On Monday, it was announced that Drake would take an as-yet-unknown role in the next series of Top Boy, an ex-Channel 4 TV show set on a London council estate, to which he bought the rights last year. The next day, the Independent ran an op-ed by writer Ruchira Sharma, arguing Drake would be, er, appropriating British culture with that role. Sharma suggests that Drake, as a middle-class Canadian male, isn't really in a position to appear authentically in a drama about the British, working-class experience. Since no one knows what role Drake will play yet, we at Noisey disagreed—and so did BBC Radio 1 DJ and former actor MistaJam. He wanted to set a couple of things straight, so we passed him the mic:
Dear Ruchira, I read your piece yesterday where you asserted that by acting in the TV drama Top Boy, Drake is appropriating working-class black British culture. As someone who has acted in the past, is working-class black British and has an intimate knowledge of and passion for the music and culture you reference in your article, I felt I needed to tell you just how many times you got it wrong. By claiming an actor is "appropriating" a culture by starring in a TV show written about an aspect of it, you seem to have missed the fundamental point of acting. To act is to play a role, a character. To become someone else in the pursuit of telling a story. Drake would be no more appropriating the culture represented in Top Boy by acting in the show than Ryan Gosling was appropriating jazz culture in La La Land.
You have also missed several facts about the TV show in question that invalidate your argument—most notably to me that the show itself was written by a 61-year-old white Ulsterman. Is Ronan Bennett a cultural appropriator? Or is he an author telling a story?
You appear to be considerably misinformed about authenticity in hip-hop, since authentic hip-hop music covers a varied subject matter. Hip-hop songs are not all about "crime and morality"—to claim they are is stereotyping. In any event, Drake's lyrical content covers many more topics than just his fame. His themes are much more complex than that; almost as complex as understanding the nuanced difference between appropriation and appreciation. With regard to the "grime artists" your piece references, it is worth noting that Section Boyz, Dave and Giggs are actually all UK Rap artists, not Grime.
As for the British slang you mention, all the words and phrases referenced are examples of Jamaican slang imported to both Toronto and London by Jamaican immigrants. And when it comes to what constitutes black British culture, it's not all the subject matter portrayed in shows such as Top Boy, although those are the only aspects normally chosen to be represented on TV.
I give you that the slang, cultural and musical points of reference and even the socioeconomic, racial, and cultural mix are so very similar between Toronto and London that, to the misinformed journalist, it could seem that Drake is trying desperately to be British and is being, in hip-hop terms, a culture vulture. However he's simply showing his love and appreciation for British culture while keeping it real to himself, being a middle-class Canadian from Toronto. More than that, he's investing in this by buying the rights of the show to be able to make more episodes when previous broadcaster Channel 4 were no longer interested.
You ask, "What would a middle-class Canadian know about growing up on a working-class estate in east London?" and I may equally ask "What does this journalist know about acting, grime, hip-hop, the similarities between Toronto and London youth culture and the intentions of Drake purchasing the rights to a TV show?" In my opinion, the answer is the same, and in writing this piece you have lived up to the age-old adage "never let the truth get in the way of a good story".
MistaJam is a BBC Radio 1 and Radio 1Xtra DJ and presenter, and was voted 2016 Broadcaster of the Year by The Radio Academy.
You can find MistaJam understanding the roots of Toronto and London slang on Twitter.