What Aubrey Graham and Paul Ryan Have in Common
By Jaylin Paschal
The problem with analyzing politics and Hip Hop is that you end up with these crazy comparisons and abstracts that are far-fetched, unfair and lofty. You begin to wonder what Eazy E did at the White House. What the world would be like if Tupac's prime was during the 2016 election. How many hotep rappers think the word "nigga" should be eradicated. You see Dick Cheney's in Birdman's and Shirley Chisholm's in MC Lyte's.
You begin to connect seemingly opposite worlds, meaning you see similarities in seemingly unrelated people. Like Aubrey "Drake" Graham and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. And then you feel bat shit crazy for daring to mention the two in the same sentence--although there is, somewhere a suburban-raised frat boy who lists them both as heroes.
Drake is a superstar, whose roots are in rap but branches have extended into pop. He is the mainstream. He gave us "Girls Love Beyonce." He's secretly your mom's favorite rapper. Instagramable and cuddly, but gritty enough to make white kids feel hard when rapping "Energy" and singing along to hood anthems about Toronto, of all places.
Speaker Ryan, on the other hand, is a caricature of mainstream politics; always extra conservative. He's polished and probably hates Beyonce. The closest he's publicly gotten to rap is dabbing on national television. He's leading the Republican party at a politically turbulent time, and has been a figurehead of conservatism for years.
If you're in college, or high school even, you'll hear of them both at school. Ryan, in your Intro to Poli Sci course. Drake, at the basketball game after class. Totally different contexts for totally different men.
But again, when you keep up with Hip Hop and politics, you see similarities (or delusions, arguably) in the endeavors of men who should have nothing to do with one another.
Right now, Drake and Speaker Ryan are both seeming to have a difficult time navigating America, despite holding power. "America" is different than ever before. Everyone's listening closely; everyone is on edge, from 49ers fans to mailmen; checking Apple Music for new releases and Apple News for new catastrophes. In this era, where everything is political and every bit of content matters (from fake track lists to fake news), Drake wields cultural influence and Ryan wields political influence. But both are stumbling.
Note: In no way am I trying to liken the stumbles of rapper/singer/teddy bear Drake to politician/leader/minion Ryan. They are not to be held to the same level of accountability, as they do not operate at the same level of responsibility. Drake is in no way a threat, whereas Ryan and his party's Congress is the threat. Just to be clear, that is not what we're talking about here.
In these testy American times, Drake has taken an ultra (read: too) inclusive approach. He's reached internationally, pulling different aspects of foreign cultures to mainstream America. Didn't necessarily work out well for him. His latest project, More Life, invited black Twitter to drag him for being a culture-vulture. His "infusion" of global influences came off as tacky. He overdid it, leaving us to wonder, who is Drake? The kid from Toronto? The Houston rapper? The Atlanta songstress? Is he English? Is he Caribbean? Canadians, brits, islanders and Americans were all annoyed. More Life translated less as appreciation and more as appropriation. Drake's outreach didn't necessarily help him strengthen his bases at home or in the states. And didn't communicate much to an audience listening very carefully. He still reigns, thanks to a strong foundation, but building the OVO empire is proving to be difficult.
Ryan took the opposite approach to asserting his power. Instead of reaching out, his platform is exclusive. It theoretically and practically shuts out people of color, women, the elderly, the disabled, the poor and anyone else on the margins. He relies on a strong brand of nationalism to assure his followers that America will, in fact, be "great again." He needs the 'Murica America. Unfortunately for him, we know he didn't want President Agent Orange in office. He made it abundantly clear that he was dissatisfied with the results of the Republican primary elections. So as he pushes Trump's agenda on television and in Congress--we're not buying it; we know he isn't happy about having to sell it. In this case, Ryan can be likened to the attitudinal McDonald's employee who really doesn't care if you buy from the McCafe or not, it's just his job to up-sell. Just like we don't believe Drake, we don't believe Ryan. And by "we," I mean the American people as a whole. Trump detesters hate Ryan and Trump supporters hate Ryan. Thus, Trumpcare crashed and burned as the first legislative endeavor of a controversial presidential administration and unified Republican government. Bad look. And like Drake, he still holds his position at the top. But rural white Americans and elitist Fox news anchors alike are calling for his resignation.
So right now, both Drake and Ryan are losing their base and upsetting the fringe, simply because we don't really know who they are. Drake's base is composed of Take Care enthusiasts who just want mixtape Drake back. Ryan's is made of lifelong Republican men and their families. The fringe, in Drake's case, are the members of the cultures he's playlisting. In Ryan's, minorities and the alt-right. Their situations are raising an important question of how to hold influence over diverse audiences--whether that audience is a concert crowd or a governmental constituency. They're in an interesting position, where power is held over the masses but trust is lost among them.