Drake, Big Sean and Kanye West have quite a few things in common. Arguably some of the most relevant MC’s in mainstream American Hip Hop at the moment, Drake and Big Sean recently dropped new albums and Kanye will do so too real soon. All three have middle class backgrounds and made it big with hard work and lots of luck and just released a track called “Blessings” which is on Big Sean’s new album “Dark Sky Paradise”.
But what unites them like nothing else is: they are narcissists. Drake and Kanye even more so than Big Sean, since he is still pretty new to the game and hasn’t seen as much success as them. But Drizzey and ‘Ye have left us with no doubt that they like looking in the mirror. Narcissism is defined as the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes. This is the fundamental force driving the work of these rappers. Drake’s album “Nothing Was the Same” as well as his new album “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” could be described as excessive audio-self-adulation. The same goes for Kanye’s work, especially his most recent album “Yeezus” on which the song “I am a God” pushes the boundaries of excessive self-admiration previously expressed in music. With Big Sean’s new album, Detroit’s finest who was still humble on his last album, entered this club too.
Hip Hop always had a bragging and pretentious side to it. But the sort of narcissism these three MCs represent has a new all-embracing quality to it. Whereas rappers bragging about material things is nothing new, these guys brag about everything you could think of, from their looks to their entourage to their lifestyle, to their bank accounts to their female companions. Bragging has become an art form of its own.
It is of course easy to judge narcissists and deny one’s own narcissist nature. Everyone who has felt some self-affirmation in his or her life has it to some extent. A pinch of narcissism is necessary to have a healthy feeling of self-worth. The question is, how much is enough? But also, what kind of person would you become if you had 40.000 people screaming your name when you enter a stadium or a concert hall? What kind of person would you become if you had such an experience on a regular basis for years?
I always found it fascinating to watch people in clubs rapping Drake’s self-aggrandising lyrics by heart. The music gives them a platform to live out narcissistic feelings they wouldn’t be able to express in their ordinary lives. In that sense, Hip Hop has always been a cathartic form of theatre, self-projection but also self-empowerment. Aspiring artists usually find themselves on a roller-coaster between self-doubt and narcissism. The downside of narcissism is of course that it can have a hollowing effect. It is not always a productive force and can lead artists the wrong way. Nevertheless, narcissism does have its advantages. It provides artists with a form of fearlessness and individualism which normal self-confidence couldn’t give them. That fearlessness can lead to outstanding work which we otherwise would not be able to enjoy if there were only insecure artists on this planet who constantly worry about the opinions of others.
In the end, greatness can come from different places. Greatness can be achieved by people who are humble, but also by people who are the opposite. As long as you deliver greatness, society condones narcissism. Yet greatness naturally lies in the eye of the beholder and narcissistic artists can deceive you into seeing greatness where there actually is none.