hip hop think tank – episode 1 – Drake's investigation
Hey AOTY, as announced 1 week ago, here is the launch of my second new mini-series dedicated to Hip Hop and published weekly. Hip hop think tank will be built on no rules. I can talk about an album, an artist, a song, a musical sub style in particular, no matter as long as the subject is related to Hip Hop. You will find all the episodes that will be added to my lists. I'm also open to suggestions, even if I can't assure you that I'll deal with them all, so don't hesitate to leave me your comments in the list in question if you have any ideas.
Drake, an artist rooted in pop culture
Rare are the examples of Hip Hop artists who have achieved such commercial success and hallucinating popularity as Drake. An atypical character that we don't need to introduce anymore, that even our parents and sometimes our grandparents know. Today for a younger generation Drake represents the record breaking pop star, known for his famous dance steps in Hotling Bling, his controversial generosity in God's Plan, his sometimes excessive vampirization and the story of his hidden son. At a time when Drake is about to release his 6th album, for the first time all fans and listeners are wondering if he is giving up his leadership. While there are many signs that he's done his time, let's not forget how Drake is one of the best rappers of 2010. You only have to listen to his early projects to realize that, and I think it would be unfair to think otherwise. So I asked myself, watching for the 1001st time his hilarious dance on Hotline Bling, what is actually Drake's best project? To answer this question, I offer you a detailed analysis of Drake's 5 best projects in chronological order.
Starting from nothing, to reach the top
Many know the story of Drake and his image as a teenage actor turned rapper, but it's not a trajectory that was all written in advance. The son of divorced parents, Aubey Drake Graham lived mostly in Toronto with his mother, with an absent father who juggled stability and problems with the law. He saw his father very irregularly, also an artist, who nevertheless remained a significant source of inspiration. He and his mother were in a very precarious situation, which forced his to accept this role in Degrassi and thus leave school early when he was 15 years old in order to help financially. A music lover, Drake has the characteristic of always doing the maximum in his goals. A factor that is still present today and which allowed him to start a musical career around 2006 in parallel to the series. Despite a very average but promising content on his first 2 self-produced mixtapes "Room For Improvement (2006)" and Comeback Season (2007), showing the primacy of Hip Hop over R&B, Drake manages to attract the attention that will allow him to meet some of his idols. The first is Trey Songz, his most influential contemporary R&B inspiration, with whom he collaborated on the single Replacement Girl. A feat that will really put him in the spotlight, and even allow him to do some tour dates with Lil Wayne, one of the greatest Hip Hop superstar of the moment. His first mixtapes also mark the emergence of Canadian producers named Frank Duke and Boi-1da, then totally unknown, who today have the status of super producer. While he had recently finished appearing in Degrassi, Drake worked in 2008 on the mixtape that would reveal him to the general public, the now classic So Far Gone. It should be remembered that Drake was still completely independent at the time, delivering free mixtapes. So Far Gone's artistic success led to his singles Best I Ever Had and Successful becoming major commercial successes, first reaching the Billboard charts before allowing him to sign to Lil Wayne's Young Money label (a subsidiary of Birdman's Cash Money). It should be noted that several labels competed violently to count him in their ranks.
So Far Gone, the birth of a new generation of rappers
"You Know, a lot of girls be,
thinkin' my songs are about them,
this is not to get confused,
this one's for you"
Drake – Best I Ever Had / 2009
This 3rd mixtape is first of all, the creation of the atmospheric sound of Drake, local symbol of Toronto, thanks to his first collaboration with producer Noah Shebib "40". It's an ambitious mixtape and very pleasant to listen to again. You get a glimpse of the best of Drake's early days, and despite its flaws So Far Gone still exudes the seductive aspects without getting too old. Unlike his previous mixtapes, this one is mostly oriented towards a minimalist contemporary R&B, very cold and often "down tempo/mid tempo". Although he shows his deep affection for Hip Hop and the Houston scene in particular, one gets the impression on several occasions that Drake moves backwards, rather timidly when he rap. He was still far from having found the right balance of a good rapper. On the contrary, his character was beginning to develop. The mixtape mainly deals with his early celebrity, his relationship with women and his love for Houston (paternal inspiration). Finally these are themes that followed him throughout his career. It must be said, however, that the musical context at the end of the 2000s was totally different. Pop Rap was beginning to make a serious place for itself, but it was heavily criticized because the mores were different. This brought a lot of conflict of opposition between the old more underground and boom bap way of doing Hip Hop and the new emerging generation. Just the hybrid Hip Hop/R&B formula itself wasn't really happening until the Drake generation came along, marked by the major influence of Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak album and the emergence of new self-crooning phenomena like T-Pain. It was a time when the rapper had to have that bad boy mentality without weakness. Drake took the opposite side of all this, through his musical content and character, becoming the antithesis of the rapper of the 90's/2000. That's why Drake wasn't afraid to assert his romantic side in his own way, displaying his weaknesses as well.
