There is no rapper — maybe even no pop artist — who feels as obviously as Drake. Since his early mixtapes in the late ’00s to his association with Young Money, did-they-or-didn’t-they vibe with label mate Nicki Minaj, and most-recent top 10 single “God’s Plan,” the onetime Degrassi cast member has been leaning hard into his emotions, offering up everything from never-ending affection for his hometown of Toronto to perpetual saltiness over beefs with the Weeknd and Minaj’s one-time beau Meek Mill. Despite stepping back from traditional press, Drake wants us to know all his business, all the time, and that openness has helped secure him viral video after viral video and hit song after hit song. But even in that atmosphere, Drake’s latest single “Nice for What” seems like a certain change in perspective.
It’s not that Drake has ever hidden the fact that he loves women; he’s always been vocal about his crushes on, to just list a few, Rihanna, Aaliyah, Serena Williams, and Rashida Jones. Drake’s relationship with Rihanna has been particularly headline-grabbing: They’ve made multiplatinum music together, like “Take Care,” “What’s My Name?” and “Work,” and flirted with each other in the accompanying music videos:
He basically asked her to go to Prom with him when presenting her with the Vanguard Award at the 2016 VMAs (ah jeez, just watching this makes me embarassed for both of them):
And remember the time they got matching shark tattoos? (Yes, Drake also has tattoos of Aaliyah and Sade.)
But putting aside Drake’s googly eyes for (the deserving) Rihanna, most of his lyrics have always been about objectifying and sexualizing women even as he praises them for their accomplishments; these women are unique not primarily for their work ethic or their beauty or their stripping skills, but because they caught Drake’s eye. The ultimate validation for these women, in most of Drake’s songs, is that he cares for them.
From “Best I Ever Had”:
‘Cause she hold me down every time I hit her up
When I get right, I promise that we gon’ live it up
She made me beg for it ‘til she give it up
And I say the same thing every single time
I say, you the fuckin’ best, you the fuckin’ best
You the fuckin’ best, you the fuckin’ best
You the best I ever had, best I ever had
From “Take Care”:
I’ve asked about you and they’ve told me things
But my mind didn’t change
I still the feel the same
I know you’ve been hurt by someone else
I can tell by the way you carry yourself
If you let me, here’s what I’ll do
I’ll take care of you
From “Find Your Love”:
Too many times I’ve been wrong
I guess being right takes too long
I’m done waiting, there’s nothing left to do
But give all I have to you and
I better find your lovin’
I better find your heart
From “Hold On, We’re Going Home”:
I got my eyes on you
You’re everything that I see
I want your hot love and emotion, endlessly
I can’t get over you
You left your mark on me
‘Cause you’re a good girl and you know it
You act so different around me
From the actually fairly condescending “Hotline Bling”:
Ever since I left the city you
Got a reputation for yourself now
Everybody knows and I feel left out
Girl you got me down, you got me stressed out
Cause ever since I left the city, you
Started wearing less and goin’ out more
Glasses of champagne out on the dance floor
Hangin’ with some girls I’ve never seen before
You used to call me on my cell phone
Late night when you need my love
And even the recent “God’s Plan,” with the music video where Drake went around Miami giving away the music video’s $1 million budget:
She say, “Do you love me?” I tell her, “Only partly”
I only love my bed and my mom, I’m sorry
There’s a pattern here: the girls are great, the girls are beautiful, and the girls are even more great and beautiful because they can’t get enough of Drake.
“Nice for What” is not about that. (Note: Uncensored version below!)
I’m not going to call this Drake’s most woke song, but it is a significant departure from what we’re used to. With samples from the legendary Lauryn Hill and vocals from bounce artist Big Freedia, the song lyrically praises an independent woman, addressing her hard work, her self-assuredness, and her desire to hang out with her friends rather than be in a new relationship without then veering into “And she’s so lucky to have me!” territory:
Had a man last year, life goes on
Workin’ hard, girl, everything paid for
And you showin’ off, but it’s alright
It’s a short life, yeah
That’s a real one in your reflection
Without a follow, without a mention
You really pipin’ up on these n——-
You gotta be nice for what to these n——-?
Drake questioning why a woman has to be nice to random dudes is pretty much the opposite of what he’s done so far in his career, so much of which centers around him being the nice guy and the women being those who wrong him. Self-awareness! It’s a crazy thing! And yet Drake finally seems to have it with “Nice for What,” which also boasts a fantastic video that continues those themes.
Directed by 22-year-old wunderkind Karena Evans (who also directed the video for “God’s Plan”), the “Nice for What” video features a variety of women that are essentially a who’s who of badasses, all of them presented in positions of strength and power: Olivia Wilde in a long-sleeve T-shirt and ball-gown skirt, bouncing around in her Nikes; Misty Copeland, the first black female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, confident in the strength of her body; Issa Rae, successfully yelling at a board room full of white men to sit the fuck down; Claws producer Rashida Jones, Vogue-ing like a motherfucker; Emmy nominee and general delight Tracee Ellis Ross shining like a diamond and dancing her heart out; black supermodel Jourdan Dunn riding a horse and serving face; Yara Shahidi, in her Harvard sweatshirt, studying and throwing down; Tiffany Haddish in full gangster mode with a cigar; Florida Project actress Bria Vinaite tearing up a go-kart track; musician Syd under the neon glow of a night sky.
Here, have some gifs!
None of them is shot with a male gaze, none of them looks uncomfortable or objectified; none of them interacts with Drake. Each woman has her moment in the spotlight, and each represents a female identity that deserves our respect, from blockbuster movie star Zoe Saldana representing the warmth of motherhood to known rebel Michelle Rodriguez offering the serenity of self-love to Black Panther breakout Letitia Wright literally seeming on top of the world. (Having a female director was essential here, and I’m eager to see more from Karena Evans.)
Who knows how long Drake’s self-awareness will last? He releases songs at a ridiculously fast pace, and his feelings ebb and flow with the same rapidity, too. But in finally putting his emotions second and stepping aside to allow women to move from objects of his affection to subjects of their own making, Drake takes a step forward with “Nice for What.” And damn, the song is catchy as hell.