Drake’s first LP, Thank Me Later, just sold 446,680 copies its first week of release. An album that big should start some rather polarizing conversations: On the “pro” side of the Drake debate, among others, was SOTC’s own Zach Baron, who passionately defended Aubrey Graham against many detractors. Out of that response came several responses, including, ahem, my own, having been rubbed the incorrect way by the mirror-within-a-mirror nature of Drake’s lyrics. Even in a genre in which the tautological maxim “I’m Me” is acceptable as biographical logic, there just wasn’t any there there below Later‘s meta-commentary on Drake’s own rise to stardom. But if I’m right–if the record is a technically virtuosic yet depthless manifesto of the new-reality rap dream, then a behind-the-scenes MTV documentary about the lead-up to Later‘s release has the capacity to be very entertaining.
Indeed, Better than Good Enough, debuting last night and streaming here while it lasts, is a pretty great portrait of an artist negotiating his art, friends, and family amid unimaginable fame. Listening to the album, I’m forced to confront Drake as a pop star whose persona mainly comprises self-reflexive commentary on being a pop star. For the hour of Better, though, it’s more True Life: I’m the Biggest Pop Star in the World Right Now.
Only a slight difference in perspective to be sure, and MTV is more or less telling the same story as Drake himself does, but in this medium, it just clicks. The stuff you already know is here, of course: Drake loves his mother more than anything, is a bit estranged from his father, his best friend/business partner/co-producer Noah “40” Shebib is inextricable from any success he’s had, he’s conflicted about his fame and thinks he might lose it at any time. All of this is driven home by an incredibly honest and heartstring-tugging pull quote: “So many people are happy. I can’t be the reason that ends.” I mean, come on.
Despite all this, it’s the small stuff here that gives Drake more dimension as an artist, person, and yes, a kid than Later manages to. He types out all his lyrics on a BlackBerry and can’t imagine using a pen and paper instead. His longtime friend Courtne (now his personal assistant) recalls him playing her his first-ever song, terrified enough to attribute it to “a friend,” before getting called out by, yes, his mom. At one point, we see him running through scales with his vocal coach while wearing a Debussy t-shirt. MTV got this thing on air a mere eight days after the South Street Seaport riot, and we get commentary from the man himself, given, appropriately enough, from a swank hotel with the city as a dramatic backdrop.
There’s tons of verite overlap between documentaries and first-person rap narratives, and Later and Better are more or less refractions of the same story. But what I didn’t get from the record in terms of a musical rap or pop persona, I quite enjoyed here. Maybe it’s just that I prefer the types of stories that Drake’s trying to tell to be told in this medium. Though certain commonalities I could certainly do without: The ending, for instance, in which the director’s off-camera voice instructs Drake to tell the camera who he is and what he does, in a strange Alcoholics Anonymous fashion. He thinks for a second, and then, as if instinctively reverting back to a tired script he doesn’t know how to improvise off of yet, says: “My name’s Aubrey Drake Graham, and I make a living off truly being myself.” Speaking for myself here, but hopefully soon he’ll realize that that’s not quite enough.