The Death of Musical Authenticity

Updated on April 25, 2016

For classical western music born anytime later than the early twentieth century, the word “authentic” will often be used to describe performances that use period instruments and that are created in an attempt to remake period performance idioms. However, since midway through the 1900s this use of the word has been viewed as both “influential and controversial”. The debates of the use of the word “authentic” as it pertains to classical western music have moved from questioning performance practices to questioning the overall integrity of the ascetics. Now, in the twenty-first century, where music is more different than it ever has been before in history due to a number of factors, such as the world wide web and its ability to single handedly propel solo artists to superstardom in a matter of literal minutes and make music readily available to millions of people around the world, the word authenticity can be used to describe whether or not the artist has the aesthetics to match the genre of music they are putting out. Things that threaten the integrity of music that would have been unknown a century ago, either because there would have been no way to access the information or simply because they were culturally insignificant at the time, can now be easily accessed with just a few clicks. With this being the case, the use of the word “authentic” has become virtually meaningless because people seem to rarely care if the artist has a root in what they are producing as long as they can maintain the aesthetics.

Aubrey Drake Graham, better know by just Drake, is dramatically described by some as the “messiah of hip hop music”. Some say he is the greatest, even surpassing the likes of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. Whether you like romantic music, gangster rap, hype music, or pure lyrical genius, Drake seems to have something for everyone. That may be the reason he’s so loved. Drake seems as if he’s been through everything and can do anything. He sings of heartbreak and love, and raps about “starting from the bottom”, selling drugs, and killing his enemies. “Each time, the model of authenticity is re-established in a slightly different guise: we prefer our heroes young, beautiful, working-class, a little bit dangerous, and a little bit romantic. He (it’s generally a he) will love you forever, or be forever young, or some variant — and he will make you feel very special indeed.” (Paul-Sharp, “Have We Finally Gotten Over Authenticity in Music”). Drake “seems” to have been through it all, but do people ever stop to check if any of it is true? In a time when “authentic” was a word that held irrefutable weight and relevancy in the world of music Drake’s background would have been crucial to his music. He would’ve had to have been through everything he described. He would have had to live the lifestyle that he preached about. However, in todays time, a majority of people simply do not care.

A five minute Google adventure will reveal to you that Drake is not as “authentic” as he may lead you to believe. Drake did not exactly “start from the bottom”. In actuality, he started far from it. Drake was born in Toronto, Canada and spent the majority of his youth in Forest Hill, a wealthy part of Toronto. He went to a prestigious performing arts school where he started acting, and when he was fifteen he met an agent who helped him get a role on “Degrassi”, a show on Canadian television. This helped drake garner attention and ultimately put him in the perfect position to start his hip hop career.

By no means was Drake’s life perfect. His mother was as single parent who struggled both financially and emotionally. He watched his father get arrested twice. He was bullied in elementary school for being the only black kid in his class. The money he made acting on Canadian television was about what a high school teacher would make in the united states. So, no, drake did not have the perfect life, but one would be pressed to say that he “started from the bottom”. So in a matter of minutes, the aesthetics that Drake’s career is built on can be shattered. So why does this not shake his fan base? Why is the integrity of his music not constantly called into question? The answers to these questions are simply that people don’t really care whether or not Drake really started from the bottom. He maintains his image and that’s all people care about. The public will love him no matter what he does as long as he maintains the perception his fans have of him.

Is this song really indicative of Drake's story?

Before the 20th century, Drake’s method of presentation would have been frowned upon. Frankly, his career wouldn’t have gone very far. As far as the cultural and ethnographic aspect of authenticity goes, Drake doesn’t exactly meet the criteria for the type of music he produces. Since this is the case, it also opens the door for people to question the sincerity aspect of his authenticity. Whether or not people like his music and whether or not he is a good artist are both subjective and should be completely irrelevant when talking about authenticity. Drake’s music is definitely on the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to authenticity. It doesn’t matter though, especially not in todays age. “That’s why Tupac’s past as a ballet dancer has no bearing on the sheer awesomeness of ‘California Love’: he says he’s a “west side playa”, and you believe it.” (Paul-Sharp, “Have We Finally Gotten Over Authenticity in Music”). The weight that musical authenticity once held has faded, and whether or not an artist’s music is authentic doesn’t have any real influence on how successful they will be.

Is Drake an "authentic" artist?

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        dan the man 23 months ago

        Yeah, I am in agreement with doug. But I cant say that being a pop star is not a bad thing lol

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        doug 23 months ago

        I just do not think it is possible to call Drake and authentic artist. Not anymore at least. He no longer has an identity. He is just a pop star. That is not a bad thing, but it is the truth.