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Clay Cane Talks Surviving The Intersections Of Sexuality, God & Race In 'Live Through This'

Live Through This: Surviving The Intersections Of Sexuality, God, And Race explores the plight between the LGBTQ community and the church coupled and dealing with identity. 

Journalist, author and filmmaker Clay Cane explores the trials and tribulations that many LGBTQ people of color endure—especially after jumping life hurdles like race, sexuality and religion—in his new essay-style memoir, Live Through This: Surviving The Intersections Of Sexuality, God, And Race.  

The book is compiled of 27 separate essays dealing with Clay’s experience coming into his own as a young gay man of color growing up with limited resources in Washington state and Philadelphia. In efforts to highlight some of his most life altering vignettes, he divides the book up into one-word sections—Sexuality, Love, Race, God, Intersections—that target different facets of his existence and form part of his story.

But this isn’t just a story about Cane. Within the collection of stories, he interpolates all types of issues that affect the LGBT community and marginalized communities as a whole. For instance, there is an essay called “Plantation Life,” which targets undocumented immigrants.  “THE END OF THE MONTH IS A SIGNAL OF THE APOCALYPSE when you are living below the poverty line,” he writes. “While my mother did what she needed to do put food on the table, she also grabbed extra work wherever she could find it, no matter how difficult. My mother’s best friend Karla, who was a young Mexican woman with two kids, told her about picking fruit berry plantations deep in Washington State. “The work is hell, but it’s quick money, and it’s under the table. Girl, you’re white: I don’t think you can handle it!” Karla half-joked.”

Through a mixture of words crafting beautiful imagery, he targets the topical issue of immigrants and hard labor. As a biracial kid who grew up in poverty with his white mother, he vividly tells the stories of those he saw around him. Amid the real hard-knock-life tales, he manages to intertwine humor, nostalgia and sprinkles of pop culture. These diverse sets of stories with a handpicked selection of characters culminate from the time he was a child listening to Prince and Madonna to when he became a professional entertainment journalist and was spending face time with artists like Chaka Khan.

In his essay titled, "Divas Live: Beyonce, Mary And Patti," he remembers in 2007 when Khan told him during an interview, “I want to thank all my gay following, all my people, for staying with me and supporting me all these years. You all have been my most solid fan base and that’s the truth.” And while visibility for the LGBTQ people of color has heightened through out the years, struggle still persists. In 2015, Clay released Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church, a documentary that explores the plight between the black church and its long history with ingrained homophobia. If the documentary was a conversation starter, this new book is it’s colorful continuation. VIBE recently spoke with Cane about his new book, and the conversations it deliciously stirs even if the taste may not always be as sweet.

 

VIBE: Why did you decide to write the book separated by essays instead of a full memoir?
Clay Cane:
I didn’t want to do the straight cradle to the grave memoir, but in a way it is a memoir because I’m talking about my life. It’s more so about these warriors I met in my life who inspired me, and warriors don’t always live forever. Warriors are not super heroes; a lot of them have passed away, but they’ve had this impact on me and that’s what I really wanted to highlight. I felt like each essay had a take away of equality or social justice. Some are really uncomfortable and really terrifying, and some are really funny and over the top. But me as somebody who is black with a white mother, who is from Philly also Washington State, who grew up poor as hell, who also had a crazy religious experience, I have all these identities and intersections.

I feel like in many ways we all have that. So that’s why I broke it up that way, it made sense. It felt right, I also liked the idea of folks not having to read something straight through. You can read on the train, you can read it as you’re waiting for a meeting. It’s acceptable in that way, and my intention at heart was that these are the issues that I care about. I wanted to use the experiences of my life to talk about it.

What do you do to fight back that noise of shame and guilt that can creep in because of society’s stigma towards homosexuality?
The noise is never really gone. It’s there, but for me the noise is in different ways. When I was writing this book it was through our last insane presidential election, so as I’m writing it and I’m writing about undocumented workers for example on the essay “Plantation Life,” I’m hearing our current president talk about immigrants, undocumented workers and Mexicans. The noise was right there.

