Rappers say a lot of incredulous things. I don’t think I need to provide any examples of this as it’s a commonality that we’re all accustomed to. Still, I have to admit that my jaw dropped pretty darn hard when I saw Drake’s quote in The Jewish Chronicle:
“There were people who incorporated melody before me,” says Drake, talking backstage at the 02 in south-east London, where 18,000 people have converged to see him play the biggest concert of his career, “but I would deem myself the first person to successfully rap and sing.”
18,000 is a lot of fans. The pressure of having a performance of that magnitude looming just moments in the future must be debilitating. That’s about the only excuse I have to offer for Drake’s comment to Paul Lester, unless perhaps he figured that no one with any hip-hop knowledge would be reading this particular publication. Either way, here I was all this time, thinking that young Aubrey was a Wayne/Kanye clone, but little did I know that he was actually the trendsetter behind sing-rap! OK that was sarcasm, but I’m seriously not convinced that mumbling in low tones and moaning sensitively with the benefit of pitch correction even qualifies as singing.
To put it plainly, any assertion that Drake started the idea of sing-rapping is wildly ludicrous. My former band mate, Illaj, was singing and rapping (at the same damn time) back when Drake was still playing Jimmy Brooks on TeenNick. But to Drake’s credit, he did qualify his statement with the word “successfully”, and few artists of any genre have seen his level of success.
Just for shats and gaggles, I decided I’d list a few very successful rap-singers (not named Wayne or Kanye) that Drake neglected to recall as he made his now infamous statement. Due to the fact that there are just too many of them, I’ve excluded reggae artists as well as any and all groups that combined hip-hop with bone, thugs and harmony; however, I do want to point out that Drake’s sensitive style reminds me hella of PM Dawn. On to the list!
First person that came to mind when I heard this comment was Lauryn Hill. Though a bit far removed from the limelight, I’m pretty sure that she still enjoys having confidence that The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is – and has been – the proverbial bar for rap-song albums since 1998. As for success, I’m pretty sure that seven million domestic sales and 5 Grammys would qualify, no?
Drake may have committed hip-hop heresy by neglecting to mention Tupac – at least in passing – while making any reference to trend setting in the rap arena. Only the toughest of East Coast partisans would refuse to put Pac in their personal top 5 rapper list, yet even they will argue that Tupac was as much a singer as a rapper. Tupac made every rapper want to sing, and he didn’t even need autotune to pull it off.
These two will be linked for all eternity after they engaged in the most over-hyped gangsta rap beef of all time. I was going to say it was the first time that two feuding male rappers sang their own hooks, but Biggie and Pac did that far earlier with Get Money and Troublesome ’96. But back to my point, even after 50 Cent admonished Ja Rule for his singing ways while adopting it, Ja Rule broke new ground by singing alongside his guest singers. And if you claim that either artist has not been successful I suggest you check the Billboard charts.
If we’re going to count electronically-enhanced singers, then how can we ignore T-Pain? We could argue that without young Faheem, Kanye and Wayne may have never even thought to inspire Drake into existence. Is that a stretch? I think not.
The only reason James Brown is not typically called a rapper is because rappers didn’t exist while he was screaming unintelligible yet genius lyrics over furious live-percussion. James Brown was ODB with the The Roots’ band. He was a greasy Wacka Flocka with a vicious perm. Yet he could actually sing – no autotune – so how could I leave him off of my list? Plus, dude had gigs like Usher, and we all know Drake will never have that kind of coordination.
By no means do I believe my list to be comprehensive, but at least it starts the conversation. Honorable mentions to Missy Elliot, Timbaland, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, R. Kelly, Cam’ron, Queen Latifah, Lil’ Kim, Kid Rock, Mos Def and every other artist who successfully sang on rap beats and rapped on R&B beats. Who did I miss?