While Drake and Logic are two artists that often take the lion’s share of criticism because of their split heritage — Drake has one additional “strike” against him: he’s Canadian. Combine that with sitting at the apex of the Hip Hop game and lacking an unspoken street edge and it’s easy to see why he’s a target.
I’m also a Canadian, and like Drake, am a physical amalgamation of two cultures. From that perspective, I understand his frustration when he’s simply written off by his staunchest critics as that “Jewish kid from Toronto.” Though not Jewish, I’ve encountered similar things in my life. I also understand the hesitation to speak too freely on issues that affect the black community in America — as it would definitely put him under an even larger microscope.
Similarities (and maybe even a soft spot) aside for a fellow Canadian who worked his way to the top, I’m not always on board with Drizzy. Case in point, his latest scandal, which temporarily submerged one of my favorite OG Canadian clothing brands into hot water.
Drake’s now-infamous blackface images, which were brought to light by Pusha T when he dropped his tremendous response “The Story Of Adidon,” had a hidden easter egg that some people may have missed: the matching Jim Crow shirt and hoodie by Too Black Guys. The company itself had nothing to do with the shoot, though many who seemingly “connected the dots” began to circulate the narrative that they, in fact, took the images.
After doing some light research, it turns out that this is Fake News & was taken out of contex.
It was for a Toronto clothing brand involving Mos Def called Too Black Guys. Drake was in the lookbook for their Jim Crow Couture clothing line. In addition, this photo was gonna be… https://t.co/wM87SQg9Om
— justin ⚠️🎢🎡🎪 (@cosmicwarriorXX) May 30, 2018
Toronto streetwear brand Too Black Guys when Drake modeled for them back in his early days… https://t.co/QOXqLq0uuR
— Breadrick Douglas (@MarsalisHefner) May 30, 2018
Pusha had some bars, but he cropped the black face photo. It was for Too Black Guys’ 2008 look book. Google it before you judge. pic.twitter.com/9VUnR22Qg1
— Offseason Dave (@David_Emami) May 30, 2018
A (now-deleted) piece on High Snobiety that featured the collection was being shared by many trying to contextualize the photos as being from the brand’s 2008 lookbook, which was untrue. Too Black Guys have since released a statement.
“The photo in question was not from a Too Black Guys photoshoot,” the brand explained. “However, it did feature clothing from Too Black Guys’ JIM CROW COUTURE/HOUSE OF CROW collection which was released in 2008. The collection featured several graphics that highlighted the painful and dangerous period of the Jim Crow Era.”
TBG felt that releasing a statement was necessary, as it wouldn’t be hard to imagine their involvement. “Too Black Guys has a history of representing the black experience in an unapologetic way,” the statement goes on to note. “Although this was not an image from any of our photoshoots, we feel that Drake was brilliantly illustrating the hypocrisy of the Jim Crow Era.”
The fact that the comment section crowd was hailing TBG as a racist clothing brand is absurd. As a young teen, I was well aware of the brand, and anyone from that era will attest that it has never played it safe. Too Black Guys (literally founded by a black guy) began in Toronto in 1990 and gained a lot of (quick) notoriety in the industry, famously worn by Mary J. Blige in the “Real Love” video, as well as by Ice Cube. They describe the brand on their website as one that “made you feel like you were wearing a Public Enemy verse or a Spike Lee movie on a shirt.”
Too Black Guys clothing been around before Karl Kani or FUBU. They have always made political statements through their brand. This was their “Coming To America” T shirt back in the day. Underneath it features a diagram showing the “Sections Of A Slave Ship”. pic.twitter.com/ueufoTNTRL
— TigerLord (@SHERRKAN) May 30, 2018
As a half-black Canadian myself, currently living in Drake’s hometown, I get it. I think the biggest misconception is that Drizzy’s mixed ethnicity somehow excludes him from the conversation about the struggle living in the world as a person with black heritage has been known to bring.
What outsiders of the biracial experience tend to think is that there’s some privilege that goes along with being half white. Honestly, this may be true if you happen to have light eyes and straight hair. The rest of us (within a specific cohort) had to deal with a lot of shit. Older women were seeing us as the bi-product of black men turning their backs on black women (see Waiting To Exhale), a sampling of black peers treating us as slightly inferior in some sense, and white people lumping us in with that same sect that may consider us not black enough.
Too black for some white crowds, too white for some black crowds. It’s a frustrating place to be.
The more considerable misconception at play is that the black experience in general — never mind the biracial one — has been (historically) non-eventful as the struggles are less relevant north of the border. While this topic warrants multiple novel-length pieces to fully explain, it is fair to say that some of Drake’s biggest detractors have never left their state (beyond potentially traveling to hubs like LA or NYC). Their understanding of the black-Canadian experience and the demographics and socio-economics of Drake’s city may not be based on any context beyond generalizations, comment streams and re-runs of Degrassi.
That being said, I’m not sure Drake made the right call; true, the hypocrisy is real, and (amid the fundamental objection) a large section of the population seemed to applaud Kanye for “going against the grain,” even calling it brave. However in this case, no bueno.
Drizzy couldn’t possibly have considered his career would explode after the release of “Best I Ever Had,” and that perhaps this set of photos would be used out of context as the cover of a diss record nearly a decade later. And — for added insult — without showing the second more dramatic photo, which frankly is the glue that helps him make his point.
There was no expressed intent to mock an “African-American experience,” yet he had to know that regardless of intent, the images would elicit a strong reaction from a significant portion of those who saw them.
While they weren’t involved in the notorious photoshoot, Drake was a longtime friend of the Too Black Guys founders, appearing as not only the lookbook face of their Fall 2007 CHURCH! PIMPS IN THE PULPIT collection, but also their Beautiful Boogeyman Holiday 2008 collection. For the record’s sake, it should be noted that the face of the 2007 holiday collection was Mos Def.
Their recent statement concludes: “The subtleties of Drake, a young black man, mimicking how white men used to mimic and dehumanize black people may be lost in a rap battle, but we should not be distracted from the issues that are still affecting our communities.”
It’s true. Ultimately, explanations don’t matter in a fast-paced, social media-driven beef such as this — and this out-of-context image was just the fuel his biggest haters needed to ride out.
While it likely won’t affect his pockets at all, and probably won’t lose him many fans, it will make it harder for him to ever win over the population of fence-sitters who were waiting for Hip Hop’s shiniest biracial star to drop.
His next step is more important than ever.