I was wrapping up college in 2009 when I heard about this Lil Wayne protege that was making waves throughout the mixtape scene.
I didn’t care for Lil Wayne’s run at the top since it cut 50 Cent’s a bit short, and I always felt that Weezy’s content was void of any real story or meaning. Wayne became a punchline rapper with a lovable personality that got people talking, but he lacked the depth of an Eminem or Jay-Z.
Looking back, I appreciate Wayne’s catalogue a lot more since most of today’s popular rappers barely even rap, but I was happy when I first heard his protege spit on songs like Ransom. I felt like he had something to say and I really enjoyed the cadence and delivery, even though I was a bit jealous that someone who wasn’t from the street had got on before me.
Back then it was impossible to be respected in hip-hop unless you had some sort of street background with the exception of Kanye, and Drake was the first one to take advantage of his later friend turned enemy breaking that barrier.
After a few Wayne features, the singles came in like “Successful” and “Best I Ever Had,” and by summer of 2010 Drake was now at the top of the game with the album Thank Me Later that had features from some of the biggest legends like Alicia Keys and Jay-Z.
It’s clear that Young Money had lightning in a bottle with this guy and I gravitated towards some of those bangers he was putting out early on. Drake kind of did the Lil Wayne punchline thing too for awhile, but he seemed like he had a bit more to say based on what I was hearing.
I remember him headlining the VMAs, at a time when they actually still mattered and his songs just being everywhere. He was getting the kind of push that would put him on the same level as his mentor and it was jarring.
As this was happening the primes of guys like Wayne and Kanye were slowly starting to come to an end. Yeezy dropped his last undeniable classic in 2010 with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Wayne’s Tha Carter 4 was met with lackluster reviews despite selling almost 1 million copies in a week in 2011.
Drake quickly became all the hype and his second album would cement him as the top rapper in the game. Take Care saw the Toronto upstart come into his own with by ushering in a new moody, atmospheric sound made for evening listening. Some of this was undoubtably influenced by the Weeknd, but Drake certainly took the ball and ran with it.
Take Care had surpassed the previous album in every way and brought back a lot of what people loved from his debut mixtape So Far Gone, ditching the big budget Young Money sound so prevalent on his debut. Drake was no longer on his way, but was now officially the guy.
However, there was something different about him in comparison to his peers. He seemed to have included a lot of singing on all of his projects up until this point. This strategy would later become his very own cheat code that led to a career of chart topping success.
I truly believe Drake peaked in his own style creatively in 2013 with Nothing Was the Same. That album has barely any skips and marries his sing/rap style perfectly.
My right-hand partner in music creation, challenged me on this album to trim that fat. To make a very concise project and asked me [and] actually gave me a song cap. Asked me to keep it at 13 or 14 songs on the original. And so that was an interesting challenge for me. And now that it’s out and the world appreciates it, it’s a great feeling.Drake in 2013.
Around this time Drake was bumping up his feature count and started using his star power to put others on like the Migos, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar. He also hit the public with music non-stop after his third release with loosies constantly flooding the airwaves.
Tracks like “Trophies” and “0 to 100/The Catch Up” played on radio like singles even though they weren’t part of an album or a rollout for one. Drake was doing unprecedented things.
The features didn’t stop and Drake now started the trend of riding waves and mastering them. It can be argued that he is responsible for bringing the Migos flow into the mainstream, which is probably the most widely used flow in hip-hop a little less than 10 years later.
Drake also joined Future during his 2015 dominance by releasing their collab album What a Time to be Alive. You also can’t forget one of his most beloved and yet controversial projects, the 2015 mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Despite hearing reference tracks for the album from Quentin Miller, and a public lynching from Meek Mill and Funk Flex, Drake still managed to come out on top with his “Back to Back” diss track, smash hit “Hotline Bling” and Views, which is arguably his most successful album in the mainstream.
Although it wasn’t on the level of NWTS and Take Care in terms of cohesiveness, the project featured his biggest hits and satisfied his female audience more than any of his previous works. This album actually got me and my wife, then dating prospect, talking again after months of being disconnected.
Drake just could not miss and all of the ghostwriting allegations seemingly did nothing to lessen his appeal.
He struck back in 2017 with “More Life,” arguably his weakest project to date, but it can’t be denied that there were some bangers on it like “Passionfruit,” “Blem,” and “Do Not Disturb.”