Thank Me Later, the commercial consecration
"I know way too many people here right now,
That i didn't know last year, who the f*** are y'all ?"
Drake – Over / 2010
Thank Me Later is simply the studio and commercial culmination of his first mixtape, where we find Drake honing his skills as he seeks to shape his true identity and uniqueness as an artist. It is in fact a commercial consecration, far from being acquired with his first mixtape. Although this album is characterized by polarized opinions, it may seem surprising to you, but Thank Me Later is still a solid project for me... Thank Me Later points out the shortcomings that Drake still had at that time, i.e. his dependence on his influences, we necessarily think of Lil Wayne, Kanye West or Jay Z. Conversely, the Canadian rapper continued to stand out by letting himself be gently carried away by his R&B talent. I know that Hip Hop lovers like me, from any era, are seduced by the underground aesthetic. Many tend to like the mixtapes and less the albums, often for reasons that are valid and totally relevant. However, this studio work offers many more technological and material means that have enhanced Drake's music, placing Thank Me Later as an album that is still enjoyable and consistent to listen to today. Regardless of the commercial direction taken, which necessarily aims at a profitability linked to the huge contract that Drake obtained, the blockbuster Thank Me Later has allowed Drake's music, both vocally and musically, to take on a higher dimension. Especially when one knows how essential the mood and atmosphere of his production is to its rendering. Sincerely, I still find it hard to understand why this album remains very underestimated despite a few small flaws (lack of singularity and the rush to release an album as soon as possible to capitalize on the present virality). In reality the whole album transpires excellent songs where very few of them are to be thrown away, many excellent featuring we think in particular of the appearance of Nicki Minaj.
Take Care, an intimate portrait of Drake
"F*** that n**** that you love so bad,
I know you still think about the times we had,
i say f*** that n***** that you think you found,
and since you picked up, i know he's not around"
Drake – Marvin's Room / 2011
Take Care is clearly one of the first masterpieces of Drake's work. In fact, for many, this second album is considered to be his best and it's hard to argue with that. Take Care is first of all the birth of the final version of the Drake character, in the sense that he has finally achieved the singularity he was looking for, even if in the end there are many passages that remind us of Thank Me Later. Arriving as a sort of hybrid prototype, the spokesperson for a new generation of new rappers, Drake never gave up asserting his true personality, going to the very height of what he could do. You have to say that, because now it seems banal, but love songs in rap were very rare for fear of showing his weaknesses. For example, when Drake repeatedly insinuated that he wasn't good with girls or that he had just been dumped by his girlfriend. That's how Drake's delicate and assertive character stands out from the world. This album is also the symbol of Toronto and of the famous year 2011 that saw the birth of The Weeknd, a hybrid singer who is full of talent and disconcerting originality. For those who don't know it, Drake and his production team are very clever artists, so it's imperative to talk about the hidden but very significant role The Weeknd played in the making of Take Care. So yes, The Weekend is present on the song Crew Love, which has helped to increase its notoriety with a wider audience thanks to Drake's popularity. But in reality, this deal is nothing in exchange for all that The Weekend has done for him. Credited (along with his producer Illangelo) on several songs on the album as songwriter, such as on the sublime Shot For Me, Cameras / Good Ones Go Interlude or Practice, I'm pretty sure that his importance as ghostwriter was also very decisive. Let's think about it, Drake had to find new formulas while trying to consolidate his singularity. The idea of getting closer to Toronto's culture, underground sounds and artists like the Weeknd helped Drake find the magic solution. Let's also remember that The Weeknd released the first 2 EPs of its trilogy House of Balloons and Thursday before the release of Take Care. The intelligence of Drake was to distinguish itself from The Weeknd and not to reproduce a pale copy of the artist. He only took his essence and strength to make his own sound. It's as if on a DNA level you just take a few of Abel's monomers. Obviously, it's not all that simple and we shouldn't denigrate the excellent work of Drake and his production team, especially the main concerned Noah Shebib "40" who offered us one of his most accomplished productions or the help of the young producer T-Minus. Despite being 80 minutes too long where some of the fillers could have been avoided (notably a very good portion in the soft underbelly [the middle] and towards the end a few forgettable songs that generally aged poorly), Take Care is probably Drake's album that contains the most of his best songs, I'm thinking in particular of Marvins Room, Take Care, Crew Love, Headlines, with a fantastic complimentary debut album. It's also one of the first times that the atmosphere that resides in the musicality and interpretation reaches a kind of state of grace, where you find yourself transported as if in a virtual reality, so intense. This is precisely the charm of Take Care. Let's not forget also that Take Care highlights the young Kendrick Lamar who at that time was just beginning to make the news.
