The DeCal — short for Democratic Education at Cal — program is one of UC Berkeley’s most unique offerings. Through the program, undergraduate students can facilitate courses on topics that they’re passionate about that may lie outside the scope of the typical UC Berkeley curriculum. In the past, students have been inspired to create courses on everything from bagpipes to traditional Chinese medicine.
For Leeza Cruz and Ruby Aujla, the topic of interest is rap superstar Drake. The two — along with Gibran Huerta and Nick Badal — will be facilitating a DeCal titled “Started From the Bottom: The Artistic Evolution of Aubrey Drake Graham” this coming fall.
The course is one of the newer offerings on the DeCal roster. Its first iteration came just this past spring. “My freshman year, when I heard that you can make a DeCal, I was like, ‘I have to make a Drake DeCal,’ ” said Cruz, who has been following the artist since his earliest days on “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” What finally inspired Cruz to go ahead and create her dream DeCal, along with co-founder and fellow facilitator Huerta, was the “Can’t Tell Me Nothing: The Development of Kanye West’s Artistry” DeCal she took in fall 2018. More than 100 people applied to be in the class’s first cohort. Aujla and Badal were two of just 35 students who made the cut.
Cruz and Huerta’s course shines a light on a variety of facets of Drake’s career and artistry. Given the title, though, it’s unsurprising that it operates with a focus on Drake’s rise to success. “A lot of it is the relationships with other artists,” Cruz said. “We decided to do a lot of studying on features and his relationships with the artists he works with.”
But keeping up with every connection made by one of the most famous artists alive is far from easy. In fact, Cruz emphasized the amount of time it took to do research for the course. “I kind of dug into everything. I would look into each album,” she said. The most surprising outcome of her research? The fact that she’s known about Drake’s child for far longer than most can claim to have known about it. “It was known for a while,” Cruz said. “It just wasn’t put on blast.”
While a course on such a prominent pop culture icon may seem out of place within UC Berkeley’s curriculum, the Drake DeCal is, notably, just one of a growing number of DeCals on musicians and, more generally, pop culture touchstones. In fact, a DeCal on the artistry of Frank Ocean is set to begin this coming fall.
Recently, however, the fact that so many courses on the music of Black artists are being facilitated by non-Black students has begun to raise an eyebrow. The Drake DeCal’s facilitators are very aware of this growing trend and make sure to do what they can to give Black students space to speak. “Even though the facilitators themselves can’t speak on it, we look to students to do it,” Aujla said. Cruz agreed, adding that the diversity of the students in the course helped to facilitate some especially interesting discussions.
While Cruz and Huerta created the DeCal to have a platform to discuss their favorite artist, over time, the class has taken on a greater importance to them. For Cruz, an economics major, the DeCal has helped her to realize that her goals for the future may not lie in the fields she’s currently studying. “It’s helped me to realize … after college I want to do entertainment. That’s where I want to work,” she said.