Drake opens up about his racial and religious identity


Drake opens up about race. (Photo by Brennan Schnell)

In this week’s Village Voice, Drake speaks to one of the preeminent hip hop commentators, Jay Smooth. (Jay has written for the Source, founded one of the earliest hip hop blogs and hosts a popular vlog series called “Ill Doctrine.”) Since the songs from his new album “Take Care” leaked online, Jay takes the opportunity to tackle other topics, including Drake’s bi-racial background, which is something that Jay shares in common with the rapper. Both men have white, Jewish mothers and black fathers.

“Do those issues of race and identity play out differently in Canada compared to the US?” Jay asks of his black-Jewish lineage.

Drake answers:

Well, Canada’s like a cultural melting pot, especially Toronto. America, I come here sometimes and I witness, like, real segregation. Like when you go to LA and it’s like, area’s Mexican, and this area’s white.” That’s crazy to me because in Toronto we have cultural areas—”OK, this is Little India, this is Chinatown, this is where there the Greek people are”—but it’s not segregated. “This I mean, I’m so light that people are like “you’re white.” That’s what I get more than anything, people saying “you’re white, you’re not black.” But I mean those are whatever, those are just silly jokes. That’s like “the light-skinned complex.” That’s a very American thing as well, light skin and dark skin, like I don’t even notice that. Girls will be like “oh I’ve seen you talk to dark-skinned girls, that’s so good.” And I’m like “why? I talk to any girl!”

Though Jay mentions their shared Jewishness in his question, Drake only addresses the white part of the question and made no mention of how he perceives his religious identity. Perhaps for Drake his Jewishness and whiteness are inextricably bound up. But it is nice to see that he is an equal opportunity flirter. All women, regardless of race, are fair game for him.

The interview moves onto his music and influences. It seems that Drake is a follower of the rap battle scene, though he is too nervous to participate in it.

It gets me excited in the studio, to watch these rappers, to see them rap for a whole different cause. I rap to make albums; I rap to make radio records. But these guys prep for these competitions where my heart would be beating out of my chest if I ever stepped to another guy and I had to battle him [for] three rounds, long-ass rounds with so many raps to remember. So I get very inspired by that, seeing other people doing the same thing but doing it so differently.

It’s heartening to see that a young MC like Drake is interested in rappers who battle, especially since battling is such an integral part of underground hip hop and is the place where superstars like Eminem honed their rhymes.


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