Drake authored a poetry book titled “Titles Ruin Everything.” Naturally, we were curious about its quality, so we managed to acquire a copy and sought the opinions of esteemed award-winning poets. Drake has built a reputation for his playful nature over the years. Who could forget the viral moment when he brought a lint roller to his courtside seats at a Raptors’ game or the iconic lint roller dance in the “Hotline Bling” video? Drake’s charm often shines through when he doesn’t take himself too seriously. However, he is a complex individual, and one of his facets now encompasses being a published poet. And let me tell you, these poems are delightfully lighthearted.
“Titles Ruin Everything” is the latest creation from Aubrey Graham and his longtime songwriting and composing partner Kenza Samir. It was published by Phaidon Press in London and graciously presented to me by Megan Sumpton, the founder of Word On Road, courtesy of Drake Related. The book opens with a QR code that reveals a statement from Drake himself: “I made an album to go with the book. They say they miss the old Drake girl don’t tempt me. FOR ALL THE DOGS.”
I must confess that during the “Best I Ever Had” era, I used to harbor some negative feelings towards Drake. I even expressed them publicly! However, I share the same mentor as Drake—Bun B—who promptly taught me a valuable lesson one fateful night backstage at a show. I was engaging in my usual habit of publicly criticizing Drake, which I believed was my duty as a self-proclaimed “Real Hip Hop Head.” But Bun B confronted me. “He’ll never be as good as Mos Def,” I asserted. Reflecting on it now, I cringe at the audacity of my words spoken aloud. In a disappointed, fatherly tone, Bun B addressed me, saying, “Sama’an, is Drake trying to make the same music as Mos Def?” His words forced me to critically analyze the art form I claimed to adore. I had no choice but to answer honestly, “No, he’s not.” Bun B followed up, “Then why are you trying to compare them?” In that moment, I experienced an existential crisis. Why was I attempting to compare them? I no longer knew who I was. This incident proved to be an invaluable lesson, allowing me to appreciate not just Drake but the entire spectrum of music on a much deeper level. Gradually, I transformed into a genuine fan of Drake.
Only a few years later, in 2015, while riding in the back of a cab one night in Santiago, Chile, I found myself extolling Drake’s virtues to a French woman I had just met. To my surprise, she had never heard of this “Drake” character. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to introduce her to his music. The song I chose was “Legend,” which remains one of my favorites from Drake’s repertoire. It had been released just that spring. “Wow,” she exclaimed, her eyes welling up with tears (I won’t attempt to imitate her accent, but you can imagine it). “It’s the first time I’ve heard a flow like that. This way of rapping, I didn’t know it existed.” In that moment, she called out to God. Her reaction taught me that the presentation of words profoundly influences our perception of them, particularly when it comes to poetry.
That same year, after deleting all my hateful tweets about Drake, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Graham in person. I was captivated by his kindness, thoughtfulness, and accommodating nature, reflecting the true essence of a Canadian gentleman.
“Titles Ruin Everything” has been described by Hanif Abdurraqib as a collection of puns and silly jokes. While I personally still regard “Legend” as the greatest Drake album intro, “Champagne Poetry” from Certified Lover Boy gave it tough competition. However, in the context of discussing this new book, let’s refer to it as Champagne Poetry. As I delved into the concise 168 pages of Champagne—I mean, Titles—with the insights from Bun and the French woman in mind, I wondered if Drake was drawing inspiration from someone in his poetic endeavors. Mos Def himself hosted Def Poetry Jam, but these poems don’t seem to align with the spirit of “Umi Says.” Instead, they fluctuate between bitterness, cynicism, and boasting, yet they manage to be… humorous? For instance, consider this line: “I’m not four you / really starting to put two and two together.” If that isn’t a dad joke, I don’t know what is. It’s undeniably silly, right?
There is one poem, however, that seems genuinely profound: “Oh, how smooth life would go / if you knew what you pretend to know.” The presentation of these poems, without dwelling on comparisons for too long, evokes a slight resemblance to Rupi Kaur’s ruminations, but tailored for straight men who have gleaned insights about therapy from Instagram memes. Interestingly, the book reveals Drake’s endeavor to work on processing his emotions. One entry reads: “My therapist told me I need to stop listening to what people tell me / but if I take her advice wouldn’t I be listening to what people tell me?” While none of the poems are explicitly attributed to Drake or Kenza, that particular one feels distinctly Drake-esque.
