There’s an old saying in hip-hop that goes: “rappers want to be ballers, and ballers want to be rappers”.
It’s a phrase that points to a narrative that describes a mutualistic relationship between hip-hop artists and NBA players alike, and how they publicly encourage and culturally reflect off each other – whether that involves lifestyle choices, like DJ Khaled and Hassan Whiteside circuiting around the same sets of places and people, or kindred fashion senses, like A$AP Rocky and Russell Westbrook utilizing the same designer. The dynamic and comparison between basketball superstars and rap celebrities is well linked.
I feel like that same relationship can be said for albums and film, both totems for expression, vehicles for thematic exploration and servants to the pop culture zeitgeist. Just as Hollywood has their blockbusters, so to do the labels in the music industry, swelling up hype for the most popular acts in the world and cramming for positive critical consensus when awards season rolls around. I’ve related what will without a doubt be the year’s biggest album to it’s closest cinematic counterpart; linking Drake’s Views to Tim Burton’s 1995 Batman Forever.
In terms of popularity and cultural saturation, Batman’s third cinematic outing and Drake’s fourth studio album stand at the top of the list for their respective time periods. Both the album and the movie built steam coming off the tail of a previous entry, one that is widely considered to be extremely accurate to the true character and their mythos – but this time around things have changed. While Drake and Bruce Wayne share an embedded devotion to their cities, most of the edge and darkness has faded, instead being replaced by a brighter and flashier surrounding. In Batman’s case it was the goofier, campy tone of the 60’s television series, and in the 6 God’s case, its the introduction of afrobeat and dancehall vibes to OVO’s latest chart-topping sound on huge hits like One Dance, Work, Controlla and Too Good.
Getting down into brass tacks, even iconic comic villains are parallel with every rapper took shots at on the record, with the rappers that Drake takes aim at embodying the M.O of Forever’s main villains, Two-Face and Riddler. Rapper Tyga is essentially Two-Face, the former ally of Bruce Wayne and fellow protector of Gotham – in this case Drake’s formerly close label-mate torchbearer on Young Money. On Hype, the most If You’re Reading This-esque track on Drake‘s latest effort, he repeats the refrain: “Don’t get along man we tried it.” It’s an ambiguous phrase, much like all of Drake‘s subliminal disses, that could be aimed at any of his many enemies or the ‘higher-ups’ that are trying to end his run – yet it’s commonly believed that it engrosses the ties to what became a strained relationship between him and Kylie Jenner‘s infamous squeeze. R&B crooner and ‘sometimes’ rapper Tory Lanez fits the persona of the quizzical Riddler, sending shots at Drake through twitter, on remixes of Uber Everywhere and Controlla, and even trying to override Drizzy‘s waves in his own city through the title of his mixtape, The New Toronto. In the grand scheme of things, Lanez is an insignificant figure trying to come at , much like The Riddler‘s endless efforts to prove he is smarter than Batman through constant taunting and tirades to draw him out. It’s a pointless game of cat and mouse that the cat will always win – wether Drake chooses to disregard or respond, he will always be the infinitely larger artist and will remain the undisputed king of his city.
Though Drake isn’t beating criminals to a pulp while wearing a flying rodent costume, he does exude the same brooding and gray profile that the Dark Knight is known for, while also playing up the gentleman-playboy niceties every once in a while. What stands is an opaque man, heralded by celebrity and riches and yet still seemingly burdened by loss, who decides to represent his home and become something more than himself.
Batman Forever and Views went on to be enormously successful from a commercial standpoint, yet receiving lukewarm reactions from fans and critics alike. However analogous these two works are, their biggest connection is the paradigm shift that they each represent in their respective eras – an iron grip still held on the throne of pop culture, but steady moves towards a different style and tone. Unfortunately, the Batman movies of the 90’s continually got worse – however, the verdict on Drake’s continued reign – perched atop his own Gotham gargoyle – remains to be seen; let’s just hope it doesn’t involve rubber nipples and ice puns.