On Friday, rap star Drake dropped a feminist-friendly new single along with a woman-directed music video that stars an all-female cast.
“Nice For What” presents a mashup of the banal imagery we have learned to expect from mainstream music videos: triangles, light rays, mirroring, duality and a dark horse.
From Drake roller skating solo in a snakeskin pattern puff jacket to “Fast and the Furious” star Michelle Rodriguez levitating, the video is a disjointed effort.
But what it lacks in visual coherence, it makes up for in star power.
Ballet dancer Misty Copeland, who Rolling Stone hailed as a “parable of feminist empowerment,” and actress Letitia Wright, who audiences fell in love with in “Black Panther,“ are featured in the video. Known for their candor and confidence, comedian Tiffany Haddish, and “Grown-ish” star Yara Shahidi also made the cut.
For the pièce de résistance, actress and advocate Tracee Ellis Ross is adorned in a silver sequined power jumpsuit dancing in a field of black triangles, a symbol of feminist and lesbian pride. Last year, she gave a speech that went viral urging women to buck patriarchy and live life for themselves.
Ellis Ross is the very embodiment of the song’s lyrics, praising women who hustle hard to cultivate a successful existence on their own.
“It’s alright, this is your life,” Drake says, cosigning the sentiment over a sample of Lauryn Hill’s hit song, “Ex-Factor”.
Notably absent is New Orleans bounce star Big Freedia whose vocals are captured during the intro and midway through the track when the music turns infectious. The call-and-response that characterizes bounce music is heard before the song progresses to a frenzied beat.
If you are a culture vulture, you know Freedia popularized, “I came to slay,” in Beyoncé’s “Formation.” The gender-bending bounce music scene is far more inclusive than mainstream rap and R&B, and recording artists that borrow from black queer culture should give credit where it is due.
“People want to use bounce music as a part of their music but when it comes to the proper recognition of me being in the video, that’s something that we’re steady working towards to make it happen,” said Freedia in a statement to Fader.
Adding Freedia would have been an easy way to signify diversity and inclusion, rather than only highlighting flawless Hollywood actresses and models who are already famous and easily recognizable.
While it is tempting to get lost in the music, this is not Drake’s first foray into feminist-friendly territory, and it would not be his first time acting as a fake feminist.
Even while listening to “Nice For What,” we are exposed to an inevitable utterance of “ho,” and history suggests Drake will be back to spitting lyrics that degrade and objectify women in no time.
Hip-hop has a misogyny problem and Drake’s new bounce-infused ode to women is not going to fix it. The genre will not find redemption through a rapper known for his collection of faux furs and penchant for strippers.
Rap stars are notorious for releasing music that belies their claim of being feminist or pro-women. In March, rapper and producer Pharrell Williams presented an award during the iHeartRadio Music Awards wearing a jacket that read “Women’s Rights” in honor of Women’s History Month and then performed "Lemon" on a stage full of women covered in glitter and twerking in their underwear.
There are larger implications. Hip-hop has not had its #MeToo moment, but allegations made by and against some of its biggest players suggest its time is coming. The co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, one of the most prominent hip-hop and urban music labels, is currently being sued for rape. Rap star Cardi B claimed sexual harassment on the set of music videos is a pervasive problem, yet no one cares.
Being a feminist and an ally to women requires more than wearing a jacket, recording one song, or borrowing our flavor, our music and our images. It requires consistent actions that prove you are creating positive change in an industry that promotes sexism and violence against women.