In the era of record-breaking Women’s Marches and the #MeToo movement, the days of lyrics focused solely on objectifying women ought to be coming to an end. Still, with so much of hip-hop’s history entrenched in depicting women—specifically black women—as accessories to an artist’s success, change has been slow in coming. But that’s not to say we aren’t seeing this change: Critics have already written at length about the cultural relevance of Drake’s April single “Nice For What”—in particular, the song’s status as a “women’s-empowerment anthem.” Although the track is less of a battle cry than a good-time club release, Drake aims to subtly change how women are portrayed in rap, backing up his less-than-revolutionary statements of support with a light, dancy R&B sound.
Photo: James Owen on Unsplash
“Nice For What” begins with a series of explosive snare–open hat beats and a callout from New Orleans hip-hop artist Big Freedia, immediately classifying it as another of Drake’s Louisiana bounce-inspired tracks (along with “Practice” and “Childs Play,” both of which tone down the bounce genre’s energy to a greater degree than “Nice For What”). The song’s other, more conspicuous sample is Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor”: Drake borrows two lines from the bridge in his pre-chorus, and speeds up her iconic chorus to use in his own. Though the song itself is hardly radical by today’s standards—with Drake rapping insouciantly about “workin’ hard, girl”—his choice to include samples from two women who have made a name for themselves in hip-hop or R&B is a tacit, but effective, indication of his support for professional women.
Still, Drake doesn’t rely exclusively on platitudes to convey his feminist message: In “Nice For What,” he addresses a girl who has a great work ethic and knows how to hit the club. He understands her—maybe he can relate to her having both “a baby Benz” and “some bad friends”—and points out with a shrug that she’s “showin’ off, but it’s all right.” Notably, there is no element of shaming here. The subject of this song has a right to be proud of her accomplishments, Drake implies; she’s earned it “doin’ overtime for the last month.” His admiration for her is a product of her achievements, not her appearance or any other superficial quality.
It’s interesting to note how the lyrics of this track contrast with Drake’s usual lyrical fallbacks: The themes of struggle for success and ambition in the face of adversity are now used to describe the central, female figure. Here, Drake takes a back seat, choosing to describe this woman’s achievements as they relate to her rather than how they reflect upon himself.
To discover this song’s central issue, we need look no further than the title. Why, Drake demands, should such a self-sufficient woman be “nice” to men in a society that demeans her at every turn? The question is hypothetical, but Drake doesn’t take it too seriously anyway. This is, after all, a dance track.
Sarah is a 19-year-old student at BU who hopes to someday live in an Edward Hopper painting, preferably Cape Cod Morning. She enjoys hanging out with her friends, having strong feelings about fictional characters, and making fun of herself (not necessarily in that order).