Tuesday, December 22, 2009
We Just Let Him Be Successful
I've got maybe one more post before I launch into the "Best of '09" list, so in the spirit of giving here's a story about me, Degrassi, and ketchup chips
"I'm goin in."- Pierre Trudeau
I've been meaning to do a post on Degrassi for two years now, but wasn't quite able to find the angle until the magic of synergy and the idiocy of handing college students the keys to the higher learning bureaucracy came together back in the ides of April of this year. My college has the dubious distinction of being where Wheelchair Jimmy had his coming out party as the creator of the 3rd best R&B album of the year (behind Ryan Leslie and Maxwell, natch). That distinction is dubious because his headlining of the first night of Culture Shock, our college's yearly clusterfuck of Livejournal-community trolling/infighting, character assassination, uninformed bitching, subcultural pandering, budget overspending, student government dilapidation, and occasionally moderately buzzed-about bands and carny rides, was met with the same polarized reaction's Aubrey still gets, "OMGILUVDRIZZY" and "The fuck is a Drake?"
That's a question I myself had around the time of the dust-up over 2008's Culture Shock lineup. Though I was still in a reactionary haze of "kill whitey" hipster derision and Pitchfork-baiting and went the hardest at Alaina Stamatis for her choices, that year was the work of someone who actually did a great job and just happened to have unfortunately picked a shedload of bands that invoked negative feelings regarding "hipster culture" and the very real gentrification/displacement happening in Bed-Stuy, Red Hook, and Bushwick. Bands that, considering the overlap between my school's music and arts scene and that of the middle-to-upper class pillaging of a borough I'd nostalgically like to keep Pabst-free, were just as beloved or buzzed about on my campus. This, of course, despite there being a very clear delineation between the zebra-print trust fund Jarmusches and let's say people who just wanted ska or some other dumb college kid cliche.
When all of this was going down, I was in the middle of a studio production class for non-music majors that I foolishly signed up for hoping to learn at least how to EQ some shit, but ended up leaving the course disappointed that the only thing I learned was about mic parts and types and headroom. In that class were a bunch of other disappointed people who, like me, had some association with music but weren't in the conservatory (except this one 6'4 guy who was an opera major and looked like a pro wrestler from the late 90's "Attitude"-era of the WWF) and wanted to know at least enough to get by themselves. Guitar players, this kid Omar who rapped, and this girl Christina, who was a 23-year-old Floridian and the only other Degrassi fan in the class. This last fact became apparent when, during the long stretches of free time and waiting around that happened in that class, she was on her Mac scrolling through album covers, and suddenly Drake comes up.
Earlier that year there was an episode of the show where, to both reinstate Jimmy's status as the ultimate token black kid and continue Degrassi's attempts to humor its actor's music careers (see Steele, Cassie), his latent murderball talents were augmented by rapping skills that were pretty much absent in earlier seasons (the skills, not the rapping, as WSHH eagerly exploited).
(Side note: Isn't it funny that Ashley's worries about being eclipsed and abandoned by someone more talented is exactly what happened to the entire cast of Degrassi as of So Far Gone coming out? ...Actually lets pretend that I'm not reading too far into Degrassi for thematic applications to real-life events.)
I was surprised at how decent Aubrey could rap, even though his bars weren't anything to write home about; really, Wheelchair Jimmy's skill level was only that of a half-dead Stack Bundles (guess which half). But he was decidedly better than Cassie Steele's "grunge/pop" or whatever the fuck she's touting herself as on her music myspace, or Jake Epstein's prescient mix of Jason Mraz's bland/embarassing collegiate soft rock and all the aesthetic and lyrical trappings of a white Long Island teenager in 2004. "Decidedly better than other musically-deluded Degrassi cast members" doesn't quite measure "promising career trajectory" so seeing the digital mixtape cover for Comeback Season and hearing Drake curse and talk about drugs only elicited the gas face. Sometime in 2007 I got heavy into blogs, and then all the assorted go-to rap sites like NahRight?, so I was more than familiar with the deluge of shitty-to-average mixtapes and internet albums and freestyle-a-day gimmicks that sub-prime mortgages have blessed us with the last two years or so. There certainly seemed to be thought in the presentation, which is always a good sign, but I was already writing Lil' Wayne off as having fallen off and reaching the zenith of potential that a mixtape rapper ever could by April, so why bother with anything nowhere near as good or interesting as Wayne circa 2004-2007?
