Perhaps to be a famous rapper these days is to invariably end up a punchline. Kanye, Wayne, Rick Ross, Big Sean; entire subgenres of humor, Twitter memes and jokes are attached to all of them. Fame requires celebrities to possess more emotional stamina than the rest of us on a good day, but I don't think any of these artists have truly mastered that calm— to the point of anticipation—like Drake.
Remember when he pulled double-duty on SNL last year and crushed it? All the while affably poking fun at the things people have historically clowned him for: the Degrassi years, his Canadian citizenship and biracial background. In those sketch-show scenes, like when he pulled up courtside to a Raptors playoff game with a lint roller, Drake controlled the message.
So I get why Drake didn't want us to see Homecoming: The Lost Footage, an unofficial concert documentary featuring interviews with Rap-A-Lot Records executives, that screens this evening for one night only. The footage was filmed consensually, yes—at a 2009 concert at Toronto's Sound Academy, billed as Drake's first major solo hometown show. But despite the tangible excitement you can see as Drake raps to a hangar full of people who came out just for him, Homecoming is bad: poorly filmed, poorly edited, shoddily mixed and lacking any real insight. After years of fighting ridicule, at home and abroad, about everything from his upbringing to his feelings, Drake's been confidently ahead of the message—and Homecoming represents a slip.
It's sort of fun to watch, I guess. Drake gushes with hometown pride and does songs from his first three mixtapes, which he may never perform again, like "Congratulations" and his verse on Wayne's "Every Girl." A Louis Vuitton belt, a medal of status before there was a chain to snatch, flashes from beneath the hem of a black t-shirt, and his baggy stonewashed jeans flap awkwardly around the tongue of his Nike Air Yeezys. But he's always been a poor dresser. He looks softer and less sturdy than the past couple of years—though his confidence is just as outsized. At one point he murmurs, "Shout out Rihanna, I luh ya," into the mic.
It's apparent in the film's poor execution and rollout that this is nothing more than a quick cash-grab for those involved. We hear a bunch of unfiltered boast talk from Rap-A-Lot's James and Jas Prince and get a few gems from Bun B (who joined Drake on stage at that historic show, and whose cutline reads "rapper, producer and author of coloring books"). As the credits roll, Ariella Getrajhendler, who taught Drake from grades five through eight, glows as she explains how he came back to visit her and was swarmed by students. A bunch of inane, uncut interviews are inexplicably included as bonus footage.
There's nothing particularly exciting about this, because fans aren't short on Drake footage. You can access the audio-visual archive of his life with a keystroke. He was a teen actor, and in the Toronto clubs getting his photo taken. He was amongst the first cohort of MySpace rappers. He willingly put adorkable bar mitzvah footage in a music video. One of the ways in which he's managed to outgrow his past is by owning it, poking fun at it, transcending it and making it GIF-able. The Jungle short film, released in February just prior to If You're Reading This It's Too Late, is as much an attempt at tone-setting as giving fans a glimpse of the real, off-road Drake.
There is a lot of fake Drake stuff out there, but this isn't a screen-printed RaptOwl longsleeve or a set of nail decals. The problem with Homecoming is that Drake is involved: the LA Times reported that his initial contract included a 15% royalties clause to allow the footage to be shot. He has supposedly been approached to get involved. So why did he relinquish control to a film that's being distributed in major cities across Canada and the U.S.? Of course (sigh) the answer might have to do with money: were he to get involved and make it, like, actually good, the film could net more money for outside parties. But as Drake embarks on a new chapter in his homecoming with the upcoming release of Views From The 6, part of me feels like the answer might be somewhat spiritual: maybe it's time to just dead all the jokes.