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Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

August 28, 2009 at 3:59 PM

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R&B + emo = R&Bemo | Drake - "Successful"

Posted by Andrew Matson


"Successful" - Drake (feat. Trey Songz & Lil Wayne)

Have you heard the weepiest R&B song in forever? It's been out for a while now, and it's by Drake, the Canadian whose music never doesn't make me feel a little frosty inside.

(Download the Fader cover boy, Degrassi star, and future of mainstream "urban" music's entire "So Far Gone" mixtape/album here.)

"Successful" takes place in the most gothic of R&B batcaves. Vocals waft in, fade out, and a sparsely decorated hiphop beat is revealed. Snare and bass hits echo. A lone synth's electro-organ warble is a single candle. The music is beautiful.

The music is also Drizzy's cold, cold soul.

From the very beginning, "Successful" is broody and forlorn, a perfect example of the new R&Bemo (R&B + emo), a mini-movement in contemporary rap and R&B.

The new R&Bemo is different than singing the blues. It's post-that. The blues is direct; it's crying. The new R&Bemo is also about pain, but it's post-crying. The new R&Bemo is psychiatric. It's picking up where Prince's "When Doves Cry" left off, marrying minor-key pop jams to lyrics that show an awareness not only of one's own pathologies and neuroses, but potential causes and fixes. For the latter, the new R&Bemo is psychopharmacological. It's about drinking, driving, smoking, spending, having sex, and sing-rapping your way through this crazy life.

"Successful" addresses addiction and self-medication. The addiction is to lusts that, in modern rap and R&B, all too often transcend rigmarole and supplant social mores. Cheap (and expensive) thrills. Drake and Trey Songz are after something more, but what is it?

"I want the money:
Money and the cars,
cars and the clothes,
the hoes...
...I suppose.

I just wanna be,
I just wanna be successful

What does successful mean? That's the question. The saddest part of the song comes in a voicemail recording from a man I'm assuming is Drake's dad. It's an older voice, slurring a little, talking about, "You're going to the top," and, "Go for the money, and not the honey." It's a get-paid/f__k hoes directive. And it comes down from above, disembodied from the track.

That's what Drake and Trey Songz aim to be bigger than. But they fail. They backslide. Drake cheats on his girl and blames his own coldness -- "My girl love me, but f___k it my heart beat slow/ and right now the tour bus is lookin' like a freak show." He spends $1,000 at the bar, trying to escape reality.

But there's also a nagging feeling that, "successful" aside, Drake and Trey Songz just don't want to seem tacky. They know rote materialism is not distinguished. To them, and to Drake especially, sincerity is a commodity: The special kind of disingenuousness he's selling in his hugely popular song "Best I Ever Had" testifies to that (every girl he sleeps with is the best he's ever had).

Drake is great at talking about feelings, but he's also just great at talking.

Beyond the expressed hollowness of the singers in "Successful," the song is meta-hollow. Drake and Trey Songz are deluding themselves, talking around a problem they don't really have a handle on. Not completely.

First, we laugh at the over-seriousness of two handsome, reasonably famous guys in their early 20s acting so sad about their surplus of money, cars, clothes, and hoes. We laugh at their fake-removed position, their over-conceptual use of "hoe," like they're post-hoe, like they don't really use that word but know what it means. Like they're talking about "the proverbial hoes."

Then we cry, a little.

Photo of Drizzy and, uh, Trizzy by Sclary

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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