Last week, Drake made global headlines with his unexpected video for “God’s Plan”. There were no love interests, no elaborate storylines and no special effects; instead, the beautifully-lensed clip, directed by Karena Evans, followed the star around Miami while he gave away his label’s $999,631.90 budget to those in need.
Some were treated to supermarket shopping sprees, wads of cash and free luxury cars, whereas a cherry-picked selection of shelters, charities and support groups were presented with those comically huge checks we only ever see on-screen. Drake beams throughout the entire video; he swells with pride as tearful fans wrap themselves around him and blink in disbelief at the gifts they’ve just received. It’s a video guaranteed to make even the most cynical among us smile, laugh, maybe even shed a tear.
The visuals are undeniably joyous, but it is easy to be cynical. It’s exceedingly simple to accuse Drake of being self-serving, to argue that the most genuine charitable gestures are made off-camera. Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg certainly took this view, asking: “Isn’t it a little bit cheap to use those emotions of, ‘Look at this person in need getting something good,’ and transfer those emotions onto yourself? I don’t know the last time I saw a four-minute montage of ‘Look at all the nice things I do.”
Rosenberg went on to clarify that he found the video disingenuous as opposed to the actual donations themselves, but he still pissed Drake off so much that the musician called Rosenberg to personally vent his frustrations. “This is the most important thing I’ve ever done,” he reportedly said, obviously annoyed that his generosity had been dismissed as contrived.
It is worth being critical, especially given the music industry’s recent trend of #woke-washing. Half-baked political statements, disingenuous solidarity and the use of minority groups as props have all been rightly criticized, as have attempts to profit from tragedy. But this is different. This isn’t a case of an artist making a superficial statement to make themselves look better. Instead, this is an example of an artist putting his—well, his label’s—money where his mouth is.
Drake’s grandiose display of generosity also makes sense in the context of “God’s Plan”. It’s easy to read into the lyrics and their religious overtones—The Fader recently did, publishing an excellent piece with quotes from five religious leaders—but the song is, first and foremost, about rising above pettiness. The goofy memes and dad-dancing may make him seem endearing and low-key corny, but Drake has been an easy target for rap beef over the years. Countless musicians have fired shots at him. On “God’s Plan”, he simply says he’s tired of it: “I been movin’ calm, don’t start no trouble with me / Tryna keep it peaceful is a struggle for me.”
This is Drake at his most sincere, which is precisely why the “God’s Plan” video seems natural rather than contrived. Fans still fall at his feet, but there’s no security to stop them. He’s really in these schools, he’s actively listening to these communities—as behind-the-scenes videos have shown—and he really is laughing and joking un-self-consciously. In that sense, “God’s Plan” is as far from a PR stunt as you could get.
Better still, it seems Drake’s team genuinely did their research when looking at how to spend their money. One particularly heartwarming story is that of Destiny James, a talented and ferociously intelligent young black woman raised by a single mother in South Carolina. James had always dreamed of college but never thought it possible due to her lack of access to resources.
James’s narrative is a familiar one in even the most privileged of western countries: the extortionate cost of higher education had crippled her both financially and emotionally, forcing her to invest her energy into staying afloat as opposed to thriving. Then, along came Drake. The rapper presented her with a $50,000 check, enabling her to pay her tuition fees with no stress and work towards a Masters degree in public health. She plans to bring her skills back to her hometown, to educate those the system left behind.
James’s story is particularly commonplace in Miami, a city whose class divide is disproportionately driven by race. According to a profile collated by CFED as part of the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative, people of color in Miami earn significantly lower than in other states across the United States, whereas their rates of unemployment are higher. Meanwhile, their white counterparts earn significantly more—around $10,000—than the national average per year, whereas recent reports have revealed the city as a playground for the mega-rich. Basically, the city’s wealthiest residents are barely ever in it.
Of course, there is the argument to be made that Drake treated some to shopping sprees and others to actual investments. The story of Odelie Parnet, a 63-year-old maid in a five-star hotel, has been making waves online; a recent VIBE article reveals that Parnet was whisked away, booked in for a massage, an extravagant meal and a shopping spree in Saks Fifth Avenue.
Although wholly positive in tone, the article does highlight a few minor issues: the ludicrously tiny designer clothes on offer, for example, didn’t fit her, whereas she also had no need for heels so instead opted for a pair of comfortable flats. She did snap up a Valentino handbag, a white gold necklace and a handful of gifts for relatives, but ultimately the article’s conclusion reminds us all that, after her magical day is over, she’ll have to be up again in three hours for work.
This story of Parnet’s fairytale day highlights a few key points. Can Drake close the wealth gap? No. Would it have been wiser to offer Parnet money as opposed to expensive clothes? Yes. Does any of this matter? No.
By actually stepping up and using his budget to bring hyper-expensive gifts—and, in many cases, genuine investments—to those unable to access them, Drake is doing more than most to help those who need it. He’s a rap game Robin Hood, taking money from his label and throwing it gleefully into crowds whose lives it could truly change. Even the transparency, the willingness to divulge his video budget down to the last cent — even that feels radical in the context of a music industry that keeps its secrets closely guarded. Why do they keep them guarded? Because the truth is uncomfortable: it reveals a monumental wealth divide that no shopping spree, no scholarship and no Bentley could ever help to close.
Ultimately though, that’s not the point. The “God’s Plan” visual isn’t a humanitarian intervention, it’s a music video, and it does exactly what a music video should do: it creates a visual narrative, introduces us to some seriously inspirational characters and leaves us feeling entertained, with a smile on our faces. Drake might not have changed the world, but he’s at least changed the lives—if only temporarily—of a handful of lucky Miami residents. For that, he should be celebrated.
Next up; here’s how Pornhub went from free porn paradise to respectable lifestyle brand.
- Photography: OVO