Here's a tip for your strip club audition: Spiteful songs about exes make for satisfying stage sets. I've seen performers in high-end New York City clubs engage in sing-alongs mid-writhe, bouncing and gleefully sharing in the post break up sentiment: "My ex asked me where you movin' and I said onto better things." Everyone loves a good revenge fantasy.
When "Hotline Bling" punctuated the end of summer with its sunny hook and easy dancehall rhythm, I knew it would make for heavy club rotation. On stage, as Drake took the role of jilted ex, I swayed and smiled as if my previous boyfriend were sitting right at my tip rail, angry and slightly turned on to have stumbled into this 'gentleman's club' and found me topless on stage. Dancing to Drake means embodying the love object gone wild; I'm inexplicably into it.
Since "Take Care" debuted in 2011, music journalists have been keen to explain that Drake writes songs women like to hear. Indeed, his discography is certainly heavy on songs about them. That Drake flatters women is no accident. Young girls are influential consumers. Drake understands his appeal: "When my album drops bitches'll buy it for the picture," he raps knowingly on "Best I Ever Had," one of the standout tracks on his debut album. During his concerts, he pulls shy girls from the audience and serenades them on stage, boy-band style.
And we buy it, even when we're aware that it's calculated branding. Drake is our collective boyfriend, and he's doing a pretty okay job of it. There is a Drake for every occasion.
And the rapper as the stripper's champion is arguably his most convincing persona. "Plastic Bag," the woozy track on Drake's recent collaboration with Future, What a Time to Be Alive, has Champagne Papi assume, lyrically, the most literal iteration of this role yet. On the track, Drake returns to his roots and plays the patron saint of strippers. After, presumably, littering the club with cash, he somberly sings, "Get a plastic bag. Go ahead and pick up all the cash. You danced all night, girl, you deserve it."
Drake's albums are about contradictions, the shallow joys of wealth, and basic unhappiness. But the centerpiece of Drake's crisis has always been the problem love; and it is real-life strippers who have provided the substance for this drama. Drake may not be from Houston, Atlanta, the West Coast, or the many other "hometowns" he claims along with the Six, but in the authenticity-obsessed world of hip-hop, the rapper at least has dancers.
In a "celebrity" thread on Stripper Web, a private forum for those in the adult entertainment industry, a user reported dancing for Drake, who was "a super fun customer." She claims he came in with Trey Songs and the two kept the club open after-hours, throwing money on the girls as they danced for his entourage. They spent about $15,000 in total. Another dancer reported that Drake stopped into her club for just twenty minutes. He left when he wasn't seated in the same VIP as French Montana, but not before standing on the sofa so everyone in the club could see him and hold up a sea of iPhones set to record.
Drake's relationship to strippers has become a calculated part of his identity. Note the time that he goofily hovered above the audience of his concert on a flying stripper pole, as if it were a magic carpet. Or the time he brought $50,000 worth of singles to Cameo, a nightclub in Charlotte. Photos show the narrative. There's Drake looking casual in a hoodie while opening cardboard boxes full of cash. There's Drake throwing dollar bills while looking a little sleepy-eyed. There's the atmosphere: the floor of the club entirely carpeted in money, as various dancers stand around, chatting with members of Drake's crew. (Because who picks up singles when the entourage is putting private rooms on the Cash Money company card!)
When Drake sings, 'Your hustle don't go unnoticed baby, I'm with you, I'm wit it,' it's kind of a revelation.
The many dancers and models alluded to on Drake's albums are too numerous to count, but then there are the women whom Drake calls out by name. Women who—in the age of Instagram—have shrewdly used Drizzy's shout-out as a platform for their careers, hosting club nights and launching businesses. There's Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree, Maliah and Chyna, Porsche from Treasures, and Bria Myles who he met at Bloomingdales, not Macy's. Though word is still out on Rochelle and Jordan, since these aren't their "real names." (While on aliases, I will eat my Lucite heel if "Champagne Papi" wasn't a nickname given to Drake by one of the sugar babies for whom he buys purses, trucks, houses, entire malls.)
Not an album review goes by without some mention of Drake's tendency air the details of relationships with non-famous women. But less space is given to what it means for Drake to write about these women, or how he writes about them. In some songs, he is the supportive stripper "boyfriend" who celebrates the hustle ("305 to My City"). On others, he seems to worry about his attraction to women that are too independent. One can only hope that the simplistic "compromised good girl" narrative of songs like "Hotline Bling" fits into a more complicated story on Drake's forthcoming album, Views from the 6.
On the subject of Drake, many have theorized that the rapper's "songs for women" come off as condescending. Noting that the lyrics in "Make me Proud" read like a parody of things men think women want to be complimented for—brains, body, beauty—writer Emma Carmichael is bothered by lines like, "Running on the treadmill and only eating salad/ sounding so smart like you graduated college/ like you went to Yale but you probably went to Howard." But the sentiment falls differently on the female listener who is making a living directly from her sexual attractiveness and her ability to charm and hustle men who are stereotypically wealthier (and stereotypically more educated) than she is.
Dae, a dancer from Atlanta tells me, over the phone, that when she is having a bad night, Drake can give her the courage to keep going. "Drake gets it," she says. "'HoustonAtantaVegas' is my favorite stripper song of all time because it's about the most popular stripper cities, and how a girl can get stuck in them. I can't explain it. Like, it doesn't feel like Drake is saying it's bad... He is recognizing that a girl can feel stuck! He gets it. He's on the team. Drake is the motivator."
Drake gets it. He is recognizing that a girl can feel stuck!
I get it too. When it's my third consecutive night shift and no one is buying dances—and I just want to grab the giant vodka handle from the bachelor party's bottle service and never stop chugging it—a gentle Drake track can save me from a micro, manic stripper meltdown.
Drake isn't the only hip-hop star who has adopted the role of "stripper boyfriend," but he has perfected a nuanced approached. He's not just singing about how he's "in luv with a stripper." When Drake sings "Your hustle don't go unnoticed baby, I'm with you, I'm wit it," it's kind of a revelation.
Drake sees our labor. He knows that I had to down half a bottle of Dayquil to make it to the club because I smoked a million packs of cigarettes and got bronchitis. He knows that I'll have to pop an Adderall to stay awake until four. And he knows that at at five I will be home, wide awake, wearing a sleep-mask as a headband while scrolling through Twitter, wondering who I should call. (The answer, of course, is one of my supportive stripper boyfriends.)
As much as Drake is there for strippers, strippers are there for Drake. It's well known that if a rapper has a song that strippers like to dance to, he's got a hit. "The girls in love club loooove Drake," Atlanta strip club DJ Big Xatl texted me when I asked him about the Canadian crooner. At the moment, Drake is the most requested artist in his club.
"If Drake didn't have strippers, what would he have?" Dae intones.
If Drake didn't have strippers, what would he have?
But while the relationship might be symbiotic, the two aren't equal. Let's not forget the stripper from Houston on 2015's "Legend" that Drake has "rescued" to turn into some sort of live-in housecleaner. (Which begs the question: How many women live in Drake's seven bedroom nine bathroom estate? And does he make them all clean the house?)
I think about this as I dance to "Hotline Bling," turning to face myself in the mirror, so customers don't see me laugh when Drake sings: "You should just be yourself. Right now you're someone else."
Whatever, dad. While it may be hot for the basic fan, "mentor"—on the other hand—is a Drake role-play I'm not into. It's a stance that shifts him from "supportive sex work boyfriend" to another one of my regulars.