His feature stamp of approval was alive and well as he helped Blockboy JB and Lil Baby increase their buzz the following year and dropped his bold double disc “Scorpion” which to me is extremely underrated and probably one of his best albums to date.
We also can’t forget “Sicko Mode” with Travis Scott which was the biggest record of 2018 and probably one of the greatest hip-hop songs ever made. Remember, Drake is already 9 years into his career at this time.
So now he’s at the point in time where Eminem released Relapse, and Jay-Z put out Blueprint 3. But unlike those two who played second fiddle to Lil Wayne who was the hottest at the time, Drake was still the most dominant rapper in the game with little competition aside from Kendrick Lamar who decided to take too long of a vacation.
Then we get to 2019 and we get a reconciliation record from Drake and Chris Brown that had my wedding and the summer on smash with “No Guidance.” Drake’s R&B appeal allowed him to get into different pockets so his rapping didn’t get stale. The formula was a winning one and it seemed like Drake was going to have another great year.
He opened 2020 with a monster collab with Future with “Life is Good.” It seemed like Drizzy’s run would never end. And then the unthinkable happened. The pandemic hit and music just didn’t feel the same.
“Life is Good’s” run was cut short and it couldn’t be enjoyed in day parties and clubs like it should have been. Drake’s 11th year looked troublesome. He had already teased his next album Certified Lover Boy and fans also thought him and Future might do another collab, but it never surfaced.
In the height of the initial pandemic lockdown, Drake took advantage of the Tik Tok dance craze and launched “Toosie Slide,” a record that I loved but didn’t seem to catch on like past efforts.
He nonchalantly released the Dark Lane Demo Tapes which seemed to have had very little impact on the game spawning no other hits or anthems. The tape seemed like a way for Drake to put out something just to test the waters, but unlike most of his past loosies and mixtapes, it lacked when it came to appeal and impact.
Drake started to confirm that the album was coming at the top of 2021, and by summer we got his single with Lil Durk, “Laugh Now Cry Later” which seems like a collab throwaway that is being worked like it’s the next “In My Feelings.” The song is played on the radio constantly but if we’re being honest, it’s a far cry from any of Drake’s past singles. It sounds a lot like some of his older records and even with some SixNine slights, it failed to generate the type of interest Drake expected.
So we got a lot of pushbacks from Drake and when 2021 started and no album was delivered. Then we got a 3-pack titled Scary Hours 2 which followed a 2018 2 pack that included “God’s Plan,” one of Drake’s biggest hits to date.
It took me awhile to get around to listening to it, and when I finally did, I felt pretty underwhelmed. The songs are fine and serviceable, but the content and his delivery feel a bit tired at this point. “What’s Next” is probably the strongest of the three with a fire beat and cool hook but the content did little to challenge the narrative that Drake hasn’t grown much artistically. It sounds like a rehash of something we heard from him a million times. “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” is a really good collection of bars that is a successor to “Views,” “Do Not Disturb” and “March 13,” but those records really play to his core rap fanbase and do little to change the trajectory of his career.
“What’s Next” is being worked like the next big single, but to be honest, it feels a little forced by the industry. It’s also May and the album still isn’t here. Some of Drake’s recent features have also failed to generate the buzz they used to.
Songs with Summer Walker, and an awkward photoshoot with Megan Thee Stallion failed to do anything for either of the ladies respective careers and they seemed to not even need the Drizzy cosign at this point.
It can’t be denied that Drake’s impact isn’t what it was even just 2 years ago. When I talk to the younger generation, they barely even mention him when it comes to discussing their favorite rappers.
With the fragmented world of streaming, audiences are more split than ever over what’s hot and Drake’s unifying strategy just doesn’t cover enough ground. Jumping on the latest up and comer’s record helps a little, but doesn’t generate the kind of interest that it used to.
I’m solely going off impact for this piece without bringing numbers into it mostly because the charts and streaming aren’t that trustworthy thanks to payola and click farms.
Drake’s unprecedented run seems to be coming to close. This doesn’t mean he won’t have his spot forever solidified, but is he still the hottest rapper in the game? Does he still move the needle when it comes to what’s hot?
Or will he join the growing list of less relevant legends who still put out music and sell, but no longer set the trends in hip-hop?
One thing is for sure, he’s had arguably the greatest career in hip-hop and released a ton of music in a 12 year span. He’s put on countless people with his features and helped propel some of today’s biggest artists to stardom.