BY KAT SHERMACK
As we all know, Drake is a proud born-and-raised Toronto boy. Hardly home but always reppin’, he even tattooed “416” on his torso and the CN Tower on his arm, and, as of Monday morning, was anointed the Raptors’ “global ambassador.”
But despite his elevated stature, he’s always stayed in tune with what’s happening on the city’s streets. Although Drake has yet to rap about, say, the Scarborough-transit debate or Rob Ford, Toronto was clearly in his heart when he contributed a verse to Snoop Lion’s “No Guns Allowed” last April. “News from back home/ This when it hurts to be gone,” Drake raps, referencing the Danzig Street shootings of July 2012. “Told you no guns and then you didn’t listen/ Life is so heavy with that on your soul/ Dedicate this to Shyanna and Josh/ And pour something out for the lives that they stole,” he continues, ending his verse with a simple “416.” (The rhymes echo the Tweets he sent out the day after the incident: “My condolences go out to the family and friends of Shyanne Charles and Joshua Yasay. Senseless violence in Toronto has to stop.”)
It seemed then that Drake was very much in touch with the mood of the city, one that was shaken after this brutal act of murder. He seemed genuinely concerned that gun violence is a real problem in Toronto, and that many of his fellow 416ers don’t feel safe in their own neighbourhoods.
But all that seems to have been forgotten now.
Last week, Drake released a video for “Hold on We’re Going Home,” the second single off his latest album, Nothing Was the Same. Directed by Matrix cinematographer Bill Pope, the short film is set in Miami circa 1985, and even without the title card informing us of this, the opening club sequence—rife with gold chains and bad hair—confirms the date and locale. In case you don’t have seven minutes to spare, let me summarize: Drake gets a phone call informing him a rival mobster has abducted his lingerie-clad lady; Drake and his boys set out to get her back, and the song plays out in the background amid much machine-gun fire and many explosions. As the song draws to a close, Drake is reunited with his girl—right after he mows down her kidnapper in a hail of bullets.
The video’s bad hairstyles, garish suits, and rotary-dial phones are clearly envisioned as a tongue-in-cheek homage to ’80s artifacts like Scarface and Miami Vice. (The former’s Steven Bauer even stars as Drake’s chief adversary.) And the cinematic scale of the video feels like a manifestation of Drake’s recently expressed desire to return to his acting roots. But at the risk of sounding like someone who just isn’t in on the joke—sorry, I’ve never watched Miami Vice—I can’t help but question the violence in this video. Given his previously stated concerns over the shootings happening in his own town, I can’t understand why Drake would choose to release a video that, intentionally or not, glorifies gunplay.
Unlike other artists, Drake never tried to convince us he was a former gangster, hustling to get by until he made his big break. Instead of putting on an act, Drake went against the grain—the only person he ever wanted to be was himself. Sincerity has been Drake’s most endearing quality ever since his mixtape days, when we first met the earnest rapper who drank white wine instead of sizzurp, and who crooned his way into our hearts with songs about drunk-dialing ex-girlfriends and cruising the streets of Toronto in his mom’s Acura. This video marks a departure from the Drake I know and love—what we see instead is a Drake who is less concerned with being true to himself and his fans, and more concerned with pretending he’s in Grand Theft Auto. And in light of the anti-violence rhetoric he espoused in the wake of the Danzig Street shootings, the video feels downright insensitive and hypocritical.
I don’t think Drake, or any other celebrity for that matter, has a responsibility to be a role model. My unofficial study of Drake songs has determined his top three subjects are sex, drugs, and drinking, and for a pop star, that’s probably how it should be. To me, the issue here isn’t that Drake is setting a bad example for his fans. It’s that, for the first time, he’s making us question his credibility as a conscientious Torontonian.
Our city is still very much affected by gun violence, with 18 people killed in shootings so far this year. If Drake indeed still has Toronto in his heart, and still wants to truly represent the 416, maybe he should think twice before releasing a video where violence is not only graphically displayed, but rewarded.