The folks in my book, we think about them in stats, numbers and voting blocks. I want to dehumanize those stats, numbers and voting blocks. So that’s the way of fighting back the noise, in acts of resistance. It’s fighting back in this current climate that were in, which is really scary. I think it’s always there, but you have to live through it. You have to go in the battlefield everyday, and that’s kind of what I did.

There’s one essay in there called “The Hip-Hop Closet” where I was going to a gay club in The Bronx at the warehouse, and they would not let trans-women in because they wanted the club to be more masculine. So I’m a young guy experiencing all these things, and I’m just in shock. What I’m seeing is that hurt people hurt other people. It’s not to say that it’s all their fault. But even if you find your people, you also grow up in these structural undertones of sexism, homophobia and the pressures of manhood and masculinity. For me the book is a wake up call, even to folks within my community. I’m not just calling out white people or straight people at all—it’s a wake up call to us as well.

You’ve been very vocal about the black church and the stigma it perpetuates against homosexuality and the LGBT community. What do you think the LGBT community can do fight back against this?
What we should do as a whole is that we have to say "no more." For the black church specifically... black LGBT folks in the church have this joke where it’s like, "Want to meet a whole bunch of gay folks? Just go to the black church." We have to say no more. No I’m not going to sit here in oppression and not say anything.We have to be vocal about that.

With the black church, for us it is very specific because for our churches we have the roots of Jim Crow, slavery and the civil rights movement. Our churches really have a historical freedom concept, so for a lot of us we don’t want to walk away from the church. We have to speak up, but we have hypocrites at the church, like the late Eddie Long who says terrible things, and administers anti-gay marches, but allegedly slept with men.

That’s disgusting, and we, as the gay folks in the church, build the church and support the church. The church couldn’t survive without LGBT folks. And white churches are crazy too, but I think for the people in our community our churches are vulnerable spaces too, because people are looking for salvation. They are looking for healing. To look for a place of healing and be shamed can really ruin somebody’s life. So that’s been a fight of mine for years.

What do you think that shame has done to the black gay community?
This is a theory of mine, but I think that part of the reason why the HIV/AIDS rates are so high among black gay men—because if you’re told the supreme being does not love you, where does your soul go from there? Why would you use a condom if you believe your life is invaluable? Why would you go on PrEp if you’re taught that you’re going to burn?

Self-hate is part of the reason why the HIV rate is so high, especially in the South where church culture is even bigger. So I say to people who are co-signing homophobia in the church, whether you're straight or gay, there is blood on your hands as well. It’s on you as well. There are people that are being hurt, and they are dying. It really is a crisis; it’s heartbreaking to me. I should say folks are doing something, but as far as the church aspect there is more that can be done.  

In the book you talked about how hip-hop influenced you as a young black man, but then when it came to your gay identity you felt shunned because of the homophobia and misogyny in the music. Do you feel more welcomed by hip-hop now?
That’s a good question. I think it’s complicated. Hip-hop artists know now that it’s not really profitable to be homophobic. Once upon a time it was profitable to be homophobic. That goes back to the church as well, the reason why churches are so homophobic is because it’s profitable, and now they are learning like Kim Burrell that this may not be bringing us what we want.

When it comes to hip-hop artists, people don’t play now. If you say something really homophobic and disgusting, that can really damage your career. So I don’t know if it’s sincere. I don’t know if it’s sincere, them staying quiet. But as far as feeling more welcome, there are some good folks there like Young M.A. and of course Frank Ocean, Taylor Bennett and iLoveMakonnen.

