Skudra takes us from the public outdoors into private enclosure. We join Drake, who is rocking an expensive and rare retro Raf Simons camoflauge bomber jacket, inside his luxurious ante-room. The camera does long tracking shots, giving us glimpses of awards in trophy cases, and paintings hanging on his wall, like the famous rendering of Chairman Mao by Andy Warhol. It pans past basketball jerseys including one that pays tribute to felled icon Kobe Bryant. Drake traipses through more of his artificially-light interior rooms. Designed by elite architect Ferris Rafauli as a “contemporary spin on Beaux Arts architecture,” Drake’s mansion features bronze, black granite, brown agate, and ebony construction materials. It all looks rather cold, sleek, like the inside of a bank or a high-end hotel. We see that Drake owns sculptures by Japanese visual artist Takashi Murakami, and he’s got a Bösendorfer grand piano that features a custom-crafted dark purple skull-inscribed cover. As Drake passes through more imperial halls, we behold his massive island kitchen, its size bested by his Olympic size indoor and outdoor swimming pools. While Drake calls his estate’s design aesthetic “overwhelming high luxury,” online haters joked that the interiors look much more like a shopping mall. Personal taste aside, the video elevates architectural luxury and interior design as the transcendent forms of black self-making.
Exiting the kitchen, Drake wanders through a series of darkly lit rooms featuring wall photographs of musicians like Prince and Snoop Dogg. And finally, the camera follows Drake to the exterior of the house, to the backyard pool area where it is so dark that Drake’s white sneaker kicks steal focus. As the video comes to a wrap, Drake sets off remote controlled fireworks off on his own property. There’s a final drone shot of the fireworks, taken from up high, while someone jokes off-video: “We definitely cannot run that.” In her write-up on the video, NPR Music journalist Ann Powers describes Drake’s opulent mansion as “the kind of castle where a king hides from the revolution outside.”
A few weeks after the release of Toosie Slide, Architectural Digest ran a feature on Drake’s spectacular mansion.3 Was the video, in hindsight, little more than a teaser for the magazine spread? Drake is hardly the first braggadocio hip-hop artist to push a materialist ethic: trap music especially revels in conspicuous consumption. But it’s altogether different to make a video to show off your affluent $100 million home in the midst of a global health crisis (and economic crisis) when the very meanings of terms like “home” and “indoors” are in flux for, and being contested by, millions. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing untold numbers of people to conduct work from their homes, effectively transforming private indoor spaces into public and semi-public offices. Others, including the homeless, lack the freedom to shelter indoors, and statistics demonstrate that domestic abuse and psychological crises have skyrocketed as the pandemic has taken its toll. Tours and live concerts, the bread and butter for many musicians who don’t have Drake’s tremendous resources or wealth, have been indefinitely cancelled.
Video communications apps like Zoom allows users to upload virtual backgrounds, which can help you conceal surroundings and maintain privacy. For some socio-economically disadvantaged users, those artificial green-screen backgrounds are crucial methods of avoiding the stigma or embarrassment of having to reveal an indoors that exposes income disparity.4 Watchdogs have raised privacy concerns about video communication apps, exposing their lax security protocols, and highlighting the troubling ways that smartphone contact tracing protocols require users to be constantly geolocated and potentially tracked by exploitative third-parties and governmental actors. By forcing us out from our own outsides, the Covid-19 pandemic demands that we take a harder look at surveillance technologies, and the connections between residential property and class privilege.
Ultimately, the Toosie Slide video is a performance of labour. As the camera tracks Drake moving from room to room in his estate, the video becomes the way we witness Drake working to market and boost streaming numbers for his product, the Toosie Slide song (recently included on his mixtape Dark Lane Demo Tapes). Drake’s music video emerges as an example of the productivity so many of us are instructed or expected to achieve during the supposed ‘down time’ of isolation, distancing and “shelter in place” orders. Why sit at home doing nothing when you can make and earn revenue from a video about being at home? In the midst of the pandemic, many workers have had to take their labour home, so to speak, and to work from home, or improvise ways to earn money or self-promote while stuck indoors. Millions of others have been fired, laid off or furloughed, based on rising unemployment numbers. Entrepreneurial Drake, however, found a way to make video that encourages you to be productive by learning his new dance. In turn, he is earning income, racking up streams and impressions by gifting you the freedom to move during stay-at-home mandates. It’s the latest iteration of George Clinton’s gleaming promise in the song One Nation Under a Groove:”“here’s a chance to dance our way out of our constrictions.” Encouraging interactive dancing as therapeutic pleasure, the Toosie Slide video wants you to get free while you’re constricted at home.
Yet the video’s images of palatial emptiness and pandemic desertion careen between darkness and light, both indoor and outdoor: they feel, at times, more menacing than pleasurable or free. On one level, Toosie Slide looks a lot like those reality shows in which celebrities take the viewer on televised tours of their luxurious homes, including Robin Leach’s 1984-1995 Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and MTV: Cribs (dirty secret: the celebrities sometimes rent, rather than own, those homes off-camera). In its gorgeous lensing of Drake’s high-end luxury interiors, Toosie Slide is an unabashed celebration of private property, of home ownership, of the celebrity dwelling as a Superman-style fortress of solitude. It unironically—and callously, even—celebrates extreme wealth at a time of worldwide economic insecurity exacerbated by the global health crisis. Toosie Slide is brand-building in that it dedicates itself to the suite of values for which Drake’s music has long been praised—inwardness, navel-gazing, narcissism, self-regard, and self-possession.