Pop produces a spectrum of characters ranging from lab designed products to authentic genius., Drake sits somewhere in between. He has a story of rising up from humble beginnings, his content has remained his own, marked by his signature musings and reflections. He may rub shoulders with the likes of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift (the aforementioned Products) yet he seems to carry an authenticity his contemporaries lack. There has always been something strange in his music, it isn’t the instrumentals, and it isn’t the controversy that tabloids cook up. No, Drake’s greatest flaw is his philosophy, something which has grown more polemic as he has grown into a public figure.
Friendship, he just can’t figure it out. It’s a burning question to which he provides a philosophical answer that is pure horseshit: isolation. The opening lines of ‘Madiba Riddim’ sums up his relationship with the world:
“I can not tell who is my friend; I need distance between me and them”
His newest album ‘More Life’ is steeped in scepticism towards the role of friends in life, we see him formulate a philosophy of isolation that is often mirrored by his fans and contemporaries. He is mistaken at almost every turn here, and More Life serves as a reminder of the tragic agony that accompanies foregoing what is the essential component of human experience: mateship.
Let’s begin with the importance of friendship; which is obviously an integral part of human life. No inquiry into how to live a good life forgoes friendship, and all of the greatest minds in history agree that friendship is what binds us as human, as A.C. Grayling points out in his book ‘friendship’, we must even subordinate amorous love to it, for what is a perfect lover, if not a best friend? There are two major philosophical influences in the way we view friendship: the classical views, and the christian views, both have unique flaws that characterise Drake’s slip into isolationism.
The classical statement of friendship, funnily enough, occurred exactly the same in both the eastern and western philosophical traditions, Aristotle of Athens and Mencius of China (a Confucianist) echo the same sentiment. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states that a friend is ‘another self’, which is a lovely yet all-too idealistic view of what it is to have a friend. He stipulates that a true friendship of this order can only be achieved between good people, and in saying this he means people of ‘virtue’ or excellence; the obvious problem here is that people of virtue are rare, and so virtuous friendships would be even rarer. Aristotle himself acknowledges this when he states “Friends, there is no such thing as a friend!” There are other flaws to this view of the perfect friend as another self; namely that friends often must go against us for our own good, they must challenge and confront us, and help us face reality.
This ‘other self’ is an idea that captured thinkers thereafter, and as classical views surged back into popularity in the Renaissance, we see an affirmation of this idealised form of friendship that is here to stay. The best example of this is the friendship between Michel de Montaigne and his friend Etienne de la Boetie, whereupon reflection Montaigne reasons that their friendship was singular “because it was him. Because it was myself.”
Drake was born into a world where this sentiment guides our quest for friends; only to realise that it’s not always possible. The pain of this experience (that we all have in some way felt before) seems endemic to the generations of people fed this ideal through pop culture. The result that materialises from this is the absence of a ‘true friend’. But of course, the painful irony to Drake’s reality (and that of anyone sharing his philosophy) is that a ‘true friend’ as determined by someone seeking ‘another self’, will always be a standard that people, in their fallibility, will never be able to adhere to.
The isolation that Drake feels in the face of a world without the right friends is endemic to the hip-hop community. Another famous proponent of paranoid self-isolation is Kanye West; their views culminate on their collaborative track “glow”.
“’Member doin’ shows, ain’t nobody show up
Pour your heart out, ain’t nobody show love
They used to laugh when my whip was on the tow truck
‘Til me and bein’ broke finally broke up”
For something to glow, darkness must surround it. Drakes nihilistic disenfranchisement with his peers provides this darkness, and he makes it explicit that his goal is to light his own way, in solitude.
In ‘Glow’ Drake explicitly tells us how he has thus far and plans to continue to shine: through money. It’s easy to dismiss the materialistic nature of hip-hop artists, it is a ubiquitous motif that almost every contemporary must address, but the attainment of wealth is a central part of what is the ‘beating the odds’ story of hip-hop. Mark Greif quips that if the narrative of rock music is ‘getting free’ (escaping the restrictions of everyday life), and country music is about ‘getting by’ within one’s means; then the central narrative of hip-hop is that of ‘getting over’ your competition.
This is where Christian Philosophy, with its more abstract focus, comes in. Augustine of Hippo subordinated relations between men to relations with God, as it was God that willed friendships to exist in the first place. What is striking, is the manner in which Drake’s disenfranchised philosophy mirrors Augustine’s detached approach to human relations.
Every rapper has a god of sorts; for many, Drake included, that god is wealth (for Kanye it’s himself), and Drake’s relationship with wealth plays out symmetrically to Augustine’s relationship with God. Friendships are subordinated to Drake’s wealth, for he very clearly believes that his wealth is what instigates the majority of his friendships (Consider that the outro to glow is a sample of Earth Wind and Fire’s “Devotion” which discusses faith as a light through dark times.)
Philosophers have often stated that people seek religious faith as an answer to the tragedy of the world, and here Drake’s tragedies are sutured with his relationship to wealth. Hip-hop relies on this faith in wealth; its story is essentially that of class-mobility, and one must compete against others who are equally dogged by the tragedies of the world for a place at the top. Even Tupac fell into this trap, “Thugs get lonely too” may not be as poignant but the message is essentially the same. Drake’s philosophy is endemic to the majority of hip-hop stories in which people from similar communities, who very much resemble each other in experience and life, must view each other as threats and would-be usurpers. It is a philosophy of loneliness and solipsism that leaves each player vulnerable.
I’m reminded of Sir Francis Bacon’s phrase “Whoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god,” it carries special meaning here. On the one hand, one can imagine a wild world where there is no love or connection, and human interaction bears resemblance to a meeting of wild animals, each unsure whether to fight or flee. And on the other hand, it resembles the deliberate asceticism characteristic of monks, where one removes any distractions from faith and seeks to be closer to god. Yet in this world our monks’ trade robes for fur coats and Nikes.
There is one point in “More Life” where this mindset is almost escaped. In the song “get it together” guest vocalist Jorja is the voice of sincerity, in the context of Drake’s cynicism, her lines play out like cliches, but if we interpret them as a radical break from their context we can see Drake confronted with a genuine desire unaffiliated with wealth, for human contact. Yet he postpones this:
“You need me to get that shit together, so we can get together”
One can only react to this fear of connection and need for material self-assurance with sympathy. The promises of self-assurance that wealth provides are empty, and Drakes need to ‘get that shit together’ before taking any emotional gambles is a symptom of sickness. I feel for Drake, he’s worked hard and created some great music to get where he is, but it’s tragically being revealed that he is backed into a corner, alone, in a place far wilder than it is godly.