Drake is a legend. But, right now, he’s also boring.
Drake’s new song with DJ Khaled dropped this week. And it already feels like I’ve heard it a million times. The song uncreatively borrows from the 1970s Bee Gee’s hit “Staying Alive” and features the same old lyrics about Drake’s promiscuous sex life.
I don’t even blame Drake for becoming stale. I blame the hip-hop industry. Sony, Universal and other multinational corporations have decided to promote the same messages over and over again. If it’s not sex, expect drugs or guns. Maybe some combination of the three.
But there is a Canadian rapper today who is far from boring: Tom MacDonald.
MacDonald doesn’t rap about the usual subjects. And that might be why he’s an independent artist. He works with his girlfriend and family members to create music and YouTube videos that average millions of views.
MacDonald grew up in British Columbia and Alberta. At 33 years old, he now resides in Los Angeles. His music draws in part from his personal struggles with alcoholism and depression, as well as his political views.
His most recent song, “Names,” has almost 5 million views in two weeks. It’s not hard to see why it’s popular. The song is typical of MacDonald’s music, which speaks to some of the cultural tensions encountered by Millennials and Gen Zers.
“They love to say they’re woke, they’re not awake,” MacDonald raps as if he’s providing advice to his young listeners. “They’re just names, afraid of anyone who ain’t the same/ So they classify your thoughts as controversial, not okay/ Then they cancel you ’til everything you have, all gets erased/ They tryna tell the world you’re bad, they’re just names.”
Some might argue that this type of music is political and therefore different from the music Drake makes. To me, it’s all art. And rappers have a choice to make about what type of messages they put out into the world because their words certainly impact our society. Drake is choosing to do what’s safe and easy, while MacDonald chooses to buck the status quo.
The new Elvis Presley biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann makes this point beautifully. In the film, when Elvis fears he is selling out and becoming just another well-compensated cog in the corporate machine, his music becomes more political.
Arguably the film’s best scene occurs on the set of a 1968 comeback special. Elvis refuses to please television sponsors or his manager with a rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus” and instead pays tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy by singing “If I Can Dream.” He’s able to connect with his audience so powerfully that the comeback effort is considered a huge success.
Jamil Jivani is an award-winning lawyer and author, who serves as the Government of Ontario’s first-ever advocate for Community Opportunities. He also leads a youth-focused research nonprofit, Road Home Research & Analysis, which is supported by the Pinball Clemens Foundation, and hosts a weekly radio show, “Tonight with Jamil Jivani” on Newstalk 1010.