Last Tuesday gunfire rang out in Toronto's Muzik nightclub at the official afterparty for OVO Fest, the two-day music festival put on by Drake and his record label OVO Sound, leaving two dead and three injured.
Major media outlets are still tracking the aftermath, but Drake himself remains noticeably silent. Meanwhile, Toronto police are asking him to lend his voice in a campaign against gun violence.
What the police may fail to realize is that their history of racial profiling and Drake's status within the hip-hop community mean they're facing an uphill battle if they're seriously hoping he'll collaborate with them.
A Celebrity's Role in Tragedy
But before all that, there's the general question as to whether any celebrity has a responsibility to say something when a tragedy of this magnitude befalls an event, appearance or performance they are associated with?
The answer isn't as straightforward as you might assume.
“When terrible events happen, celebrities don't necessarily want to own them or be associated with them,” said Jeff Ansell, founder of Jeff Ansell and Associates, a media training and PR crisis management consulting firm. He's also the author of When the Headline is You: An Insider's Guide to Handling the Media.
“If there are a lot of reporters who are clamouring for Drake to say something and he hasn't as yet, then perhaps he should just say three or four words and that's it,” Ansell said.
From a PR perspective, the fear for the celebrity is getting dragged into a situation they didn't intend to and giving attention to someone who doesn't deserve it.
“The fear always is that some nutcase is going to want to have his or her notoriety simply by killing people in a terrible event and then you too can get a famous celebrity talking about you,” Ansell said.
That's exactly what happened to comedian Amy Schumer when two people were killed and at least nine people were injured when a man opened fire at a screening of her movie “Trainwreck” at a theatre in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Instead of remaining silent, Schumer chose to lend her voice to the campaign for gun control by teaming up with her second cousin, New York's Senator Chuck Schumer, to propose legislation that would limit gun access for the mentally ill.
“I'm not even going to say his name,” said Amy Schumer, after stopping herself from reading the name of the gunman.
Some believe Drake should take a page from Amy Schumer's playbook. James Peterson, the director of Africana studies at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and the founder of Hip Hop Scholars Inc., a think tank dedicated to researching the educational potential of hip-hop, urban and youth cultures, is one of them.
“I think Drake can make the same kind of move [as Amy Schumer did],” Peterson said.
“He doesn't have to take responsibility for the shooting that took place, even at his party, but he does have to understand that his connection to this violent act through pop culture is one that gives him a unique opportunity to address the situation.”
But if Drake's going to address the situation at all, Ansell suggests he give it careful and considerable thought.
“If Drake chooses to make it a cause, if gun violence is something that he wants to be associated with, that's his call, but do it deliberately and thoughtfully as opposed to being dragged into it.”
The Hip-hoprisy of “Baby Lotion Soft”
While Drake is in a unique position to address the shooting and pull an Amy Schumer, as a hip-hop artist it's probably more to his benefit to stay silent, said Jooyoung Lee, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto whose research focuses on hip-hop, gun violence and health disparities.
“There is this extra pressure for artists who are seeking legitimacy in the hip-hop world, amongst fans and in the broader general public to maintain a street-wise and hard front and even if someone is not identifying as a gangster rapper, which Drake is not, there's still the residue of this masculinity in hip-hop where a person who snitches or collaborates with the police as someone who does not have street-cred and somebody who is not worthy of respect in that world,” Lee said.
“In Drake's case, it's probably amplified by his current battle with Meek Mill where a lot of Meek's disses towards him have been about his lack of street-cred, the fact that he's from Toronto and that he's soft.”
That feud started after Meek Mill accused Drake of not writing his own rhymes and using ghostwriters, saying that he wouldn't have featured Drake's verse on the song “R.I.C.O.” had he known Drake didn't write it. After Drake wrote the diss track “Charged up,” Mill responded, calling the diss, “Baby lotion soft” and accusing Drake of not being hard enough to die over their beef, as Biggie and 2pac did over theirs.
dir="ltr" lang="en">Baby lotion soft...... 😩— Meek Mill (@MeekMill) July 26, 2015
After two back-to-back diss tracks by Drake and a weaker response track from Meek Mill, it appeared as though Drake had won the battle, adding insult to injury by wearing a “Free Meek Mill” t-shirt at OVO Fest. Then, things took a dark turn. Mill appeared to endorse the afterparty shooting during a performance in North Carolina by saying, “Everybody catching bullet holes, including Drake and the whole OVO.”
But whether Drake's silence is directly related to his feud with Meek Mill, the culture of hyper-masculinity in hip-hop goes way beyond one rap battle.
“I think it really speaks to the pressures of the larger hip-hop industry,” says Lee. “The industry really reproduces a very narrow depiction of black masculinity or masculinity in general and even though Drake has not tried to become a 'studio gangster', there are still subtle ways he flirts with this identity and I suspect this all part of the larger cultural industry that wants to portray him in a certain light.”
Lee points to The Game's recent song “100”, which Drake features on, as an example of Drake flirting with that lifestyle.
“The video is just him and the Game hanging out at a local house in what looks like Compton with a bunch of people wearing red who ostensibly identify as bloods and he's kind of in the mix. It's almost like he's saying, 'I'm not a gangster and I know I'm not. I'm not about that life, but I still have connections to it,'” Lee said.
Ironically, the rap is all about Drake and the Game accepting nothing less than 100 per cent authenticity from others, while they flirt with a lifestyle neither was ever a part of.
Honestly though, Drake's silence probably has less to do with concerns over how he'd be perceived by the hip-hop community and more to do with the credibility he'd lose with his audience if he collaborated with a police department with a long history of racial profiling.
A Deal with the Devil
The Toronto police have asked Drake to assist in the investigation of the shooting. If you ask James Peterson, the moment they did that, any hope that Drake would say anything about this tragedy were lost.
“In some ways, the very fact that law enforcement reached out to him, probably cut off the safest PR opportunity for Drake to make any kind of intervention because he cannot align himself with a law enforcement group that's been maligned for racial profiling for several years now.”
In fact, Toronto City Council voted in June to bring back the controversial practice of “carding” after it was abolished by Mayor John Tory earlier this year. Carding has been in use by the Toronto Police Department for ten years now under several different official names.
It's the policy that allows police officers to stop and question people not suspected of a crime and then collect information on them that gets stored in a computer database. Information like name, age, perceived skin colour, height, weight and often the name of of the carded person's friends. While in theory anyone can be carded, in practice research showed the practice was disproportionately targeting African-Canadians. Research by the Toronto Star showed that while black people make up 8.3 per cent of Toronto's population, they made up 25 per cent of those carded between 2008 and 2013.
Now, the policy that the mayor called “illegitimate” and “disrespectful” is coming back with amendments from 2014 where those carded will need to be given a receipt featuring an explanation as to why they were stopped. The database will also remain intact. Mayor Tory has changed his mind and carding is supported by Mark Saunders, Toronto's black police chief, but no one knows how these new amendments will work in practice.
“The reality is, before the Toronto Police ask a celebrity to co-sign on what their causes are, they have to make sure that as a municipal entity they are doing the work of the people and with the kind of racial-profiling that goes on in Toronto, it tells me that they've got to look at their own house first before they ask a celebrity to endorse one of their efforts,” Peterson said.
Update (August 14): On Friday evening, Drake broke his silence, saying he had remained silent on the word of his advisors. He didn't address the substance of the shootings, saying only that his "deepest condolences go out to the Navarro-Fenoy and Hibbert families for their loss of Ariela and Duvel."