Eliot, and a pioneer of the Imagist movement in poetry. An ambitious character himself, Pound is seen by many as one of the most influential poets in the modern canon, both for his own work and, more importantly for this comparison, for his promotion of other’s work. Throughout his career, he took on numerous protégés, edited their works, introduced them to similar minds and virtually guaranteed their publication. T.S. Eliot is the obvious example, Joyce, and ‘Ulysses’ another – the list is long and important. You almost get the feeling that Pound was the judge of what was successful or not, at least in that specific literary sphere.
This struck a chord, isn’t Drake famous for his protégé-taking? The Weeknd and Future, or more recently PARTYNEXTDOOR, Migos, Wizkid, Kodak Black, Roy Woods and Majid Jordan. These are important names whose careers came into being in large partly due to Drizzy’s endorsement. It feels nowadays that anything Drake touches will turn to gold (on a side note, the fact that he’s become so interested in Grime, signing for BBK, performing with Skepta, featuring in young MC Dave’s track ‘Wanna Know’, is a promising sign for the future of the genre). ‘More Life’ then, presumably a compilation of tracks from Drake co-signs, is the ultimate expression of this likeness. Where Pound was the editor of numerous literary journals, Drake is the ‘editor’ of this musical journal, both of them building the platform for their young to take off whilst enhancing their own careers at the same time.
This is where the comparison gets stronger. When Ezra Pound endorsed a writer, he didn’t just aid in their publication. No, no, no! When Pound decided you had talent, you listened to what he had to say. There’s tangible evidence, especially with Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, of Pound deciding how the work should be written and what should be included within it. You can see in early drafts of some his protégé’s works how he crosses through large sections of poems, retitles things, even writes in new sections; when Pound took over, it was clearly evident. Much of his edits are to align the works with his Imagist philosophy, i.e. that a work should contain as much intensity as possible in the fewest amount of words – see ‘In the Station of the Metro’ by him, as a perfect example of this – and in this way propelled his movement to the forefront of Modernism.
Drake does the same. Listening through the list of artists mentioned earlier, you frequently hear the same airy, drifting, seductive beats behind the vocals. The catchiness of the hooks is almost ever-present, as is the auto tune underpinning the vocals. The sound is so easily recognisable. These characteristics, the core to the success of songs like ‘Hotline Bling’ and ‘One Dance’, have become a staple in chart music, and one cannot fail to note that this is due to Drake. You can see this with The Weeknd’s ‘Starboy’, a current chart-topping hit, that it bears all the hallmarks of a Drake hit and is proving so successful. To a certain extent, he does control what does and doesn’t make the charts.
Ezra Pound clearly sought to control the ‘market’ of Modernist literature; is Drake doing the same? With his growing OVO brand and radio, his big-money deal with Apple Music, is he trying to condition us to only listen to his music? To only like what he likes? It certainly matches his previous ambition and explains the desire to ‘soundtrack our life.’ Might we become a race of Drake-led zombies?
Obviously this is an exaggeration, but I think that the sentiment is an important one. With more and more music being accessible through recommendation, there’s significant concern that what we listen to will be altered to the profit of all-encompassing artists like Drake. With this in mind, how much more so is it important to seek out independent music, support up and coming artists, and truly find music that makes you happy.
By Asher Breuer-Weil