There is still work that needs to be done. I want to see a successful hip-hop artist be like an Ellen Degenres or like an Elton John in their career, and get love from hip-hop, but I think it’s complicated. Also, a lot of these guys are really young, and they need space to learn, evolve and grow. I love hip-hop, I really, really do; it’s just part of my roots. Black women have to deal with that, too. They love hip-hop but it’s deeply misogynist. It’s complicated, but someone like Common used to have homophobic lyrics; he turned around. You have to give some people time to evolve, and space to grow. But the irony of it is that for some people, being a homophobe makes you more masculine. Masculinity is very important in hip-hop. It’s a deep conversation about what’s profitable in hip-hop.

You also mentioned in your book the positive impact music has had on you as a gay man with artists like Prince and Madonna. Who do you think are those type of icons for this new generation?
Some artists have always acknowledged the importance of an LGBT following in their career. When you can’t hit the same notes; when you can’t get radio airplay, the LGBT community especially gay men— for women and women of color—they are there. So that’s really crucial and important. I think now when it comes to women artists, I think that every artist is performing at an LGBT pride event. I think with Beyonce you see that in “Formation,” she was really showing this kind of alternative vision of blackness with having Messy Mya in there and having Big Freedia.

If I would’ve had Beyoncé doing that, if she had been out when I was kid, that would have had a huge impact on me in the same way Prince, Madonna and Janet Jackson had an impact on me. These artists are out there, and they are being visible. And for a lot of them, they are being sincere. Lady Gaga is really sincere about it, you know she knows what she’s talking about. Even on Rupaul’s Drag Race, which is wild that she is on there giving tips to these drag artists. There are a lot of folks everyone from Marsha Ambrosius to Beyonce to Fantasia—although she’s gotten in some heat for some things here and there—she has a big following. Also, there’s Jennifer Hudson. I believe it’s sincere because they have LGBT people in their crews. But what Beyonce did with “Formation” was really cool, that she had this gender non-conforming context in there. That was really cool and powerful. She also had LGBT inspiration in Lemonade.

Lastly, you also write about the support your mother gave you as a child. What advice would you give young gay men whose mothers aren’t as supportive as your mother was to you when you were growing up?
That essay is called “The First Time I Was Called A Faggot,” and because of my mother kicking her boyfriend out of the house, saying ‘that’s my son.’ It really honored me for life. That was a crucial part in just my upbringing. It armored me for life. My mother has nothing more than an eighth grade education and she gave me some serious affirmation. So for young people especially young men who are going through these pressures of masculinity I would say that you have to live through it, you have to stay in it, and you have to look for your escapism. Like I did with music and with culture. You have to find ways to free yourself when you can, but you have to make it out on the other side.

And then ultimately you have to find your tribe, and that may take a long time. But you have to be in it, there is no other option, because when you’re young you don’t have much agency. When you’re young and a child you don’t have much of a voice. I hope any young person that reads through this, I hope it makes them feel a little more comfortable, and laugh a little bit more. You have to seek out little ways to find your tribe. But it’s difficult and it was hard, because when I was in it, no advice would have really helped me. Fortunately, now there are more outlets of social media, and stuff like that. But seriously, I’m putting out all the good energy out there to those going through it like I did.

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Meet Koffee, The Rising Jamaican Star Who Is Hot Like A Thermos

Back in 1962, a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Robert Marley recorded a song called “One Cup of Coffee” and went on to take reggae music around the world. Fast forward 55 years to 2017, when a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Koffee dropped her first record, “Burning,” setting her on a path to become the most talked-about new artist in dancehall reggae right now.

Koffee got her big break when veteran singer Cocoa Tea invited her onstage at the January 2018 edition of Rebel Salute, Jamaica’s biggest roots reggae festival. “She name Koffee and me name Tea,” he quipped, calling her the “next female sensation out of Jamaica.” The artist born Mikayla Simpson doesn’t actually like coffee though—she prefers hot chocolate.

After graduating from Ardenne High, the same school dancehall star Alkaline attended, Koffee turned her focus to music. She shot a live video with new roots superstar Chronixx at Marley’s Tuff Gong Studios, then dropped her breakout single “Toast,” produced by Walshy Fire of Major Lazer fame. That video has racked up 10 million+ views and made the artist, who stands just over five feet tall, a very big name on the island. Now signed to Columbia UK, Koffee will release her debut EP Rapture next month.

