May I call you Aubrey? In the “Child’s Play” music video, Tyra Banks notes how the girl you’re allegedly cheating with calls you Aubrey, and nobody else but Tyra and your own momma call you that. Curious. But I understand you, maybe, in ways that Tyra or your side chick do, so I think I’ve earned myself that right. Aubrey.
I was never allowed to watch Degrassi as a kid. So I don’t know you as that person: the baby faced actor just trying to make his place in the world. I had a lot of strict rules growing up in my momma’s house: no phone use after 9 pm; no TV for more than an hour per day on weekdays, two hours max on weekends (unless I was at my grandma’s house, and she would make me Folgers and sit between her legs while she did my hair as Days of Our Lives played with the volume way up). See, I know you from 95.7 “The Party,” the radio station my father would use to fill his dilapidated 1996 BMW with white noise whenever he had to pick me up from school. “Best I Ever Had” was the first song of yours I ever heard. A painfully awkward, Black, psuedo-emo girl in a predominately white middle school trying to distance herself from “Black” music, you were the soft, sensitive rapper that pulled me back in.
Aubrey, we live in a similar universe, you and me. We didn’t want for nothing. From the get go we had it all laid out for us. My mom was a doctor (she’s retired now) and your mom was a school teacher, and though the pay wasn’t great, your role in Degrassi sure helped out. But your music is catchy, good to dance to, and a great conversation starter, which is probably why you’ve made it this far. I’ve given you passes for the last three albums, but when More Life came out, the betrayal surfaced. Man, I couldn’t even listen to the whole thing. It’s as though all the things I tried to appreciate about Views crumbled right before my eyes. I’m done defending you. I understand the persona, but now it just seems that much more fraudulent. Maybe it’s because you really don’t have an understanding of what it means to be from “the hood.”
I could go on and on about the misogynoir rampant in Hotline Bling, but that would be beating a dead horse, wouldn’t it, Aubrey? You’ve already proven yourself the soft type of man who won’t take no for an answer, who promises to be better in the future but stays fucking up, the type of man that, for some reason, I keep taking to bed with me. Instead, I’d like to focus on your role is commodifying the experiences of low-income Black folk from urban neighborhoods. I see the way you dress, the people you associate yourself with. “Started from the Bottom,” as everyone knows by now, is a fucking joke. So listen to the story from someone who might know a little bit more than you.
I grew up in a pretty privileged household. My parents were split, but from ages 0-7 I split my time living with my mother, my grandmother, who lived a block down in a house my mother bought for her, and my dad who lived in a completely different part of Denver called Park Hill. Now, Park Hill is a curious place, because although it is being rapidly gentrified, there are still some areas you “don’t want to go.” Aubrey, let me ask you: what do you know about food stamps? About not being able to play outside because there is a police alert out for a gang-affiliated person (but what does that mean when the whole neighborhood is gang territory)? What do you know about not being able to pay your phone bill? About seeing the shame in your father’s eyes when you’re seven years old and you ask why momma never lets you sleep over?
Aubrey, what do you know about rent hikes? About being worried you’re gonna get kicked out of the home you’ve carefully cultivated over the past twenty-something years, because grandpa is on disability and his eyes are bad so he can’t work anymore and your veteran checks are being stretched pretty thin as it is? What do you know about Black innovation? About making your own income, creating your own source of employment and hiding it from the government because you can’t get hired anywhere?
Let me ask you, Aubrey: what do you know about fear? I’m sure your sweatpants and gold chains rest real easy on your chest. This person you are isn’t you, Aubrey. Affluent Black folks and low-income Black folks, though joined by a collective weighty experience of global Blackness, do not share the same day-to-day experiences. I fear for your life as a Black man, and you may too, but you can retreat to your mansion, just as I can retreat to my comfy, middle-class home, whenever the world gets a little too scary. All my dad has are his hands, Aubrey. Do you ever think about the low-income Black boys who get sent to adult prisons for possession of weed? Who get called stupid in class for using the vernacular you so expertly weave throughout your albums?
Maybe this is me taking all my anger out on you, Aubrey. And that ain’t fair. Maybe I’m mad because you’ve given affluent Black people further permission to act out and pretend that class doesn’t also factor into racism. Saying “we all Black” doesn’t give justice to all the nuances of identity. If a rich Black man gets harassed by police for having a nice car, media reception is gonna be a lot different than when Michael Brown gets shot and dragged through the mud by a white supremacist society bent on suppressing the humanity of a poor Black boy’s body.
In “Child’s Play,” you not only say but you repeat the line “don’t make me give you back to the hood.” You out here “saving” chicks now, Drake? Think we should be grateful for your attention? Are we the crazy ones? This line is a disgusting example of how far removed you are from the communities you align yourself with. You living bougie, Drake. I am too. I am split between two worlds, always knowing I can return to the safety of my mother’s home but intimately understanding the struggle and fear my father faces on a day to day basis. You don’t know us, Drake. You never even tried to.
To the soft boy within still making music about loving fresh faces and sweatpants, I salute you and thank you for the joy you brought me in middle school. Maybe this is a break up letter, Aubrey. At least until you can get yourself together.