Rebel With a Cause: A Night at Drake’s Club Paradise

When Aubrey Drake Graham took the microphone to address the crowd after beginning his two-plus hour, 30-plus song set with the choir-backed “Lord Knows” and Southern-fried “Underground Kingz,” he set the tone for the evening and hinted at what I was getting myself into.

Drake, age 25: “New York City, I don’t know if you plan on going anywhere else after here, but it doesn’t really matter, because I brought every single n—- that you want to hear. LET’S GO.”

Crowd, estimated average age 17: “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”

I think this is an appropriate and fantastic place to begin discussing the event that was, is, and will continue to be Club Paradise, Drake’s multi-city tour of the Americas. Before getting into this weekend’s show at Jones Beach on Long Island, here’s a Club Paradise instructional video of sorts, from his San Jose show on March 10:

Drake: “Where’s all my real n—-s at? OK, so like, for the sake of this moment right here, when I say ‘real n—-s,’ you can be like white, Chinese, or Indian, or Hispanic. So since we got that awkward moment out the way, where all my real n—-s at, one time?”

Crowd (at one time, as instructed): “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH”

Drake: “This shit right here is a song I did with some real n—-s, for some real n—-s. If you know it, then fuck with me, if you don’t, fuck with me the same way.” (Cue: “Stay Schemin”)

Rick Ross (audio): “RIP to all the real n—-s worldwide. Salute.”

Audio Rozay and crowd: “I ride for my n—-s, dawg, I ride for my n—-s.”

OK, I think that’s enough of the instructional. I think you’re ready to proceed.

I never thought of Drake and his music as rebellious until my ride back from Club Paradise. It never even crossed my mind, because my relationship with him and his music has always been peer-to-peer, with me thinking he’s attempting to wear too many hats at once. You know, there are heartbroken Drake, jealous lover Drake, steal your girlfriend Drake, glass case of emotions Drake, self-proclaimed “real n—- Drake” and “young n—- Drake,” and of course Aubrey, loving son. I’ve long understood (and sometimes even respected) his multiple personalities, because I think it’s an act many a person attempts to put on, but never did I see this as an act that could be construed as rebellion. Watching the way teenagers responded to his music, however, it became crystal clear that of all people, Drake has become the symbol of rebellion for a significant portion of the young-adult population.

Perhaps the greatest reason for all of this is that he’s extremely relatable for the average teenager, because he’s not too anything. Drake has cleverly found a way to be partly everything, which makes him a surefire candidate of admiration for an impressionable group that is desperately trying to relate to something. But while on the surface this screams “safe,” he somehow comes off as anything but. He’s volatile, he breaks rules, and he rarely follows orders. But he’s not the most volatile, and rarely does his rule-breaking get him in trouble (rarely …), and sometimes he does defer to others. He dwells in this world of “sometimes” and “occasionally,” something that is perfect for the teenager who wants to be rebellious and not get caught, but would deal with it (and perhaps celebrate it) if he/she were reprimanded. He’s become the ultimate non-polarizing figure, containing so many different personalities that you can identify with whichever one you choose. So, instead of deciding between “Drake or someone else,” one finds oneself discussing “this type of Drake” vs. “that type of Drake.” The end result: You’re still listening to Drake.

The only thing the row of white teenage girls behind me said more passionately than “n—-” was “YOLO.” They knew all of his other lyrics, but would scream “YOLO” between every song, almost as if they wanted Drake to hear how much this acronym dictated the way they approached the world. While that sounds insane (and probably terrifying if you’re a parent, seeing as having your teenage child subscribe to the YOLO platform is enough to permanently home-school them), of course “You Only Live Once” is all that matters. My teenage rebellion music was louder, and slightly more confrontational, dictated by the early-’00s crunk movement (“You can neva eva, eva eva, eva eva, eva eva eva eva. Get on my level”) but like YOLO to present-day teenagers, it was based in “I’ll do whatever I want.”

