Drake: The Hometown Hero that Toronto Doesn’t Deserve

It’s no secret that Drake loves Toronto and reps it every chance he gets. The self-proclaimed 6 God never misses an opportunity to remind us of where he’s from, and the hazy, wistful Toronto that he’s portrayed in his music put the city on the current pop culture map. On a recent trip to New Orleans, I was shocked to hear Drake’s music coming out of pretty much every car and building I passed, and I wore my OVO Sound snapback with pride, knowing I was “repping the 6ix.” (The hat was such a hit that someone tried to buy it from me.)

I felt such a tremendous amount of love for Toronto from everyone I met there, and to a large extent, Drake did that. So why on earth does it happen that when I mention his name in Toronto, I’m met with the sort of vitriol and disgust usually reserved for reviled Toronto figures like Rob Ford or Paul Bernardo? People often seem personally offended by Drake’s existence. One young man even felt the need to put his dislike for Drake on his Tinder profile.

This stream of hatred is completely independent of the rage Drake conjures up from serious hip hop heads. I get that—hip hop heads are a reactive bunch, and when Drake turns up with lines like “I pop bottles because I bottle my emotions,” there’s bound to be trouble.

But no—in my informal research about this topic, even non hip hop heads employ similar arguments against Drake—the hackneyed “he’s from a middle class neighbourhood” is a favourite (let’s set aside the similar upbringing of Kanye West), and one person I talked to explained Drake’s international popularity by the unavailability of Degrassi outside Canada(!). If anyone has anything nice to say about him, it’s usually something to do with how they knew him and he’s changed. In fact, according to my research, nine out of ten Toronto men attempting to sleep with me grew up with Drake. Curious…

This state of affairs could have less to do with Drake than it does with Torontonians. Torontonians have fragile egos and they want their city to be considered a world class city. They’re also a diverse bunch—50% of Toronto residents weren’t born in Canada, and ethnic diversity among those born in Canada is also great. Add this to the 2006 amalgamation of six municipalities to form what is currently the City of Toronto, and you have an incredibly diverse group of people who aren’t always happy being grouped together.

When you combine a populace overly concerned with how its city is perceived internationally with the dazzling phenomenon that was Rob Ford’s 2013 tour of duty, things only get more volatile. The downtown liberals were furious and tried to distance themselves from Ford’s suburban supporters; the fiasco further strained the already tenuous amalgamation.

This history can partly explain why when Drake turned up with the concept of The 6ix, people got mad. Torontonians don’t want to be united, lest they have to answer for the actions of a group they don’t like, and they didn’t even embrace the moniker until after it was embraced internationally. They don’t want another ambassador, especially one that’s so hard to easily characterize.

Torontonians carve out an identity based on their neighbourhood. Jane and Finch is synonymous with crime, and West Queen West is a hipster’s paradise. This allows us to easily identify each other, and is partly what is frustrating about Drake: is he affiliated with Scarborough, which he mentions frequently, does he still have connections to the Rexdale neighbourhood where he was born, or is the affluent Summer Hill neighbourhood where he strongly identifies with? He spends a lot of time downtown, which is the stomping grounds of a completely different demographic. With no strong neighbourhood affiliation, Drake is hard to define—that’s a problem for a city that defines people based on which area of town they prefer.

It’s true too that Drake portrays Toronto in a very specific way that doesn’t align with many other Torontonians’ experience of their city. His late night drives on the highway, visits to upscale Italian restaurants, and laments that “the men are jealous and the women all in competition” aren’t universal.

But so what: there is a long history of musicians using cities as muses. I don’t remember anyone getting enraged over Elliott Smith’s portrayal of an L.A. where he wanders through the streets at night drinking. I understand that Torontonians are reluctant to give the appearance of letting someone speak for them when there is such a glaring lack of narratives about the city in pop culture’s larger dialogue.

What I have to say to these people is GET OVER YOURSELVES. Go out there and tell your own story instead of sitting in a hipster bar downtown, doing nothing, and taking shots at someone who is telling a compelling story. Drake put our city on the map, and it’s up to you what you want to do with that power.

Accusations that Drake helps Toronto artists at the expense of Toronto artists are silly. What if he didn’t help them? Imagine the uproar then. People are angry at Drake for existing, and it’s beginning to feel like he cannot win no matter what he does. As I write this, OVOFest is taking place nearby, and the world is literally waiting with bated breath to see what he does next. All eyes are on Toronto in a good way—this time it’s not to watch Rob Ford speaking Patois at a chicken joint.

So, fellow Torontonians, the next time you say something mean about Drake, ask yourselves what that says about you. Give wheelchair Jimmy a break—he’s putting in the work that you aren’t.

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