“Mi only spit lyrics, don't really talk a lot,” she states on the track “Raggamuffin.” But when Koffee turned up to VIBE’s Times Square headquarters, bundled up against NYC’s February chill in a hoodie, thermals, and Nike x Off-White sneakers, she opened up about her musical journey, the power of gratitude, her surprising inspirations, and how she plans to spend her birthday.

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VIBE: I haven’t seen you since your EP listening in Kingston. Congratulations on an impressive body of work. Koffee: Thank you. I feel humble and proud at the same time. I really put a lot of thought into the EP, the way I structured it, and the content, the lyrics. It really means a lot to me, so I appreciate you saying that.

It’s amazing how much you’ve accomplished since Cocoa Tea brought you out on Rebel Salute. Yeah, and that was only a year and a month ago!

So how did the link with Cocoa happen? Actually, it happened through Walshy Fire. After my very first single “Burning,” Walshy reached out and sent me some riddims, in hopes of us working together, which we ended up doing. We were supposed to meet up at a studio in Florida and when we went there Cocoa Tea was already in the building. We were like, “Wow, Cocoa Tea!” Because Cocoa Tea is a reggae legend for us in Jamaica. Walshy actually introduced Cocoa to some of my music, and Cocoa was like, “Wha? Mi gonna bring her out on Rebel Salute next month!” This was in December, and Rebel Salute was in January.

Timing is everything. Rebel Salute made a huge difference. It opened me up to a lot of opportunities. Even today a lot of places that I go, people remember me from there. I was doing music before. I’d done a few shows here and there, but the audience at Rebel Salute is very important. It’s an epic stage to present yourself.

Were you nervous? Just before going out on the stage I was backstage pacing back and forth. I was trying to keep warm as well because it was chilly that night. But I was really nervous because it was my first time being in such a light.

Do you think being so young has helped you? Like, you may not overthink everything. I think you have a point. Because I’m young, my mind is a bit more pure, or uncorrupted. Experiences do have a way of taking away your mental space and the things you’re willing to try. Staying in “the comfort zone” is the most comfortable thing, but sometimes pushing yourself to step outside of that will help you overcome your fears. That, and just the drive and motivation. I definitely try to keep challenging myself.

Reggae has always been a male-dominated industry, but female artists are definitely on the rise. How do feel getting catapulted into that category? I feel like it’s a big responsibility, and “to whom much is given, much is expected.” So I don't look at it as, “Oh, I’ve made it.” But I acknowledge that I’m in a position where I have a responsibility now to fulfill and to pull through. It just pushes me to work harder, make more things happen, and just keep it going.

I love the line in your song “Raggamuffin” where you say, “Mi give them heart attack inna mi halter back.” Was that inspired by Althea & Donna’s “Uptown Top Rankin’” from the ‘70s? Yeah, I love that song. That’s the thing, I would say that every artist is an influence to me. Growing up, I would hear these songs being played by people next door, down the road, all around. Just in the Jamaican environment on a whole. So those songs definitely do have an influence on me, the messages from those times. Once you hear it, it’s in your head. You know it now and it really makes a difference in how you think, how you speak, and everything.

When people think of a female dancehall artist they usually think of colorful hair, long nails… But you seem to have your own swag. How would you describe your style? I would definitely say unique, but at the same time, it is natural to me and not calculated. I don't put a name to it and say, “I’m gonna be this way.” I just kind of flow and whatever you see is me doing what I feel. Like, I’m not sure what these pants are, but I bought them in Berlin. I got this hoodie in the UK—I’m not sure what brand this is either. I was just trying to keep warm. My friend Ayesha from the UK styled me with this top recently for a shoot.

