Q&A: Amara Pope, the Western University PhD student who wrote a paper on Drake
Like a lot of 20-somethings, Amara Pope spent a good chunk of 2016 watching Drake music videos. For her, it was research. The Western University PhD student recently published a paper that explores how Drizzy’s early success related to his ability to connect with multiple communities and places. We spoke with the city’s preeminent Drakeologist about the 6 God’s video-making savvy, the “u” absent from “Worst Behavior” and why Drake may be the poster boy for a post-identity Canada.
Before writing this paper, you had to convince your professors that Drizzy was a worthy subject. Was that a tough sell?
Well, some of the older professors didn’t know who he was, so I introduced them to him and played his music. That was a lot of fun.
Hard to imagine a Canadian who doesn’t know about Drake.
I know. I found that amazing. When I pitched the idea in 2015, I framed it as a study of identity politics through the medium of music videos. I drew on research I had done during my undergrad. I majored in English and fine arts with a digital media specialization. I started analyzing music videos and how the linguistic and visual aspects created a particular narrative, and I looked at issues of self-branding and identity politics. I used Drake as a case study because, in his videos, the narratives draw from so many different communities.
The focus of your study is Drake as an artist of multiple identities. What does that mean?
I found that Drake was uniquely able to connect with so many communities: he’s biracial, bi-national, has connections to both the black and Jewish communities, has been both working class and a high-class rapper. I wanted to tease out all of these connections and contradictions. My parents are from Trinidad, and I live in a very small town in Elmira called Saint Jacobs. At home, I live a very Trini lifestyle with my parents—the culture and the food. At school, I’m totally different. I live a kind of double life, so I was able to understand how Drake was compartmentalizing his identities and drawing on different identities in different situations.
Your paper is titled Musical Artists Capitalizing on Hybrid Identities: A Case Study of Drake the “Authentic” “Black” “Canadian” “Rapper.” What’s with all the quotation marks?
I put them there because my study aimed to find out whether or not it was authentic that he was drawing on these different forms of his identity.
What was the verdict?
My verdict was a little contradictory. He does hold a position in all of these communities, but he’s using very stereotypical images that will allow a larger, international audience to recognize these symbols of his identity. For example, in “Worst Behaviour,” the opening scenes are very much associated with American hip-hop culture, with the do-rags and the chains. And then, in “Started From the Bottom,” he uses very stereotypical images of Toronto—the skyline, a Toronto Parks and Rec sign, a retail store that looks like a Shoppers Drug Mart. It’s very recognizable imagery. In the “HYFR” video, set at a Bar Mitzvah, he’s wearing a tallit. He’s commemorating his religion, but, again, in a very recognizable way that fans from that community can connect to.
What kind of feedback did you get from your professors?
I got a lot of positive feedback. I actually got to present my paper at two academic conferences—one at Carlton and one at the University of Calgary, so that was exciting.
Your topic connects to recent political discussion about the Canadian identity. Justin Trudeau has said that the Canadian identity is essentially the fact that we are a country of mixed identities. Drake seems like kind of the poster boy for that.
In Canada, and especially in Toronto, we have so many different communities. They can blend into each other, but they are also compartmentalized. In analyzing Drake’s videos, I found it really interesting how he’ll draw on one identity without mentioning the other. In “Worst Behavior,” it’s only his American identity. In “Started from the Bottom,” it’s all Canadian.
Maybe that’s why he chose to spell Behavior without the “u.” Come on, Drake!
I know, I know. I was a little bit offended by that one. But, again, he’s trying to appeal to different communities.
Talk to me about “Hotline Bling” from an academic perspective.
I actually didn’t study “Hotline Bling.” This particular project was about how he created an initial fan base, so I haven’t studied how it’s playing out with his more recent music. But I think the video was a very strategic move. The video was meme-ified so many times. I think it was intentional that every frame was able to be carried across social media.
What’s next for you? Does your current PhD research also involve Drake?
For my PhD, I’m looking at musical artists as entrepreneurs. I’ll be assessing their influence on culture and language, and their ability to extend their brand and their image across platforms outside of music.
So, further reasons for studying the Champagne Papi.
Definitely. He is an expert in that area: social media, the restaurants he owns, even those Drake-branded lint rollers from a few years ago. I’m hoping to have my course work finished by April, and after that I’d like to start working in the corporate world, applying some of the academic theories to actual businesses to help with branding and marketing strategies. Down the road, I would also like to be a professor.
Drake has recently been making headlines for #DraLo, his are-they-or-aren’t-they relationship with Jennifer Lopez. What do you think?
I was a big fan of Drake and RiRi, so I don’t know how I feel about him and JLo.
A lot of people think the relationship is a promotional tool rather than an actual romance. That would seem in keeping with Drake’s keen promotional abilities.
I haven’t actually studied his romantic life as a tool for branding, but he seems to be fairly private. I’m still undecided. I need to give it a couple of weeks. I don’t know if he’s ever publicly acknowledged that he was officially dating somebody, so it’s hard to say. If he wants to give me a call…
As a PhD student, you think Drake is fascinating symbol of cultural identity. As a fan, you think he is…
A genius. I’ve been a fan from the very beginning. My interest in his music is what led me to studying the videos. “Started From the Bottom” got a lot of flak, but I was a fan of that song way back when.
Do I detect a crush?
Yeah, there is some hard crushing going on. If he ever contacted me about my paper, I would probably cry. And then maybe ask him for a job. And look forward to meeting him in person.
Is that the academic or the fan girl talking?
It’s both. It’s definitely both.