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Is Drake Truly Toronto’s Biggest Fan?

Drake’s not much of a rapper. At best, his lame auto-tune hooks piggy-back on better rappers’ work in the verses. He’s a brand and an advertiser more than an artist. But what does that mean for Toronto, the city which he’s consistently promoting? Cynically, one could argue that Drake’s promotion of Toronto is simply a shrewd marketing ploy: it’s a major city without a major star representing it. Chicago—which Toronto is often (unfavourably) compared to—has huge cultural figures associated with it. Among them: Al Capone, Jane Adams, George Pullman, Oprah Winfrey, Kanye West, Barack Obama. Stephen Harper’s from Toronto’s suburbs—but who the hell cares? There’s also Joni Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Neil Young, Dave Foley, Seth Bullock, Mike Myers, but by and large, Toronto’s internationally known sons and daughters are not internationally associated with the city.

In Toronto’s celebrity void, Rob Ford has been allowed to emerge as the city’s international face. At the same time, Drake sees a marketing opportunity in making himself the international face of the city, and in the process, according to an article by Marketing professor Alan Middleton, “[giving] the city sex appeal.”

Middleton’s argument is that Drake’s promotional actions are a positive development because they help put Toronto on the pop-cultural map, thus driving cultural investment. And if that’s true—if pop culture prominence is good for a city—then Drake must indeed be a boon to Toronto. His latest campaign is to brand the city as “The 6.” It seems he didn’t coin the term, but in naming his next album “Views from the 6”—in reference to the shared number in the city’s two area codes (416, 647)—Drake has annexed the term for himself while branding Toronto with it.

Drake’s not the first Toronto rapper to attempt an anthem for his city (something his American counterparts have been doing for decades now). Kardinal Offishall’s “Anthem” is a decent song, and it does about as complete a tour of Toronto as is possible in three-plus minutes. K’Naan even momentarily halted his claims of being from New York to admit to a Toronto connection in the video for “Nothing to Lose”—although he brought Queens-based Nas along, as if he couldn’t totally let go of his wish to be from NYC.

Both K’Naan (despite his disastrous latest album) and Kardinal Offishall are far more impressive, as artists, than Drake. But for better or worse, neither have Drake’s pop credentials. Drake may be obnoxious and overhyped, and his ascendance may well mark the death knell of Rap’s reign as a popular and quality art form (there are still tracks and artists of quality, but the really popular stuff is now rarely good). Drake’s rise may even be a sign of our civilization’s further descent into the decadence before the Fall. But you have to admit, he’s a damned good walking advertisement for T-Dot. Excuse me, “The 6.”

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