‘I Guess’ is Kathy Iandoli’s battle cry of #shruglife. It’s everything that impresses us and unimpresses us—which could be one in the same given the day.
About ten years ago I helped research for a book called Decoded by this guy named JAY-Z. You’ve probably heard of him, but if you didn’t happen to read his New York Times Bestselling lyrical memoir, then you might have missed how the crux of the work was centered on Jay deciphering his rap lyrics as they pertained to his life. This was before Genius would become the global giant of “annotating” songs from either the mouths of the artists themselves or their rabid fan bases. Before artists designed songs for Instagram. Before we even really knew what Instagram was. There was a charm to that book, mainly because of how elusive Jay was. In a pre-4:44 world, we would squint with our ears to listen intently to an artist who would weave his truths so tightly within his work, that it was nearly impossible to know anything about him despite his metaphors reflecting everything about him. This is the antithesis of whatever it is that Drake has become.
It’s not entirely Drake’s fault. When he graduated from Degrassi in 2008, his ride into hip-hop came with skid marks from Jimmy’s wheelchair that left Drake as the punchline of a budding meme culture. Over the course of ten years, this would become his gift and his curse. Childhood photos with sentimental song lyrics, paired with Jimmy shots and super thug bar captions, and Twitter accounts geared toward his emotions all attempted to dismantle Drake’s career but, like Puff, it was a continuous “can’t stop, won’t stop” ethos. So much so that Drake would just embrace it all, and once you do that, you’re Teflon. It’s like the final battle scene in 8 Mile: if you’re in on the jokes, then you’re immune to the sting of the disses. That’s been Drake time and time again.
So what exactly makes this moment particularly annoying? Well, a few things. For one, that Pusha T / Drake beef was a big pile of silly. People were screaming from the heavens that it rejuvenated hip-hop, even though what followed were a bunch of three-minute albums from Kanye’s camp and a two-hour album from Drake. Okay, I fudged the numbers a bit, but seriously, is there anyone left on Planet Rock who thinks that that beef changed the game? What it did do was just further this memeful agenda that has made Drake even more of an impenetrable force.
On Pusha’s Drake diss “The Story of Adidon,” we get the Jerry Springer-esque “Drake, you are the father” moment. Drake turns it all the way around on Scorpion by referencing his son on a few tracks, like “March 14” (“Single father, I hate when I hear it”), “Seed” (“Kiss my son on the forehead, then kiss your ass goodbye”), and the most notable “Emotionless” (“I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world, I was hiding the world from my kid”). Cool. Drake pulled the 8 Mile move yet again. That “Here, tell these people something they don’t know about me.” And how did the internet respond? With a fucking meme:
Apparently his son’s name is Adonis Mahbed Graham, and the internet has bludgeoned us into submission with the theory that on “God’s Plan,” Drake says, “I only love Mahbed and my momma, I’m sorry.” Really?
Then there’s this “In My Feelings” dance challenge thing.
So at the end of June, the comedian who invented “The Shiggy” dance did it to Drake’s “In My Feelings” right at the line:”Kiki, do you love me? Are you ridin’?” Blah blah blah. In less than a month, everyone from Will Smith to Ciara has taken part in the #InMyFeelingsChallenge, ultimately giving Drake’s song some anabolic steroids on the streaming charts.
Then came more memes:
Not to mention a bunch of screenshotted Tweets demanding the correct spelling of “Kiki” (it was “Keke” for a hot second). So then Kiki got the “Mahbed” treatment and we learned only this week that Drake is talking about a girl named K’yanna Barber (hence the “KB, do you love me?” that follows). OMG, so awesome, right?
Listen, Drake has remained aggressively consistent for nearly a decade now. His music has managed to volley between being seeped in the feels to being straight-up cold-blooded. And in a world of #content #content #content, he’s managed to have a long trail of Instagram-worthy breadcrumbs to follow his musical legacy. And what’s worse is now we are mining for song meanings only to make more memes out of them.
This isn’t problematic for Drake per se, but it is for every artist who thinks they can copy this business model and apply it to their own careers. It’s creating music with the hopes that a snippet will appear on social media in some form: as a video, as a meme, as a dance challenge. Drake is also guilty of perpetuating this when he posted about Kodak Black’s “Skrt” and basically ignited Kodak’s whole career.
This completely changes how artists create. The intent to make a well-rounded song is gone; now it’s wedging something cool in the middle of a bunch of other stuff so some Instagram farmer will uproot it and grow it across platforms. Now you may be thinking, “Ugh, just shut up. Bad enough we have the pressures of living in a MAGA world, now you’re taking our joy away from decoding Drake lyrics and doing awkward dances alongside moving vehicles.”
Maybe I am, but the next time you’re sporting the confused emoji face about the consistently diminishing quality of music, this is the reason why. Your favorite artist isn’t out to give you three minutes of quality; it’s 15 seconds for the ‘Gram and two minutes and forty-five seconds of whatever else is leftover. Does anyone really love what’s happening here? Does Kiki?
The lesson here is: be careful what you meme.
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