Drake doesn’t necessarily look the part of the guy who lives the way he celebrates, but neither does the average teenager. So when Drake spouts off at the mouth about any series of fantastical scenarios, it’s not only admirable, it’s also believable and achievable to someone striving to mirror a similar style of rebellion. It must be hard for the average 16-year-old to hear Rick Ross discuss the characteristics of being a “real n—-” and mirror that lifestyle. What is that kid who wants to be a “real n—-” supposed to do? Spend the better part of a decade selling drugs while entrenching oneself in cartels and violence and food? Maybe before, but now that Drake has branded himself “real” and has a laundry list of rappers who depend on him to live a paradisaical lifestyle, all that kid has to now do is behave like Drake, which essentially boils down to being a moody, angst-filled emotional roller coaster, a.k.a. a teenager.

This rebellion seems prevalent in the ease with which he says “n—-” and the way in which the crowd reacts accordingly. I’ll be honest, I’m definitely on the side of the spectrum that isn’t fazed by hearing non-black people say the word, but turning around and watching tens of thousands of white kids scream …

  • You only live once, it’s the motto n—- YOLO
  • Kobe my n—-, I hate it had to be him
  • YMCMB you n—-s more YMCA
  • Real n—-, what’s up
  • Shout out to the fact that I’m the youngest n—- doing it

… was one of the more intense things I’ve witnessed firsthand. It almost felt like it was an empowering moment for those screaming it, seemingly with extra gusto, at the top of their lungs. When I stood at a Jay-Z concert a few months ago and witnessed this phenomenon, I noted how there was tension surrounding the moment in question, with different people seemingly analyzing the situation before saying it (or not saying it). Not at Club Paradise. Not in the slightest. I’m sure that hesitation was present on Jones Beach, but from my vantage point it must have been tucked away somewhere, because all my eyes and ears experienced were thousands of Drake-anointed “real n—-s” proclaiming that they were, in fact, “real n—-s.” YOLO, I guess.

Yes, it’s impressive that the “soft,” Canadian, half-Jewish Drake was headlining a tour composed of five other popular rappers, but even more impressive is how dependent their increased popularity is on Drake’s very existence. Over the course of his set, in a very classy, brotherly love way, Drake illustrated his influence by bringing out many of his “brothers” for a series of collaborations.

Weeknd — “Crew Love”
2 Chainz — “No Lie”
Meek Mill — “Amen”
French Montana — “Pop That” and “Stay Schemin'”
Waka Flocka Flame — “Round of Applause”

The fact that he is vital to so many up-and-coming careers puts him in an elite class. And then, on top of that fact, while in New York he brings out NYC legend Busta Rhymes, and then has the nerve to bring together Cam’ron, Juelz Santana, and Jim Jones for a four-song Diplomats reunion set, further separating him from the pack. Watching this unfold live, it became clear that this was bigger than Drake simply having a star-studded show. This was Drake proving that he could do whatever he wanted, be friends with whomever he pleased, and most important, be respected by (almost) everyone, by choice or by force.

While that way of behaving isn’t the in-your-face rebellion that causes teenagers to latch onto his every word, it is the type that I thought about after leaving the concert. The “do what you want professionally and trust people to come around” way of life is the type of mid-20s rebellion that I will quickly admit is admirable. It’s hard to claim that Drake really changed his style to get to this point of influence, because he’s been this goofy, contradictory, hybrid creature from the beginning. Since his mixtapes, it’s been hard to peg him as anything more than an all-over-the-place rapper with regard to his content, and that’s still the way I’d describe him. One moment he’s talking about how he “doesn’t give a fuck about what people say,” and then the next, he’s standing on the sidelines watching Dipset perform, with the largest, fanboy-est smile on his face, and then five more minutes later, he’s telling everyone to “make some motherfucking noise for that Dipset in this bitch.”

Early on, I assumed Drake would have to adjust to the times to become successful. But it turns out the times have seemed more concerned with keeping up with Drake. While a great deal of his rebellion is utterly causeless, becoming a real force by sticking with his formula — whatever that formula may be — is a cause I can get behind. I think.

Filed Under: Cam'ron, Drake, Drakery, Waka Flocka Flame

Rembert Browne is a staff writer for Grantland.

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