There’s a line on “Burning” where you talk about “Koffee pon di street, tank top inna di heat / Jeans pants an’ Crocs / No socks pon mi feet / Knapsack mi a beat / Well pack up an’ it neat.” Was that your real-life dress code in 2017? Yeah, I remember at that time that’s how I used to roll. You know in Jamaica it’s hot, so I probably had my tank top and my jeans on, or my shorts. And I had this one pair of grey Crocs that I just wore everywhere. And I always have my knapsack. So yeah, that was my reality at that moment.

How far away does that feel, now that you have a stylist and travel the world? That’s amazing. It’s a transition that’s really beautiful and something I really appreciate.

I have a feeling you’re going to re-introduce words like “appreciate” and “give thanks” into pop culture. I hope to start a wave of gratitude. Even by writing that song “Toast,” when I say “We haffi give thanks like we really supposed to,” it reminds me to be grateful. I aspire to be humble and I pray and ask God to help me be grateful. I try to maintain it and I hope that will inspire other people to do the same.

Let’s talk about “Toast.” On the chorus, you say “We nah rise and boast.” But then again, a lot of reggae and dancehall artists are very “boasy.” That’s part of the culture. When I say “Wi nah rise and boast” it means that no matter what happens along the journey, we’re still gonna remain the same. We gonna big up we friend and hold a vibes. I’m just making it clear that we never come fe hype.

You can spit pretty fast, but I feel like some people may be missing some of the things you say. But if you listen carefully you’re talking about real things. Thank you for noticing that. When I wrote “Raggamuffin,” a lot of my musical influence came from artists like Protoje and Chronixx. Chronixx has basically been an advocate for the youths, so his message had an impact on me. When I was vibing to the beat, I wanted to cover myself, cover my country where I come from, good things and bad things, and the music, reggae itself.

Growing up, did you see inner city kids not being looked after by their own government and their own people? Most definitely. I wouldn't say that the government is responsible for the lives of everybody as citizens. But there are some general things that need the government’s attention and they don't pay the attention that they should. They'd rather focus on things that can garner income. There are roads that need to be fixed in places that tourists don't necessarily visit. And nobody cares about those roads. Minor injustices, major injustices—just things that really need to be spoken about so that people can think about it and look into it.

BDP used the term Edutainment—education and entertainment. Is that something you present in your music? Yes, it’s definitely something I aim for. I think that it’s important to keep people interested enough to want to absorb what you are saying. And then it’s equally important to present something that is worth absorbing. Something productive, something inspiring, motivating. Just mixing both so that you have their attention and you’re also delivering something that’s worth their attention.

You were still in school when you did your song “Burning.” As a new artist did you have to convince the producers to work with you? Gratefully, no I didn't have to convince them. Because I did a tribute to Usain Bolt before that. I wrote a song with my guitar titled “Legend” and posted a video of me performing it with my guitar on Instagram.

Usain came across it and reposted it, so that garnered a lot of attention. People from the music industry reached out to me, and in that group of people was Upsetta records with their Ouji Riddim. They sent it to my first manager like, “Let’s see what she can do” and so forth.

There’s this thing in Jamaica called Sixth Form. It’s like you graduate high school and there’s an extra two years that you can do as like a pre-college. I applied for it and didn’t get through. Right after that, I did the tribute to Usain Bolt and then Upsetta sent me the Ouji Riddim. I was in a state of mind where I felt disappointed. I felt the need to motivate myself, so I was like “Come with the fire the city burning!”

How does your mom feel about all of this? I started writing lyrics at 14 years old, but she didn't find out until I was 16, when she saw me perform at a competition in school. I invited her there and she was taken aback, like, “Wow! So this what you've been doing?” (Laughs) She wanted me to do academics like every parent wants. And she was little disappointed when I didn't get through to Sixth Form. But over time, as I wrote more and performed more, she began to trust my talent and just trust the process. So she started appreciating the music and now she's fully on board.

