Once upon a time in the 90's there was a protocol that many rap artists adhered to. It was a simple idea called "Keep It Real". Hip Hop music shares a close relationship with urban culture and many of its elements have directly been spawned from urban social practices. "Keep It Real" was based on the assertion of staying true to self. The concept is rooted in the African American Civil Rights and Black Nationalist movements in the 60's and 70's. Those movements were the origins of a new "Black Consciousness" and suddenly being "Black" became a symbol of pride. "Black Consciounsness" helped usher in The Nation Of Islam, The Black Panther Party, and a several Africanized aesthetics in style, language and discourse.
The line between the streets and the black community have always been blurred and "Black Conscious" bled its way into the urban culture. It manifested itself into style, language and fashion. "Black Conscious" ultimately became a part of the Hip Hop paradigm and is at the core of Hip Hop aesthetics. "Keep It Real" loosely meant identifying and recognizing who you were and the base of where you originated.
"Keep It Real" was once the clarion call of the Hip Hop community and because of the abstract nature of Hip Hop culture the term has been interpreted in several different ways by a multitude of different artists from different regions, eras and yes galaxies. When Jamal famously penned his iconic "Keep It Real" back in 1995 his interpretation of the term was not widely excepted. In many ways it actually caused more debate because "Keep It Real" by its nature is an abstract concept at best. The term has no true literal meaning. Many Hip Hop historians argue that the 90's were the "Golden Age" of Hip Hop music. However, the end of 90's helped transition the culture into the "Bling" age and Hip Hop found itself navigating through pop culture. The term "Keep It Real" as it was intended became nebulous as commercialism and sensationalism took center stage in Hip Hop music. Hip Hop is entertainment and "real" is only as real as the audience believes or accepts.
Here in lies the paradox of Hip Hop, in a culture constituted of multiple perspectives and no standardized system of judgment the most literal of terms loses meaning. This is where we find Canadian rapper/actor/singer Drake. Drake is the product of thirty years of Hip Hop capitalism and commercialism. The term "Keeping It Real" is outdated because Hip Hop is a multicultural and international culture. "Real" to a native New Yorker differs from the "Real" of a London bloke.
Remember Hip Hop is entertainment and roles like the persona of Rick Ross can be occupied by a former corrections officer. The role of Drizzy Drake can be played by "Canadian Aubrey Drake Graham (born October 24, 1986) was born to a mixed-race couple and raised Jewish. He came to fame playing wheelchair-bound Jimmy Brooks in seven seasons of the popular teen soap Degrassi: The Next Generation."(biography.com). Drake is as "real" as any of the thousands of rap artists who have created marketable personas. The perceived "Heads"(True Hip Hop Fans) have scoffed at the notion of Drake being among the best in the genre. His inability to craft rhymes with depth and meaning are among the many reasons why "Heads" can't get behind Drake's brand of music. Drake makes blatantly commercial music and does not shy from that fact. In an interview with Complex he said, "I just want to make genuinely sexy music for women to listen to and for men to play for women."
Drake's sophomore album "Take Care" helped him win a 2013 Grammy award. The album, which was filled with light echoing sounds and girl friendly Hip Hop; was a commercial success. Drake kept it "real" by playing his role to perfection and offering his fans everything they had come to expect from him. Drake is not to blame for the watering down of Hip Hop. We are. The fact that Drake can release a single called "Started From The Bottom" despite his privileged upbringing is not disrespectful to the culture of Hip Hop. Drake is "Keeping it real" because Hip Hop does not have the authority to define "realness" because by its nature it only can interpret and recreate reality. "Started From The Bottom" has the same connotation as "Keep It Real" in the new Hip Hop era. Drake's "bottom" is different from a rapper like Danny Brown's "bottom". However, neither is more authentic or important than the other. It's a matter of choice. If the Hip Hop audience wants a gritty reflection of life there are a multitude of rap artists to chose from. If the audience wants the almost surreal experience of life then there are artists like Drake willing to "Keep It Real"