Drake, Academy, Glasgow
I Blame Coco, Proud Galleries, London
There is more musical depth to the Canadian hip-hop star than you would expect from his gyrating posturing and lewd talk
Sunday 09 January 2011
Drake has a message, and it's a message for the ladies. "I came on this tour as a 24-year-old single man," the Canadian tells the crowd at his first-ever international show. "I enjoy such things as pussy, sex, sexual things, all of the above."
Gyrating his combat-trousered hips, Drake then proceeds to mime a speciality of his called the Drizzy Three Stroke, and suffice to say it doesn't involve baseball or biking.
Along with blowing the minds of the majority of the females in the audience, he's blown my image of him as a gentleman-rapper. But, crotch-thrusting inter-lewds aside, there's still plenty to be said for the idea that Aubrey Drake Graham is not like those other guys.
In a rap world where being "real" is prized above all else, Drake doesn't have a leg to stand on. The mixed race (African-American, Jewish-Canadian), multi-skilled (rapper, singer, actor) Toronto native acknowledges on his song "Show Me a Good Time" that "real hip-hop fans" find him "manufactured". And it's true that the wealthy Forest Hill area in which he was raised isn't exactly the 'hood. Instead, he was assisted by a solid grounding in music: his father drummed for Jerry Lee Lewis, and his uncle is the legendary Sly and the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham.
To make matters worse, he's done things backwards by moving from acting into rapping. Drake made his name by playing disabled former basketball star Jimmy Brooks in Degrassi: The Next Generation before becoming a Lil Wayne protégé and making his smooth ascent via guest spots and a Juno award-winning mixtape (the seven-track So Far Gone) to the point where his debut album, dotted with celebrity cameos, topped the Billboard charts (and did respectably elsewhere, reaching No 15 over here).
He makes a little speech tonight about how "fame is synonymous with hate", but Drake's had it so good it would make anyone sick, not just a confirmed hater. The trouble is, he's brilliant. That album, Thank Me Later – produced, cannily, by relative unknowns Noah "40" Shebib and Boi-1da – is an oddity in hip-hop terms, and rightly made many end-of-year lists. Its minimalist, muted sound, typified by songs such as "Karaoke" and the Alicia Keys collaboration "Fireworks", are cumulonimbus light.
But Drake also has his dark side. If you glanced at the zombie movie artwork on the merchandise, and the empty stage bathed in red light and smoke, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd been timewarped back to rap's short-lived Horrorcore phase (Gravediggaz, Bushwick Bill), and he justifies this imagery by vowing: "I ain't gonna sugarcoat this shit. I'm gonna give you my ups and downs, my dreams and nightmares." He makes good on that promise with "Resistance", in which his mind flits between hearing that a one-night stand resulted in an abortion and learning that his grandmother has just been moved to a nursing home.
As a performer, he has an actor's facility with moving around a stage: like a master stand-up comedian, he doesn't even deign to face the crowd till the first big beat kicks in. Backed by a full live band, his set, end-loaded with hands-in-the-air party bangers, involves actual indoor fireworks, which only adds to the faint feeling of surrealness. In a way, it's odd that he's doing this sort of show at all, playing medium-sized theatres in the cold bits of northern Europe. It would be so easy for someone in his position to breeze over, play a couple of elite London showcases, then wait till he's big enough for the arenas. That's what those other guys would do.
But then, as Drizzy knows more than most, it takes different strokes.
Eliot Paulina Sumner, aka Coco Sumner, aka I Blame Coco, hasn't exactly led the hard-knock life either. The offspring of a tantric tryst between Sting and Trudie Styler, she's spent the majority of her 20 years flitting between homes in Malibu, Manhattan and The Mall (to name but three) and growing up in the peripheral vision of the public eye.
Being offered a deal by Island at the age of 17 was, therefore, presumably not purely down to precocious talent, and indeed, she hasn't made it this far without calling on high-profile help: the writing credits on her debut album The Constant include Amanda Ghost (James Blunt's "You're Beautiful") and Steve Kipner (Aguilera's "Genie", ONJ's "Physical"), and she's collaborated with Robyn and been remixed by La Roux.
All of which is potentially as irritating as Drake must be to hip-hop purists, and Sumner seems equally conscious of her situation: the opening line of her first single, "Caesar", is "I want to annoy/And I'm going to enjoy it!" In person, she's a lot more shy-eyed than that statement of intent suggests. Androgynously besuited, she's got the cheekbones of a model (she advertised Burberry), but hides behind tousled hair when her band do their thing.
Her "dark pop" sound, whose acknowledged influences include ABBA and Fleetwood Mac (whose "The Chain" is in her repertoire) and the soft, synthy Eighties goth (Depeche Mode, The Cure), is easy on the ear, and suits a medium-deep voice which, on certain vowels and plosives, is not dissimilar to Sumner senior's. Her lyrics suggest some life-of-the-mind, even if that mind often belongs to a hired songwriter.
I Blame Coco is not entirely abysmal, nor is she an irreplaceable addition to an already-cluttered landscape. Still, it keeps her off The Mall.
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