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“Deconstructing Drake and the Weeknd” is not a bird course

Professor in residence Dalton Higgins is teaching the class next semester at the soon-to-be-renamed Ryerson University, and students expecting an easy A are in for a surprise

By Courtney Shea| Photography by Erin Leydon
"Deconstructing Drake and the Weeknd" is not a bird course

Your new class is called “Deconstructing Drake and the Weeknd.” Where did the idea come from? I was approached by Ryerson University, or X University as it is now known, last year about joining their faculty as the music professional and professor in residence. I’m hiring staff for a new four-year program offered by The Creative School called professional music, which is the umbrella that the new Drake and Weeknd class falls under. It will be the first of its kind in Canada, and it’s for people who want to work in the industry. It starts next semester—I should say that because there has already been a lot of interest.

So it’s for aspiring Drakes and Weeknds? Or aspiring managers, publicists, publishers and booking agents. Our goal is to make education feel hands-on and practical, something that will help you work toward a career. The careers of these two Black Canadian artists are a lens through which we can learn about entrepreneurism, marketing, branding. And then there are the social issues like race and class. It’s a concept that’s been around in the States for a while. One of my books is in the hip hop archives in the library at Harvard. In Canada, we’re about 20 years behind.

Why is that? Drake and the Weeknd are the product of a local music scene that does very little to foster its Black artists. Drake’s career took off because Lil Wayne took an interest in him. In Toronto, investment goes into three things: hockey, rock ’n’ roll, and beer drinking. That’s the holy trinity—or the unholy trinity if you’re racialized.

On a scale of bird course to brainiacs-only, where does your class fall? If students are thinking, I’m going to listen to hot beats for a semester, that’s not the case. My focus will be academic, just with a contemporary approach. So for example, Drake is a really good writer. In his rhymes he employs the same literary devices that I studied when I took English lit at York: metaphor, simile, iambic pentameter and more.

How would you describe your teaching style? I’m fairly active on social media, engaging in debates with people half my age, so I think that’s going to trickle into the classroom. It goes both ways. I’m going to ask each student to send me their playlists on Spotify. I’ll probably be that prof students want to go for a beer with after class. Because I’m a hip hop junkie myself, I figure they’ll want to drag me to shows after class.

That sounds great. Particularly after 18 months of Covid. The pandemic has been godawful. My mother was in the ICU for 12 weeks and almost passed away. So to people who don’t believe this virus is real or who call it a plandemic, you have no clue.

As you mentioned, Ryerson plans to change its name, given Egerton Ryerson’s role in the residential school system. Presumably you are in favour of the change? The school should have changed its name yesterday. Outside of my work in the ivory tower, I am an activist.  I was overjoyed when protesters and students defaced the statue, which was horrific and disgusting. As far as the name change, I understand there is a process involved. I’m going to be among the happiest in the building when the administration announces the name change. As a Black man of African descent, I’m not comfortable with streets or institutions named after slaveholders.

Okay, back to Drizzy. Does he know about the class? Word is getting out, so maybe. I’m interested in bringing in special guests, so Drake, holla at your boy. We would welcome you or the Weeknd with open arms.

Drake is opening a new music venue in Toronto. Will you go? I definitely want to check  it out. Toronto is lacking in medium-sized venues, so this will be a game changer. It’s called History. Drake is trying to make history with History. That’s so Drake. How apropos.

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Sorry, but I have to ask the desert island question: you can only bring one album. Is it Drake or the Weeknd? I’m from the hip hop generation. I’d bring a mixtape.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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