The next poem also appears to bear Drake’s signature: “No one is gaslighting you / You’re just so toxic that you’re flammable.” One of Drake’s strengths lies in his ability to create songs that can be interpreted as either superficial or profound, depending on the listener. Even his more superficial offerings are often enjoyable due to their campy nature. This is a quality Mos Def has not explored in his music. I mean, who else could get away with rapping the lines, “Got my Spanish ting convinced that I know Spanish / Really when she get to talkin’ I don’t understand it” in a very serious song?
If these poems serve as mere teasers for his upcoming album, then the book will be a cool collectible item for fans, and hearing Drake sing or rap some of these pieces may alter our perception of them. However, if he genuinely intends to be taken seriously as a poet without the crutch of melody, I feel the need to consult experts to gain a better understanding of how to evaluate the book through that lens.
During a phone conversation, I spoke with Hanif Abdurraqib, a New York Times best-selling author, MacArthur Fellow, and award-winning poet. Abdurraqib expressed that he is not particularly interested in defining what is or isn’t “poetry,” but he shared his perspective on the poems in Titles. According to Abdurraqib, these pieces don’t strike him as poems because they lack an attempt to challenge the unknown and offer something revelatory or at least somewhat beautiful. He views the therapist poem as representative of his overall perception of Titles. Some of the poems are absurd to the point of being funny, but Abdurraqib finds it difficult to determine whether Drake understands their leaning toward absurdist humor and recognizes that some may perceive them as profound, or if he has convinced himself of their profundity.
Undoubtedly, there will be people who share blurry photos on Instagram, tagging Nobu Vegas as the location and earnestly captioning them with lines from the book, such as “Your taste in men isn’t exactly Michelin star.” They may even add their own rhyme to complete the verse. Abdurraqib describes Titles as essentially a book of puns and silly jokes. While he personally isn’t offended by anything that masquerades as poetry, as it is a common occurrence in various forms of entertainment and consumption, he views it as essentially a coffee table book filled with one-liners.
Personally, Abdurraqib would like to see a different kind of poetry from Drake, something more akin to his “30 for 30 Freestyle.” He appreciates lyrics where Drake engages in some posturing while also engaging in honest introspection and vulnerability. Abdurraqib seeks to see Drake create a greater sense of distance between his current self and his younger self, rather than implying that the gap is closing. Drake achieves a similar effect on “Too Much,” a timeless piece that reflects on his personal growth since his first sold-out show in Houston.
Curious about the perspective of Houston’s current poet laureate, Aris Kian, I reached out to her via email. In her response, Kian acknowledges that the “smooth life” poem does resonate with her, but overall, she considers the book to be “a goldmine of mediocre mic drops.” She expresses a desire for Drake to embrace both silliness and sentimentality, qualities that even the purest of poets would forgive, instead of getting caught up in petty abstractions and delivering lines like, “You were in my dream last night / They call that a nightmare, right?” So, with three of us finding the poems silly, it seems that even professionals are skeptical of their poetic merit.
Similar to Abdurraqib, Kian questions whether these pieces can truly be classified as poems. Regarding the aesthetics of the poems’ presentation, she feels that the book lacks something, noting, “Drake’s poems operate within an excess of white space, a reduced set of images and limited punctuation. The tools of tension, breath, and play are only explored through the typical two-line set up/punchline format.” Kian concludes her thoughts by saying, “Clap for the poet, not the scores.”
Drake’s music is often best enjoyed in the ambiance of clubs or house parties, where dim lighting and intoxicants create an atmosphere that blurs the senses and allows his lyrics to feel real, serious, and relatable. This context plays a crucial role in making his words feel profound. However, when subjected to the starkness of mostly empty book pages, his lyrics lose some of that context. Reading the book can evoke a similar sensation to when the club lights come on. Perhaps if the book had a more visually appealing presentation, even just some simple doodles by Drake and/or Kenza, it would create a stronger sense of immersion, akin to listening to his music. In its current state, the book comes across as a bit silly. Maybe that’s the intention, but it would be smoother if there was more clarity, rather than just pretending to understand.