What did your mother think of “dancehall pon the street,” like you sing about in your song “Raggamuffin”? As you know I’ve been living with mommy since I was a baby up until I was 17, so being under her roof I didn't go out much. I was always in the house just chilling and stuff. I know that there’s a dance on like every corner. lf you are driving, you always hear music playing. You have the oldies dancehall, you have the new dancehall—everybody just hold a vibe. That’s basically where that line comes from.

Do you go to dances now? I’ve been going to a few parties and getting out, but I haven't been to like a dance dance. I’ve been to Dub Club, you get some really good music there. But Dub Club is like a relaxed kinda vibe.

You recently performed at Bob Marley’s 74th birthday celebration in Kingston. Do you still listen to his music? Most definitely! Bob has set such a great and amazing foundation for the music, the industry, the genre itself, the country, the youth... He’s set such a great example that you haffi really learn from it and take a lot from it so that you know where you’re coming from. You haffi understand how to execute in honor of such people.

What are some of your favorite Bob songs? Well, I performed “Who the Cap Fit” that night, so that’s one of my favorites. And I like “Is This Love” and “Natural Mystic.” That’s just a few.

I know that’s a hard question. What about a dancehall legend like Super Cat? Hmm… “Mud Up” woulda be my favorite Super Cat.

Really?! Yeah, because of the flow he has on it, not necessarily the content. See, I’m from Spanish Town. Jamaicans on a whole, we like vibes. We like lyrics that, as we would say, “it slap!” It touches you, and really hits that spot. So I listen to a lot of different things, and the lyrics that I listen to aren't always conscious. But what I derive from music is not necessarily the message. Sometimes the flow that you’re hearing, that’s the wave for the moment. It may not be the best for the youth, but that’s what people like to vibe to. So you take that vibe, put a positive message to it, and that’s the spin. So I listen very widely.

One of my favorite songs on your new EP is the “Rapture” remix. It was dope that you got together with Govana on that. When I first wrote “Rapture,” Govana had recently done a song called “Bake Bean” that took off in Jamaica. When him drop that, it’s like the flow really resonate with me. I was like, “This is dope.” So when I did “Rapture” I was listening back to it and thought I should probably try to get Govana on this track. And it turned out so sick!

That’s cool to have the credibility where other artists respond to you like that. Because I'm sure it’s not always that easy. No, it’s not always easy. Me haffi give thanks for the way people have been responding.

So no one has kissed their teeth and said, “Nah man”? (Laughs) No, not yet. (Laughs) But what I have to appreciate is just when another artist really listens and pays attention. Sometimes an artist can be good and they don't get the response or the attention that they deserve. Some people don't want to listen, so I give a lot of respect to who is willing to listen.

Well Govana has given you that “crown” in his verse, which reminds me—how did the song “Throne” come about? I remember Walshy sent me that riddim in the first batch of riddims that he sent me. The riddim for “Toast” was also in that batch, but I started with “Throne.” It was basically like a challenge for me. I was like “How am I gonna spit on this?” Because the riddim sounded so dynamic. I was like “mi haffi mash this up!” Hence the fast spit-fire kind of vibe.

What music are you currently listening to on your phone? I don’t listen to my own songs that much. I’m vibing to Mr Eazi. I’ve been going in on the Afrobeats. Burna Boy. Smino the rapper. And I’ve been going in even more on Bob Marley.

Well, it’s reggae month right now. So there’s lots of legendary birthdays—Bob Marley, Dennis Brown. That makes the month even more significant! By the way, I’m born in February also. (Laughs) February 16th.

Happy Earthstrong! Were you keeping that quiet? I just remembered. I’ll be 19!

Wow—you’re gonna be out of the teens soon. What you gonna do on your 19th birthday? Wowwwww—I dunno. I’m gonna see when I get to Jamaica which party. I’ll probably just try and go to a dance or something. That ah go be mad!

