Drake’s sixth studio album Certified Boy Lover, scheduled for release on Friday, is his first in three years. But the internet is teeming with weird cover art: 12 pregnant women of different races wear T-shirts of different colors arranged in neat rows.
Love it or hate it, the album cover is just the latest example of Drake’s long history of dominating internet culture.
The Toronto rapper is a frequent subject of memes and viral moments — all of which are carefully coordinated efforts to cash in on his brand, experts say.
The origins of Drake’s ability meme
Dalton Higgins, a Toronto-based hip-hop scholar who is a professor of music in residence at Ryerson University, said that as a biracial Jewish man from an upper-middle-class home in Toronto, Drake started out as an underdog on the hip-hop scene.
“Nowhere did we think, as scholars, critics, and journalists of hip-hop music, that a black Jewish kid would be the most popular rapper on the planet.”
Higgins, who also wrote an unauthorized biography of Drake, notes that hip-hop culture originated in the lower-income neighborhoods of the South Bronx and Los Angeles.
The Canadian rapper’s entry into the genre was unexpected, especially after he starred in the teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation.
According to Higgins, hip-hop culture has “an obsession and focus around being streetwise and hardcore, coming from low-income environments, having experienced a lot of adversity.”
“Then here comes the rapper who was a child actor in him DegrassiOf all the TV shows.
This humor wasn’t lost on the internet, and memes started popping up parallel to Drake’s nascent rap career. Many references were able to him Degrassi Jimmy Brooks is paralyzed from the waist down.
Then, in 2009, a video of Drake singing “Freedom” went viral on a radio show – because he was reading the lyrics from a BlackBerry phone, which is frowned upon in freestyle rap.
Watch | Drake Freestyles reading lyrics from his BlackBerry:
As Drake’s popularity grew increasingly entrenched in hip-hop, so did his tendency to go viral. He used the phrase “YOLO” – meaning “You only live once” – in the 2011 song and entered popular slang.
Cover image for his 2013 album Nothing remains And his music tape of 2015 If you’re reading this it’s too late Often used as meme templates.
As the global ambassador for the Toronto Raptors, Drake is a frequent presence at home games.
A 2014 video of him rolling in his pants caused an internet meltdown. In their next match, the team distributed lint balls marked with Raptors.
Watch | Drake spreads and his lint roll:
When Drake album opinions Released in 2016, the cover depicted the rapper sitting on the edge of the CN Tower, so the web caught little Photoshop Drake on other makeshift benches.
But it was two frozen frames of neon light hotline bling The video that became the most viral Drake meme: a photo of Drake gesturing in disgust, followed by one smiling in approval.
“I think when hotline bling He came out, and became the unofficial king of meme,” Higgins said.
Coverage is taking the internet by storm
Drake’s cover art filled with emojis for Certified Boy Lover British artist Damien Hirst has already become so popular as a meme among fans, brands and other musicians that many have been quick to reproduce his quirky visuals.
It’s all part of his branding strategy, said Gina Drentin, associate professor of marketing at Loyola University Chicago.
“Celebrities are increasingly realizing that the more their content goes viral, it’s propaganda for them,” she said.
“So engaging in meme culture and even, at times, intentionally inserting themselves into meme culture is a way to have a cultural imprint and influence beyond music, film or television.”
After the release of Certified Boy Lover Cover photo, rapper Lil Nas X immediately tweeted his own version with nods to his quirky identity and debut album Monteroslated for release on September 17.
As of Thursday afternoon, his tweet has garnered over 14,000 retweets and over 215,000 likes.
Like Drake before him, Drenten says Lil Nas X uses memes “as a really important part of creating conversations about his music.”
Along with other brands, Amazon’s official Twitter account tweeted an image of multi-colored packages coordinating the same style as Drake’s cover art.
In one notable example, condom company Trojan posted a copy of the album art on Instagram — but the previously pregnant emoji was definitely not pregnant, a vaguely implied indication that their product works.
So it’s not just Drake that takes advantage of his ability to meme — other people and corporate brands take advantage of the photos and use them to compete for likes, shares, and retweets.
“Mems are innovative, but they are also capitalistic in many ways, to be able to use them as a marketing tool,” said Drenten, who researches digital consumer culture.
“We’re the ones making the memes. And Drake kind of gave us the OK to do that. He’s on board; he loves it when these things happen.”
in the joke
Part of the appeal is that the rapper shares the joke.
“I’ve become the most obscure person apart from Michael Jordan’s tearful face,” Drake said in a 2016 Instagram interview.
“I like being the guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously. I like to laugh, even if it’s at my expense. I don’t feel like it’s necessarily malicious or hurtful things.”
I love to laugh even if it is at my expense. They don’t necessarily feel like harmful or harmful things.– Drake
The rapper regularly feuds with his hip-hop peers, a tradition in the genre. But Drenten says his clever use of memes controls the narrative around these public controversies.
“Instead of becoming a latecomer to humor and being an outsider to this culture making fun of him, he’s actually contributing to it.”
Drake even meme-ified music video for his song energytargeting his rivals, by inserting fake versions of himself into famous scenes of pop culture characters.
Watch | Drake Energy Music Video:
In 2015, Drake performed a diss track directed at his opponent Meek Mill with a slide show of satirical memes playing in the background. About a year later, he was parodying that particular song in a Saturday Night Live skit called “Drake’s Beef.”
And in 2018, the Toronto rapper got negative publicity when fellow rapper Pusha T revealed that Drake had given birth to a child and kept it a secret.
Three years later, Drake’s new album seems to suggest he’s reliving that incident and increasing his reputation as a playboy, Higgins noted.
For Drenten, Drake’s time in the spotlight depends more on his meme-capable personality than on any single album or candid moment.
“It’s more about Drake than it is about the individual things that Drake creates.”