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“I CAN RELATE to kids going straight to the league / When they recognize that you got what it takes to succeed / And that’s around the time that your idols become your rivals / You make friends with Mike but got to A.I. him for your survival / Damn, I swear sports and music are so synonymous / Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us.” — Drake, “Thank Me Now”
VIEWING FROM AFAR, Drake can look like the worst type of sports fan.
There he is warming up with the Kentucky Wildcats. There he is at a Seahawks practice. There he is cheering on Manchester United … then Manchester City … then Chelsea. There he is with LeBron‘s Heat and wooing Stephen Curry like he’s got a high school crush, laughing too loudly at jokes and pushing through the crowd to get next to them. Those of us who commit fiercely to one team, through the good and the bad, and the bad and the worse, can’t abide him. He hops bandwagons. He grabs glory. He arrives just in time for the victory parade and leaves as the last drop of champagne runs out of the bottle.
It’s absurd, but maybe worthy of empathy too.
On “Weston Road Flows” from Views, Drake explains that “a lot of people just hit me up when my name is mentioned / shout out to KD / we relate / we get the same attention.” The biggest rapper alive sees himself in the same club as the athletes he admires and seems to understand their quest to define a legacy. He moved from Canadian teen television actor to crossover hip-hop star but was called “too soft” after all. He’s spent seven years in the spotlight trying not to become a joke while having to embrace the joke he’s sometimes been. At some point, Kobe Bryant realized that his legacy, no matter what he did, would be as a relentless gunner, so he put up 50 shots in his last game. Four albums in, the internet still sees Drake as a walking, talking meme, so he slips into a turtleneck and turns on the grandfatherly dance moves in “Hotline Bling.” Takes his 50 shots and shrugs it off.
But if Drake is a man successful beyond his wildest dreams, he is also, it seems, a man unfulfilled. He collects relationships, both romantic and platonic. He collects endorsements, awards and even allegiances with cities other than his own. In his boldest musical work, Drake’s boastfulness revolves around loneliness. He wants love but trusts no one. He works too hard to have “real” friends. He has the world but is afraid to stay in a single place or with a single person for too long. In “Girls Love Beyonce,” the love of fame is coupled with its costs. “I’ve been avoiding commitment / That’s why I’m in this position / I’m scared to let somebody in on this.”
As a basketball fan, that hunger can make him come off like the kid who was always too busy with acting and rapping to give everything he had to sports, the one who still dreams of running out of a tunnel while smoke billows behind him. He grew up to have enough money and power to live out every sports fantasy he dreams up, and when he jumps out of his seat and claps near the ears of an opposing player, it’s as if he thinks he’s part of the team’s bench. When he shoots an air ball — no doubt wrecked by nerves — during warm-ups with an actual college basketball team, he calls for another shot because he’s sure he’ll get one. He has his friends film him hitting a shot in a pickup game and tags Curry on the Instagram clip as if a jump shot made over a loose defense is the same as pulling up from 37 feet in Oklahoma City with virtually no time left on the clock.
Snicker all you want, but there’s something human and familiar about this impulse. Throughout his catalog, Drake sings of a desire to belong — at the top of the rap game, in circles where he once was denied access, with women he once was told were out of his league. In “Know Yourself,” he describes the all-consuming momentum of the chase, saying he’s turning into someone who “thinks about money and women like 24/7, that’s where my life took me.” Front-row seats to any game are a kind of testimony to his arrival, revenge taken out on his doubters. Maybe he moves from scene to scene and team to team because being accepted in places that adjust themselves to your presence is intoxicating. It must feel very cool.
Indeed, Drake the musician says we should cut Drake the sports fan a break. In his tunes, he’s owning his bad rap, leaning into the joke before anyone else makes it, following any team or player he loves and where he might be loved in return with a kind of playful self-awareness. “Man, this s— so ill that we had to restart it / H-Town my second home like I’m James Harden,” he says in “No New Friends.” In “Summer Sixteen,” it’s “Golden State is running practices at my house.” Then he runs to hug Kyle Lowry after a Raptors playoff win. It’s all part of the show, all part of being in the club, pulling on a new team’s jersey like that oversized turtleneck, sitting in the front row and cheering as if he couldn’t be anywhere else.