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Solitary Alignment: 5 Self-Affirming Reads For Single Ladies On Valentine’s Day

Ahh, the Feast of Saint Valentine—the Hallmark holiday that strikes us with its arrow each year, for better or for worse, depending on your bae status. While the romantic holiday is adored and celebrated by many, if you’re still reeling over, say, your ex’s refusal to commit, chances are Feb. 14 is more of a heartache for you than anything.

But as a wise woman once said, “If they liked it then they should’ve put a ring on it.” So whether V-Day has you scared of lonely or sulking over a lost love, as another wise woman once said, they “would be SUPER lucky to even set eyes on you this Valentine’s Day. That’s it. That’s the gift.” Shout out to The Slumflower.

Sure, having a bae on Valentine’s Day is cool, but so is reminding yourself why you’re just fine without one (cue Webbie’s “Independent”). In fact, single folks have better relationships overall, according to the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. You know how the old adage goes: love yourself before loving someone else.

For this Valentine’s Day, VIBE Vixen rounds up a nourishing list of books for our sisters doin’ it for themselves. Consider this your reminder of how badass you are—because you are! Oh, oh, oh. *Beyoncé voice*

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Johnny Nunez

'So Far Gone': Re-Reviewing Drake's Iconic Mixtape 10 Years Later

“Draaaake?! Draaaake?! Aubrey Graham in a wheelchair... Draaaake?!”

Soulja Boy’s viral rant, while hilarious to 15 million viewers who watched The Breakfast Club interview, seems almost silly to contemplate now in a musical climate so easily dominated by the OVO frontrunner. But in 2009, at the release of Drake’s breakout mixtape, So Far Gone, Soulja’s questions of Drake’s influence and placement on the hip-hop spectrum actually mimicked the inquiries fans may have been asking at the time. Even Drizzy seemed to share those same contemplations on the project as he reflected his newfound stardom and the future that would unfold as a result.

So Far Gone, however, diminished those ounces of doubt. Ten years later, the 18-track project still comes together as one of the most cohesive mixtapes of this decade and has become the building block to one of the sturdiest foundations of a hip-hop artist to date. Revisiting So Far Gone and taking its temperature anew, we get a glimpse of how the personas of the emotional rapper came to be such inescapable and successful forces within the music industry at that time.

 

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@futuretheprince a decade ago you were Dj’ing all ages [email protected] a decade ago you were scared to share your [email protected] a decade ago you worked at a clothing store selling someone else’s [email protected] a decade ago you were in a basement with pink insulation walls figuring out fruity [email protected] a decade ago we were handing out flyers promoting club [email protected] a decade ago you were working the makeup counter at Beverly [email protected] a decade ago your moms house was my safe place and we really ran through the 6 everyday [email protected] a decade ago you were a legend and you will remain that [email protected] a decade ago you promoted me as if you were getting a cut of my [email protected] a decade ago you were the first person to recognize potential and give me a [email protected] a decade ago you came to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and laid a verse for an unknown artist from [email protected] a decade ago you emailed me the cover art for something that would change my life [email protected] a decade ago you came to my release party at 6 Degrees and made me the biggest artist in the city off your presence [email protected] a decade ago I rapped over your beat cause you just made the best shit and even though you stay wildin on twitter these days I will never forget what you contributed to the game and my career...Portia I don’t know your IG but a decade ago you told me to rap over June 27th and bonded me and Houston Texas [email protected] a decade ago you took a chance on MySpace and introduced me to [email protected] a decade ago you took me out of Toronto and gave me the biggest blessing anybody has ever given me...I will never forget anybody involved in this journey even if you don’t fit in this caption...So Far Gone streaming everywhere for the first time ever Thursday. 🙏🏽

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With his follow-up to Comeback Season (2007), Drake interrupted the hip-hop landscape with introspective songs that played up relationships instead of violence and street life through a healthy mix of confident raps and charming vocals. The idea of “emotional rapping” was so novice that it seemed uncool or too feminine in a male-dominated genre (Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings, Nicki Minaj’s Beam Me Up Scotty, and J. Cole’s The Warm Up also created noise at the time), but Drake’s ability to reach his female audience while still resonating with the masses was irrefutable. The somber tone of “Sooner Than Later,” sung in his lower register, perfectly conveys his efforts to reach an estranged lover before she’s gone for good. “The girl or the world? / They say someone gotta lose / I thought that I can have it all, do I really got to choose,” Drake ponders on the record.

