Things Drake’s Tuscan Leather Teaches Me

I spend a great deal of time thinking I am not a very good writer.

And yet I admit to myself I have produced some things that are good.

People who create spend a great deal of time looking over their shoulder, thinking the person next to them has a disruptive magical power they don’t have; they worry that every time they create something themselves hundreds of people will look at it in pity and laugh or even worse, ignore it.

The best creators kick that feeling into the ground. The best creators put fingers in dirt walls and climb. This essay is a message to myself. It is a message that Drake wrote into Tuscan Leather and I listen to it when I know I don’t need to prove shit to anyone.

I treat music like mood boards when I write. I need music to behave like gasoline for me.

[Verse 1]
Comin’ off the last record, I’m gettin’ 20 million off the record.

Open with a statement that assures the audience you fucking own it. This subject is yours. This place is yours. Open with something that means that they can’t scroll to the comments without reading the entirety of what you just wrote. Understand the last thing you wrote and write this one knowing you learned everything before so that you could write this one thing. You earned it. Someone listened to the last thing. They’re going to listen to this one.

I’m livin’ like I’m out here on my last adventure

I love this statement because it is born of fear. Probably Drake’s greatest skill is leveraging his vulnerability, a particular emotional honesty that many of his peers lack. There are parts of the traditional masculinity role that Drake consistently subverts, something that is elaborated on later in the track. But this statement is a martyr-like statement, like he recognises that perhaps this fame, this money, this high he is riding on is not going to last.

Late at night it’s pretty easy to think this will be the last time anyone will listen to you. Maybe it’ll be the last time someone reads you. Maybe you are just going to give up one day. Perhaps it’s a call to put down the laptop when there’s a world outside the door. If you make money spend the money. If you get offered good work you don’t turn it down. If you get paid to create enjoy it. Live in it. It is yours.

Past the present when you have to mention
This is nothin’ for the radio, but they’ll still play it though
Cause it’s that new Drizzy Drake, that’s just the way it go

Sometimes I have to tell myself that my catalogue of work allows me to be entitled to something and that when I take that work I am worth it. Sometimes when I write something speculative I think to myself: no one will print this. But a lot of times they do print it. They play the record anyway. If you can’t trade on a byline as a freelancer what can you trade on?

I could go a hour on this beat

Sometimes I just have to look at something I’m working on and know that I am not good enough to write it. The perfect thing about Drake’s I could go a hour on this beat is that you know that he can. This makes him untouchable. It’s a warning. If you can’t go an hour on your beat you have no right writing it. Drop it if it isn’t working. Be good at it or don’t. You need to be able to go an hour on this beat to be any good at what you do.

[Verse 2]

Paperwork takin’ too long, maybe they don’t understand me

Cara maybe you should fucking chase those invoices.

I’ll compromise if I have to, I gotta stay with the family
Not even talkin’ to Nicki, communication is breakin’
I dropped the ball on some personal shit, I need to embrace it
I’m honest, I make mistakes

This is an extension of my point about Drake’s vulnerability acting as a strength.

I like to see honesty show in my own writing. In fact, I think this is the main strength of my writing. Being aggressively honest about what is happening to you in your life, what is motivating you, and how you came to the conclusions you did on paper helps people understand your perspective, helps bring people in, it helps them see that you are a human being like they are and that they have something in common with you.

On ‘dropping the ball’ on a relationship with his labelmate, it’s a dramatic revelation about a professional and personal relationship Drake has that seems even a little invasive to mention. When you let the public in to a personal problem like that, particularly about someone else who is a public figure, it’s a confession. It’s a powerful apology, a message directly to that other absent person.

And even if it’s a deliberate play for attention (I doubt this, because rap is personal expression as much as anything else) it is an admittance to a mistake. Something that Drake got wrong.

I forgot it for a while, but I learned something pertaining to this when I was doing a degree in literature. If you present an argument without showing and entertaining the arguments that disagree with you, you’ve got a weak argument. If you write a piece and your opinion is contradicted by someone else out there, it makes what you are writing stronger to admit that there are those different points of view. It shows you took their view into account but that you are well-read and you took a different path, perhaps went through a different process. Perhaps not everything is relevant; but at least you can show you know about it.

I think when I write I want to admit up front that there are other things going on more often, that I might be wrong. I recently apologised to someone for a factual error and corrected the text admitting it and I think it makes the piece stronger. You’re not compromising anything to do so.

