ICYMI, last week Drake dropped a mixtape titled If Youre Reading This Its Too Late. The 17 tracks were released like a bolt from the blue, surprising all but those who had suspected something following the release of Jungle, a short film uploaded to Drizzy’s OCTOBER’S VERY OWN blog last week.
Jungle is a 14-minute glance into Drake’s life at the top. It captures the detachment of a man surrounded by fans, friends and admirers, but left cold by the vapidity of having everything. It begs the questions - once you’re no longer at the bottom – when you’ve arrived – where do you go? What drives you? What’s the point? Picture the last episode of Only Fools and Horses but set in the cool blue streets of the San Fernando Valley, not Peckham.
The film has very little in the way of linear narrative, or even consistent style. The whole piece is an impressionistic interpretation of the inner world of its protagonist, and there’s no restrictive emphasis on realism, plot or even dialogue. The bulk of the running time is constructed of tight-shots on Drake while voices echo outside of shot - muffled, casual and in places inaudible. Everyone but the lead man is anonymous and faceless, and the building sense of numbness soon reaches levels hitherto seen only in Bret Easton Ellis novels and valium binges.
The piece is a perfect counterpart to If Youre Reading This…, and oozes the same cool tone and low-level emotional power. Thematically the two are linked, at once celebrating and lamenting Drake’s hedonistic lifestyle in a nonchalant authorial voice. Drake’s admission that he “thinks about money and women like 24/7 that’s where my life took me that’s just how shit happened” may be an attempt to show off or a plea for sympathy, but either way it illustrates a perceptive self-awareness and ability to undercut the bravado so much of his raps thrive off. In both the film and the album he wears vulnerability on his sleeve and illustrates that the biggest self-promoters have the lowest self-esteem.
The film is not unlike another poignant short, 2009’s We Were Once A Fairytale. This mesmerising low-budget venture by Spike Jonze saw another rapper, Kanye West, also play himself with startling subtlety. The film depicts Kanye as a tragic, obnoxious celebrity, isolating himself and embarrassing everyone in a club – being rejected by women, treading over acceptable social boundaries and screaming “this is my song” in a childlike wail that may make you cringe, laugh and cry simultaneously. Like Drake in Jungle, the camera holds on West throughout, constructing the outside world as something distinct, separate and uncaring. The film’s surreal ending can be taken as a metaphor for Kanye’s own self-loathing, something no amount of drugs and adoration can numb him to. Like Jungle, it’s a depressing and unglamorous portrayal of how fame can so easily lead to abject loneliness and despair.
As an experiment in selling a new product, We Were Once A Fairytale was a failure. Despite Jonze’s best intentions to sell the short on iTunes, a leaked version rendered its legal distribution obsolete. The fledgling movement of rappers and filmmakers working together to create more than just music videos appeared at the start of the decade to be dead in the water, but Drake’s decision to put a similar piece together hopefully signals that the art of the rapper x filmmaker collab has life in it yet. Creatively and artistically, both Jungle and We Were Once A Fairytale are beautiful, free-form and experimental, and while they may not be lucrative in distribution terms, they can no doubt more than pay for themselves in generating hype and interest. As artists who tell stories about themselves for a living, there’s a world of potential in exploring rapper’s inner lives through the medium of film. So stay tuned. We’re hoping for a Lil B mini-biopic next.
Words: Francis Blagburn