By that same time this year, his buzz had reached a point I couldn't ignore, which really just meant NahRight? was spam-posting his tracks and that his affiliation with Lil'Wayne became a full-fledged co-signing and conscription into the Island of Lost Toys that is Young Money. Yet somehow I had gone all this time without having heard or seen any proof that people gave a shit. I downloaded Comeback Season and So Far Gone before the actual concert but I couldn't tear myself away from HORSE the Band and Fiona Apple long enough to force myself to listen to it. So I went in completely clueless as to what to expect of the 10pm-ish performance, 10pm-ish because while he was supposed to be already on campus, Drake was at Hot97 very nervously and awkwardly gesticulating and rapping off his Blackberry.
"Somethin something alcohol/yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah
Young Money, cars, alcohol/yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaah
Can I do dat?/Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah"
That nervousness and awkwardness of watching a Canadian catch the holy spirit like a handicapped Tyler Perry character while consistently playing himself would continue throughout the evening and, really, throughout this year. Drake had assorted weed carriers onstage poorly stalling for time while I overheard kids talking about how he was with Flex at that very moment, which seemed like a bad move on his part but sort of par for the course with the behavior of the few non-hipster rap acts who have graced our campus (i.e. Cassidy being an overpaid bum who did a half an hour set after showing up late then bounced with the money). Official Culture ShockTM water bottles were thrown onstage repeatedly, each one confusing and irritating the assorted faux-thug Blanadians on stage. Then finally after probably half an hour the kid shows up. A headlining act that half the attendees had never heard of. A headlining act with no hits, Degrassi baggage to overcome, and no Lil' Wayne to save him if something goes wrong, refuting rumors of Wayne somehow showing up to our school for free.
And thus, the lights dim and I'm introduced to what is basically such watery post-808's rap'n'b that I almost felt like I was listening to the kind of early ambient that they'd play in spas or how I've always thought of the high-rise apartments you see in movies from the 80's. Shit Patrick Bateman would listen to. I'm not impressed. Later in the year I would be, but only because I stopped thinking of Drake as a rap act and started thinking of him as the kind of 00's R&B you could put on while you try to convince your girl that all that talk about pre-come causing pregnancy is an urban legend. He goes through "Uptown" and etc, but I couldn't help but tear apart his performance. Green as he clearly was/is, he came across incredibly disingenuous, like what someone's idea of "swagger" or being a mixtape rapper is, as opposed to actually being that on stage. Everything came across forced, like it was a put on or just another role. The crowd, or at least the female portion, went ape-shit for "Best I Ever Had", which came across as just another rap and bullshit song about simping and tricking, but with the romantic comedy addition of the notion that somehow you, the girl in the audience or at home, are the best sex he's ever had.
(Side note: Drake should start opening his set in a wheelchair and then collapsing only to triumphantly get up and rock the show like Nirvana did at Reading in '92. He could probably sing "The Rose", too, though that might be a bit heady for the Power 105 set.)
I left near the end of the song. I perceived his performance to have hit its peak and I needed to get food before the on-campus spot closed, so my priorities were set.
The next night, I would skip suffering through the Cool Kids, who are fucking awful, to attend a fashion show/Ricky Blaze performance scam put on my friend, whose healthy attendance was a monument to how much people disliked this year's Culture Shock lineup. Christina was happy about it, but her reasons were obvious.
The entire concept behind getting Drake to play Culture Shock was the same as getting Wale to play "Fall Fest", essentially a smaller, more neglected version of or spring concert, that previous semester was the thought of the winfall our college would get if we got in on the ground floor of a potential star. That didn't really work out in terms of Wale, he of decent lyrics and hideously/predictably overrated mixtapes, but weirdly enough, despite all the naysaying, Drake did. Probably the most press our school has gotten lately, outside of a student naming her play "Niggerback" or Billy Prinsell doing his public access show in blackface three years ago, is Drake. It still comes up in searches, and as long as people care about him, despite his tragicomic tendency to fuck himself over (as well as his suspect over-affected drawl), the college will be associated with more than just alumni like Regina Spektor, Dan Deacon, and Moby.
Considering we've never had a problem getting rappers to come to Purchase, the idea that Culture Shock would appeal to talent trying to get a platform seems to be more idealistic than anything. Culture Shock 2010 is currently being hammered out, and Drake's effect will probably reveal itself around then, but without some demonstrable change moves like that will have only affected Purchase's notoriety and maybe our profits, not the quality of our acts. Or else we might have to give cassie Steele a call after all.