Think that’s why I need her in my life, to check me when I’m trippin’

Get another person to look over your work. If you don’t have Nicki Minaj you could do worse than Jenn Frank, Keza Macdonald, Alice RPS. They can catch you before you fuck everything up.

On a mission tryna shift the culture

If you’re not trying to ‘shift the culture’ with your work you might be doing something wrong. It’s possible to do this simply by writing about something in a different manner than is usual. It can be simple or dramatic. But if it’s samey and boring, Cara, no one wants to read it.

All of the talkin’, got one reply for all of your comments
Fuck what you think, I’m too busy, that’s why you leave a message

No comment.

Just give it time, we’ll see who’s still around a decade from now
That’s real

This is not a combative attitude I have. Maybe I should cultivate it. However, Drake’s getting confidence in this track. There’s a Drake that’s bragging in this album, big style, something that has noticeably increased since his last. Sometimes I try to instil confidence in myself by telling myself I’m good at things: ‘oh hey Cara you’re good at being funny’ or ‘oh hey Cara you have a good fundamental grasp of intersectional feminism even if you are not a very good feminist’ which I like to think would turn into brags if I was a rapper. Although even Drake couldn’t make ‘you have a good fundamental grasp of intersectional feminism even if you are not a very good feminist’ sound good over a beat. I see Drake’s brags as self-care, a way to increasing confidence in his identity. I keep trying to increase the amount of brags I make to myself, because if I don’t do it I stop writing.

[Verse 3]
How much time is this [dude] spendin’ on the intro?

I look at what I write and think at least five or six times during a draft that I am spending too long on the intro.

Sometimes it’s just a relief to know that Drake also does this. Thank god he’s transparent and metacommentating about this process or I’d have had a meltdown in the past week.

Wanted to tell you, “Accept yourself”
You don’t have to prove shit to no one except yourself

Accept/except is a Shakespearean bait ‘n’ switch from Hamlet. I admire the fact that he worked it into a fucking motivational poster. Tattoo it into my arm.

And if you end up needin’ some extra help, then I could help
You know, back on your feet and shit
Tryna get my karma up, fuck the guilty and greedy shit

This is a thing I am getting less good at and I need to make more time for. Lots of people ask me for help and a lot of the time I am travelling and I am unable to give it any more. But I remember when I absolutely thought I couldn’t do it and Jenn Frank sat there and wrote to me and helped me and if she hadn’t been my Drake I wouldn’t have a job now. You can mail me if you have a draft you want me to look over. But this lyric also informs me that I still need help too, and that I still ask for it.

How much time is this [dude] spendin’ on the intro?

This is a rap track with no chorus. You can feel it’s unusual by its structure even from the beginning, though by the end you might never have noticed the lack of a chorus. And then you understand that Drake can do practically anything he likes structurally now. Drake is playing and that’s kind of cool. To get to the stage where you can play and get paid for it. I like to use my Patreon articles as an arena to play in. The people there support me to play in public. They support me to try. They support me to experiment. They want me to succeed. That’s where my best work happens.

How much time is this [dude] spendin’ on the intro?

It’s all intro, really. It’s an expectation. The whole song opens an album that’s spectacular and creates the anticipation of that album by never dropping into a chorus. The listener is suspended in the pure, uncut momentum of all those lyrics. You are held aloft, because you are waiting for something great to happen.

At this point I always look at my blank page and smile and know it will be a massacre.

[Outro] (Curtis Mayfield)
If there’s hell below. I’ll see you when you get there. Are you enjoyin’ yourselves? If we may we’d just like to close off with somethin’ a bit inspirational. Hopefully something a bit relevant as to us all are having the same fears, shedding similar tears, and of course dying in so many years. It don’t mean that we can’t have a good life. So we’d like to just maybe close out with something, some food for thought, for all of us.

I’d like to say that feeling shit about your own work or self worth goes away, but I don’t think that it does, and I don’t think even POWER era Kanye West was totally devoid of self-doubt. I think what is valuable to think about is how you only have to explain yourself to people you admire and respect. There are a lot of people out there waiting to tell you that you are worthless. Sometimes they are even peers. But if you can’t help but be someone who creates things you probably have no choice to make, and if you do make it’s important to give yourself space to play and the motivation to do it. I use music as ammunition, but you could use almost anything. If you surround yourself with ideas and people who have ideas and people you trust and love, there isn’t that much around that can stop you.

This has been how Drake helps me. He could probably help you too.

Wanted to tell you, “Accept yourself”
You don’t have to prove shit to no one except yourself

Yours, The Girl