“The Motto” – Drake‘s latest unsurprisingly successful single – has charted at number one on both the R&B and Rap charts and in the top 25 of the hot 100. No one doubts Drake’s status as a bona fide superstar anymore, but it seems that Drake decided now was the time to release a song making that fact explicit.
Drake states his motto as “you only live once” (conveniently abbreviated YOLO for rhyming reasons). But the cliff notes version of what that means for Drake is that he’s rich and famous and he’s gonna take advantage of it, damn it.
25, sittin’ on 25 mil
Drake raps in the song’s first verse, summing up the song in perhaps its best line.
The video for the remix of “The Motto” (by Tyga, adding another verse) is actually quite telling. Quick cuts between Drake driving and rapping show him wearing a leopard print Northface jacket, red baseball gloves, and two watches. Simply put, the man looks ridiculous – like a 25 year old with 25 million dollars and nothing to do with it. But the thing is that Drake would probably wear that outfit to one of the Miami clubs he raps about here, and he’d have a great time with more beautiful women than you’d ever be able to get the time of day from.
The problem with the song isn’t so much the above, but a lack of something else. Drake has the talent to pull off four minutes of bravado – as does his guest Lil Wayne, obviously – but it’s as if it’s too easy for him now. He can wear a leopard print ski jacket and no one will question him, after all. He doesn’t have to try to make a (deserved) hit single. As a result, the song lacks anything special, anything truly memorable.
The production is sparse, all hand claps and bass drops. It’s a beat that begs for the toned down speech-rap-bordering-freestyle aesthetic that Drake thrives on. But while stylistically Drake is perfectly suited, the lack of flashy production requires a superb lyricism to capture the potential of the beat, and Drake falls short.
She know even if I’m fucking with her, I don’t really need her
That’s how you feel, man? That’s really how you feel?
Cause the pimpin ice cold, all these bitches wanna chill
I mean maybe she won’t but then again maybe she will
I can almost guarantee she know the deal, real nigga, what’s up?
He has the bravado to carry the song, but not the purpose or the swagger to make it something bigger.
Wayne’s verse is, shockingly, similar. He seems to be phoning it in as well. He still drops a few head-shaking lines (“Almost drowned in her pussy so I swam to her butt”) but lacks the full Wayne-ness that we’ve come to expect. Just like Drake, Wayne’s lyrics rest on his persona and fail to live up, producing a song that’s good but not great.
Funny how honey ain’t sweet like sugar
Ain’t shit sweet? Niggas on the street like hookers
Wayne raps, hitting a stride that he trips over shortly after: “skeet skeet skeet: water gun.” (Fashion note: Wayne’s wearing some sort of 80’s-nightmare-grandma’s-quilt pants and neon green boots in the video – but then again, he is not a human being.)
In the end, “The Motto” is a song that depends on the fact that Drake is Drake and Wayne is Wayne. It lacks the brilliance of the work that made them both famous, and they seem to be resting too heavily on the fact that they’ve already secured their position. (Tyga, in the remix, seems to try a bit harder – and for that very reason he seems not to fit in.) But Drake is Drake and Wayne is Wayne, so they can still pull off the song. It’s something you’ll find on a mixed CD in a year and a half and remember fondly, but forget all over again. That’s it – but that’s not nothing.