The Drake effect: Lifestyles of the sad and famous

USA TODAY Sports

What is it with Drake and sports? What is it with Drake in general?

There are several easy ways to tell when the release date is near for a new Drake album. A great and vague brooding comes over the culture, as if two vast manicured eyebrows were knit in a moment of VIP room melancholy, and so knit the very sky in turn. Think pieces bloom attempting to separate Drake the talented musician from Drake the Petulant Sad Famous Guy who makes songs about being sad and famous, or puzzle out which is the real Drake. You also start hearing a lot more Drake songs on the radio, for better or worse. But one of the surest ways to know when Drake has new songs out is that NBA players start tweeting his lyrics.

This is kind of a weird thing to witness, because it seems as if James Harden -- or whoever, but James Harden is clearly a fan -- is going through some kind of familiar, dullish relationship stuff and tweeting about it rather artfully, at least until you realize that it is in fact Drake who is going through familiar, dullish relationship stuff and writing about it rather artfully.

That's from "From Time," off Drake's new album, and a decent representation of how this works. The NBA's supreme Drake superfans -- there's Brandon Jennings and then there's everyone else -- don't necessarily need a new album to drop a Drake quote, but this should be an especially heavy few weeks for NBA players expressing what looks like glibly embittered romantic semi-insight, but is in fact quotes of glibly embittered romantic semi-insight.

This makes sense, even leaving aside the fact that there's nothing all that unique about a NBA player or anyone else being a fan of the most popular rapper working. The splashily paranoid ennui and spookily isolated moneyed melancholy that's Drake's stock in trade is something that young professional athletes almost certainly understand better than the rest of Drake's fans.

Any mopey younger person can relate, to a certain extent, to feeling sad about an ill-advised drunk text or not quite being over some ex or other, although it could definitely be argued that Drake should probably be both figuring the women-also-want-things-independent-of-what-you-want thing out by now and maybe also rapping about something other than text messaging. But it maybe takes a professional athlete to fully inhabit the penthouse isolation in which all this otherwise rote mopery takes place.

Being sad is part of being alive, and definitely the better part of both very good and very bad art. Moping over a girl and over a magnum of $1,200 champagne in some double-secret VIP room or lonesomely, thoughtfully fingering one's very expensive, very gaudy jewelry while sending a peevish, self-defeating ex-text -- this is different. If Drake's fans are buying a ticket to watch him linger in the bleak strip-club memory palace of his psyche, Drake's fans in pro sports get to do that and say DUDE, I KNOW at the song's end. This is music that's basically for and about Andrew Bynum.

This is music that's basically for and about Andrew Bynum.

But, of course, this is all mostly for and about Drake. A great deal of the bigger hip-hop acts at the moment seem to have this sort of radical self-as-subject bit going on -- among Drake's few commercial peers, there's Kanye West's Horny Fuming Impenetrable Genius routine and Jay Z's increasingly arch Billionaire Dictating Volume VII Of His Memoirs bit and very few others. This leaves those so inclined to parse what is real and what is performance in the thing; what material comes from experience or earnest emotion, and what is just a convincing-enough caricature for everyone else to experience vicariously.

Which is fine, and not new. There are presumably Drake-ologists moving images around on a corkboard like those dour cardboard cops on Criminal Minds, endeavoring to figure out which famous ex Drake is mooning over or blasting in a given verse. That doesn't seem like a great way to spend one's short time on earth -- if Drake needs to think/feel a bit less about Drake, everyone else should probably also step it back accordingly. But that Drake is willing to appear both Rich and Sad at least gives him one more dimension and attribute than a lot of his peers.

And if his ineffable and supremely fraught Drake-ness give him a special appeal among the few people young enough and rich enough to have actually shuffled sadly a mile or so in his shoes, it doesn't make him less real. He's a dude, and he likes and does various things; he is, among other things, a sports fan. Drake is going to talk to ESPN's Roger Bennett about soccer on Tuesday, and he will probably have opinions. Bennett tweeted an open request that people write in with questions.

The response was, Twitter being Twitter, mostly jokes -- some super-technical soccer questions, a few Drake references. More surprisingly, the response seemed weirdly muted. Some of this is surely because it's tough to come up with a soccer question for Drake. But some of it, too, goes back to how much Drake tells, and how all that extremely artful and surpassingly detailed oversharing makes him less accessible instead of more. There's the sense that only James Harden and his cohort could really have much to talk to him about.

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