With yet another strong release from Drake with his latest album “VIEWS,” various bloggers and fans are comparing the current highest selling artist in hip-hop to arguably the G.O.A.T. of the genre that is Shawn “Jay Z” Carter.
Drake himself has even acknowledged the comparison and mentions it in his scathing proclamation of sitting on hip-hop’s throne in “Summer Sixteen.”
“I used to wanna be on Roc-A-Fella then I turned into Jay,” raps Drake on the track where he also takes shots at Meek Mill and up and comer Tory Lanez.
Drake seems to be referring to his use of Jay’s blueprint in recent years to dominate the music industry including his adoption of the braggadocios rap style of Jay’s and even creating this generation’s “Best of Both Worlds” by teaming up with Future for “What a Time to Be Alive.” But does this claim help or hurt his legacy?
Here are 5 reasons why making this comparison might not work in either of their favors.
1-Jay Z made his career solely off rap. Drake combined singing and rapping for a winning formula.
Jay Z is an emcee. Drake is both an emcee and singer. Singing and crafting pop and R&B records alongside a stellar rap catalog will equate to more success and expanded Drake’s reach to pretty much every radio station and video outlet. The formula almost cheats the music industry standard and allowed Drake to go through doors that his peers like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole haven’t been granted access to yet due to the lack of hip-hop’s crossover ability in recent years. If tomorrow, Drake decided to stop singing and focused solely on rap would his career be as lucrative? Some of his biggest hits include “Find Your Loving,” Hotline Bling,” and “Hold On We’re Going Home” which are all R&B/ pop records. Take all those away and is he still the king of hip-hop? Maybe not.
Jay Z on the other hand, came up in a different era where a straight rap record with pop sensibilities such as “Can I Get A” or “H to the Izzo” could be played on a Top 40 radio station. Jay learned how to craft these kinds of records with his third album “Vol 2: Hard Knock Life” and used the formula to dominate the charts with number one records. He even managed to do it with “Empire State of Mind” in 2009. The song is played in shows, commercials and pop radio stations. But Jay Z never sang a note. Instead, he employed some of the best singers and producers to create a soundscape to add lyrics to so that he could crossover properly in a way that peers such as Nas couldn’t.
2- Jay Z is the King of New York.
Toronto is not New York City. Drake might be the King of Toronto, but the Canadian city is not the mecca of hip-hop. Jay Z was basically passed the torch from his friend the Notorious B.I.G. to run New York hip-hop and he elevated it to levels it had never reached prior. Those were big shoes to fill considering that Biggie is considered by some to be the greatest rapper of all time. Before Biggie, New York had seen a plethora of top spitters including Rakim, KRS-One, Kool G Rap, LL Cool J, and countless others. New York was and still is in many ways the most competitive place to make it in rap and to ascend to the city’s highest position took lots of ingenuity and persistence.
Drake accomplished something very different by putting his city, which was mostly not known for hip-hop in the past, on the map. Drake’s existence helped launch the careers of other Toronto artists like the Weekend and label mates PartyNextDoor. But Drake didn’t come up in the environment Jay Z did and he had to leave his city and hook up with J Prince, Lil Wayne and Young Money to take off.
Both of these artists accomplished great feats and should be recognized for their unique accomplishments. Comparing them to each other might take away from that.
3-Jay Z faced much more competition in the hip-hop world.
Jay Z came up in an era with immense competition in the hip-hop world. The prime of his career saw him release a new album every year from 1996-2003. During that period many other rappers ascended to the top of the rap game including DMX, Eminem, 50 Cent, Ja Rule, Nelly and Ludacris. Not to mention his friend Biggie and Nas staying neck and neck with Jay during his own come-up. A plethora of other artists such as Mobb Deep, Fat Joe, The Fugees, Big Pun, Cam’ron, Ma$e, Puff Daddy, The Lox, Fabolous and his own Rocafella roster Beanie Sigel and Freeway all gave the Brooklyn spitter a run for his money.
Drake on the other hand, came up in an era where hip-hop was far from its glory days. When he first came out in 2009, the genre was dominated by his mentor and boss Lil Wayne. Jay Z was basically retired at that point, Nas released albums only every few years, 50 Cent was no longer doing the numbers he was doing in 2003-2005 and Kanye West was still very much active, but approaching the part of his career where he would release projects when he felt like it. There have been plenty of trap rappers and one hit wonders, but they never really crossed into Drake’s territory until recently. The ascent of Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole in 2010-2011 made Drake see a little of what Jay Z contended with in his era, but not nearly as much. Drake also was cosigned by just about everyone including Jay Z himself when he started in the game. It took Jay Z much longer to establish that kind of rapport within the music industry.
4-Drake hasn’t delivered an undeniable classic. Jay Z has between 3-4 depending who you ask.
Suspending my own opinion of each of their catalogs I would have to say that the general consensus is that Drake has not delivered a classic album to date. This is probably the one thing holding him back from being considered one of the greats. Jay Z came into the rap world with “Reasonable Doubt” which is regarded as a classic amongst most hip-hop fans. Not to mention “Vol 2: Hard Knock Life,” “The Blueprint,” and “The Black Album,” which are all brought up when classic hip-hop albums are being discussed.
Drake’s best album to date according to most reviews and fans is probably 2011’s “Take Care.” But not many people have taken to the internet or to magazines to declare it a bonafide classic. His debut mixtape “So Far Gone” also gets brought up at times, but suffers from the fact that it’s not really an album and features other artist’s instrumentals. “VIEWS” is still very new and could change that conversation, but it’s too early to label it a classic. It will take months of digestion and reflection to determine if Drake finally delivered what the fans have been asking him for.
(My personal opinion is that Drake’s best to date is 2013’s largely slept on “Nothing Was the Same.” It’s his most cohesive project and I can listen to it straight through. “Take Care” has his best songs, but also is bogged down by some unnecessary filler.)
5-Jay Z made it with his own company.
Jay Z and partners Dame Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke built the Roc-A-Fella Records dynasty from nothing. No one wanted to sign Jay Z in the mid-nineties and he had to put up his own money to launch his rap career. He had to claw and scratch to become hip-hop’s most revered star. He wasn’t immediately crowned king and didn’t reach that kind of status until 1998 when he scored with a gang of hits from his “Vol 2: Hard Knock Life” which is 5x platinum and his highest selling to date.
Drake entered rap with a huge co-sign from Lil Wayne who was the hottest rapper in the game at that point. He was solidified by being made the crown jewel of his boss’s Young Money label and seemed like an instant success. However, Drake had been grinding on the mixtape circuit years before that so it’s safe to say that he did work hard to get where he is at today, but the path was a bit different for Jay.