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Toxic: Drake, Future, and the Male Rap Persona

On 2014’s Monster, rap artist Future Hendrix was fighting demons, and it was completely unclear who was winning. Here was an album split achingly between braggy machismo and deep emotional pain. Here was a man who, on the track Codeine Crazy,” could both “take a b*tch to eat at Chipotle” and admit to his struggles with addiction. Future limped away from Monster with this conflict entirely unresolved, leaving only one song in which he approaches something resembling a truce. “Throw Away,” he must have hoped, was the solution: a track with two neatly-divided halves, one for each side of his soul. Here, he could be both Jekyll and Hyde, Future and Nayvadius Wilburn, man and Monster. Everything Future is as an artist, and nearly everything wrong or right with the male side of the genre can be sorted into one half of “Throw Away.” The result was one of rap’s best breakup songs and an illuminating exposé on the genre’s problem with toxic masculinity.


These wrongs are apparent almost immediately, as Future comes in over a catchy synth beat to announce that he, well, isn’t looking for anything serious: “Girl, you a pistol, you a throw away,” he repeats over and over, interlacing various brags about meaningless sex and drug use. The central theme of “Throw Away”’s thematic dark side is a casual, gleeful disregard for women as anything other than sex objects. Anything else, from dates to commitments to conversations, is off the table. For Future, this is nothing new.


Art by Vienna Chesire


It would be challenging to find another rapper for whom misogyny is as central to their character. For years, Twitter memes about Nayvadius have featured egregious (and increasingly corny) plays on his sexism, created by the sort of young men you might catch watching an Andrew Tate video. In one popular template, his sunglass-clad face is superimposed on the body of a pastor, whose holy book has been edited to read “The Bible of Misogyny.” From this pulpit, Future (or the culturally perceived spirit of Future) encourages his male flock to cheat, lie, and generally be less-than-ideal partners. In another meme, he’s sitting on the bus engrossed in the improbably entitled volume “Why Women Deserve Less.” At their mildest, these jokes portray Future as merely a toxic ex—the kind of guy who sends hilariously worded “I miss you”s a couple months after a breakup. At their worst, Future memes are rabidly misogynist, mixing incel rhetoric with hip-hop sexism to create a Frankenstein’s Monster of men’s worst views on women.


Between “Throw Away”’s nearly three minutes of objectification and a cultural persona defined chiefly by misogyny, things look pretty open-and-shut for Future Hendrix. But then the beat changes, the tone shifts, and he starts talking about losing a woman he loved (based on the album’s release date, this was clearly the pop star Ciara, with whom he’d had a brief, public, and disastrous relationship). Everything he says in the first half seems like a lie, and crucially, he wants both Ciara and his audience to see this desperation. As the second half builds, the walls crumble. “I’ma ball without you,” Future promises limply at first, but by the end of “Throw Away,” he’s reached a pleading falsetto, begging her not to give up on him, begging her to take him back, and promising that he really does love her.


What does it mean if nearly every other part of Future’s discography and persona seems grounded in those first minutes of careless misogyny? With tragic and fleeting self-awareness, “Throw Away” provides a confession that could characterize nearly every song Nayvadius made afterward. Almost a decade later, his most recent album title, I Never Liked You, epitomizes that same bitter lie he admitted to telling on Monster. The womanizing drivel and the sexist memes continue. Is Future still pretending? Does it matter if he ever was?


Well, yes and no. No artist exists in a vacuum, and Future’s misogyny has deep roots in rap culture. Take Drake, for example. Why did a popular Twitter trend describe Drake as the “type of [person]” to close a drawer with his hips, to follow traffic laws even when playing Grand Theft Auto, or to make eye contact with you while eating a banana? Why did his hook on 2022’s “Rich Flex” draw widespread and specifically queer-coded mockery, including an NBA2K animation of the Toronto rapper catwalking in acrylics while the song played in the background? These jokes often insinuate that Drake is gay or at least effeminate, and part of this is undoubtedly due to the different expectations of masculinity for dark-skinned and light-skinned Black men. Another part of it, though, is Drake’s artistic focus on songs that profess to love women, not just “f*ck b*tches.” This emotional, warm style has often led to him being cast as too soft, honest, and vulnerable—as Future was for a brief moment on Monster. How, then, should we understand Drake’s dubious claims of criminality? What does it get him, given this criticism, to talk about “hitting blocks up” (“Life Is Good”) or his fear of a racketeering charge (“R.I.C.O.”)? What does the former sitcom star gain from professing his friendship with convicted human trafficker Baka Not Nice, if not the same thing he loses by nicely asking for “One Dance” over a dancehall beat?


By understanding Drake’s facade of misbehavior as compensation for his less-masculine image, we come to realize that it isn’t just Future Hendrix who’s pretending. It’s all rappers. It’s all men if we follow gender theorist and philosopher Judith Butler’s famous concept that gender is not innate but a constant, created performance. When Future talks about using and discarding women, or when Drake talks about crime, they are performing, conforming to, and perpetuating ideas about what it means to be a man in the rap industry. The second half of “Throw Away” was honest, heart-wrenching, and beautiful, but it wasn’t who Future chose to be in the end. We can understand this choice by looking at Drake, whose masculinity is constantly called into question for making the other one.


Performative, toxic masculinity has always been part of being a male rap artist. Women bear the most significant consequences of these norms, which lead to sexist and violent male behavior. However, this phenomenon is also destructive for men like Nayvadius, who take on personas like Future Hendrix and end up selling the toxic masculinity they suffer from. We’d do well to keep an eye on the second half of “Throw Away,” when the beat switches up, and the truth comes in. It explains more than Future thought it could, both about himself and the hyper-masculine rap culture he contributes to.

 

Dash Barnett is a sophomore in the SFS studying International Politics.


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