In addition to lyrical content, Drake’s audacity to sing on heavily R&B-inspired tracks is unmatched. We saw that on “Houstatlantavegas”—possibly the genesis of his infatuation with strippers (“Hey there, pretty girl/You know, exactly what you got/And I don't blame you at all/You can't resist it/Especially when the lights so bright/And the money so right/And it's comin in every single night,” he crooned)—a seductive song that listens as an open love letter to a mysterious working girl. The romanticization of this woman is reminiscent of T-Pain’s 2005 single “In Luv With a Stripper,” but it seesawed back and forth between velvety refrains and confident bars that captured the allure in a way that felt both sexy and humanizing. The girl was no longer just a stripper, but one who dreamed of making it out of her hometown.

His singing may have seemed comparable to Kanye West, who had just released his predominantly auto-tuned album 808s & Heartbreak just a year before (Drizzy actually sampled Kanye’s “Say You Will” from the same album, flipping it to be a rap track). Even so, Drake dared to pair his vocals alongside talented voices within the R&B space, proving that he could sing just as much as he could rap. “A Night Off” was an incredibly bold and ambitious move. Drake had cojones to pair his sensuous crooning with the high notes of a certified songbird like Lloyd, but somehow it worked. This was the vulnerability that would give him his “Heartbreak Drake” persona, and he won for it.

While his vulnerability would be his gateway into the industry, Drake wanted to remind fans that he was still very much a rapper and a force to be reckoned with. In comparison to “A Night Off,” Drizzy flexed his flows on “Successful,” while Trey Songz held down the chorus. The materialism that was an undeniable 2009 rap music theme stood on the forefront as the eerie harmony led into Songz’s hook, fully encapsulating the desperation of a rookie attempting to overcome struggles and bolster from nothing to everything.

A seasoned Drake would surely not equate his success to simply h*es and cars, but its message, while simple, was honest and provided insight into a naïve conversation on what fame meant to a newcomer. Drake went harder on “Uptown,” though. The rapper had no choice to flex cocky bars over the Boi-1da-produced beat in order to keep up with its A-list features, Lil Wayne and Bun B.

This reminder of Drake The Rapper was also prevalent in his sampling. He demonstrated his understanding of hip-hop’s rich history on songs like “November 18th,” where DJ Screw provided the perfect assist with a chopped and screwed sample of Kris Kross’ “Da Streets Ain’t Right” (which also borrowed from Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 single, “Warning”). Although the track held a lot of weight in its instrumentals, Drizzy forged his own story by illustrating the day Lil Wayne called him, which in turn changed the course of his fate. Likewise, a purely-rapping-no-hook Drake over Jay-Z's original “Ignorant Sh*t” on his version, “Ignant Sh*t,” is quite nice. Yes, breaking away from the usual blueprint of breaks and harmonious choruses makes it teeter on the exhausting side, but the song’s lyrical content was a time capsule of the last decade (“Rest in peace to Heath Ledger, but I’m no Joker”).

The entirety of So Far Gone set the pace for Drake’s career in the years to come, but the tape’s final track, “The Calm,” foreshadowed his position in the landscape of hip-hop the most. “Leader of the new school, it’s proven and it’s known / I’m sitting in a chair, but in the future it’s a throne,” he prophesied. The electronic and muffled beat leads in to Drake’s reflection about a sense of alienation in the industry and his personal life that surely has continued well into the 2010s. While he is now one of the most commercially sought after talents in pop culture, his artistry has often been questioned by his musical peers. But even then, like the song said, Drake has always known that things were going to work out in his favor: “Everything will be okay and it won’t even take that long.”

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