Nothing Was The Same, the turning point
"Started from the bottom, now we're here,
Started from the bottom, now my whole team f***' here"
Drake - Started from the bottom / 2013
To be completely honest with you, it took me a while to like this third album, so much so that when I listen to it today I think I was a really good jerk. Nothing Was The Same is not a sequel to Take Care, it's a successful new direction that says Drake is not a short-lived popular rapper who won't make history. At times, the album feels more like something in between. It goes even further. Once again Drake and his crew knew they were going to need help with this. The important thing is to feel the good shots, and especially not to repeat the mistakes of the past. That's why Nothing Was The Same focuses only on 13 tracks, making the album 20 minutes lighter than Take Care, leaving less room for fillers and misjudgments. One of the lessons of this album is that you have to know how to surround yourself well, one of the drake forces in your career. Of course, the production of the album is mainly led by his partner Noah Shebib " 40", but Drake knew how to knock on the right doors, which allowed him to take advantage of unimaginable treasures. Without exaggerating, let's make the list: Drake used Mike Zombie, a rapper/producer who never made a career out of it, to give him the best beat of his entire life on Started from the Bottom. He did almost the same thing with Detail, even though he had a "better" career afterwards. There's even a lot of rumor around the cult song Hold On, We're Going Home, which was originally a song by the duo Majid Jordan. Drake would then have negotiated to hire them into OVO, allowing them to shine for at least a while. The Nothing Was The Same album is also the springboard for producers Jack One and Vinylz, a unique chance to debut for Dj Dahi and Nineteen85. Without forgetting the young Sampha that Drake was one of the first to launch it. That's to say what this album means to them. Nothing Was The Same is a turning point on several aspects. Concerning the themes, since his character and his situation have evolved, the album is mainly driven by introspection, celebrity and by more diverse problems. Drake's character hardens, leaving his fragility in the past, which allows him to offer a new face and to affirm this new direction. The production has also evolved in the image of Noah Shebib "40" who increasingly uses the famous implosive loop technique based on R&B/Pop samples and/or simple piano chords, which gives that impression of a spiral sucking you in like a hypnotist or giving the impression that your head is under water. Phenomenal effects that give depth to the instrumentation. It is also the beginning of his double beats that follow one another. And above all, it's the beginning of the Drake trying out the Trap, and that's very important. To put it in context, the Trap that we know today (I'm not talking about the Gucci Mane/Jeezy/T.I. Holy Trinity Trap) began to take its true form in the early 2010's, supported by the Drill and this Atlanta scene in the midst of reconstruction. Started From the Bottom, the reference of his early relationship with the Trap released in 2013, has despite what one might think managed to offer a modern Pop Trap for the time, which will later be realized with Worst Behavior. While the Trap turnaround was finally almost inevitable for a popular rapper, Drake was still a novice, but these first successful prototypes allowed him to evolve his flow, his formulas for all of his subsequent music. If you add to all of his arguments the excellent songs Hold On We're Going Home, Wu Tang Forever, Tell Me or 305 to My City, I would say that Nothing Was The Same is also calibrated to hold the throne of the best album in his discography, as it supports a new direction while offering almost flawless content. However, this is not my opinion because the first place is reserved for another project.
If You Reading This its too late, the absolute achievement
“When I pull up on a nigga tell that nigga back, back
I'm too good with these words, watch a nigga backtrack
If I die, all I know is I'm a mothafuckin' legend
It's too late for my city, I'm the youngest nigga reppin'”
Drake – Legend / 2015
Objectively, in the end, Take Care had everything to be the best album because that's really when Drake proved the most. With hindsight and years of debate, it's a bit of a gamble, but for me his surprise mixtape If You Reading This It's Too Late is clearly the one that deserves its first place. It's time for the last part of this review, because let's be honest, the projects that follow are far from being at the level of anything that happened before Views. That doesn't mean that the post-If You Reading projects are pleasant with some really sensational pop songs. First of all, I would say that IYRTITL is Drake's artistic culmination project, achieving the perfection of everything Drake has tried to achieve so far. It's perhaps not insignificant that Drake's best project is coming out in 2015, the most prolific Hip Hop year of 2010 in my opinion [just a minute of silence for this magnificent year: To Pimp a Butterfly, Rodeo, Summertime '06, DS2, Barter 6 etc... I have shivers down my spine]. The very history of IYRTITL is fascinating, already in its promotion. Rumors were circulating of a potential mixtape as a kind of aperitif with its 4th album Views, Drake surprised his world by delivering it without too much warning on streaming platforms like the eponymous album of Beyoncé released in 2013. A mixtape that was initially supposed to be free before Cash Money got involved, anticipating the huge success that the earthquake would cause. Even before listening to it, this project is already iconic, like its sober black and white cover, looking like a kind of death threat letter. Everything seemed to herald Drake's anger against the world, offering an impressive break from his fragile and sympathetic initial character. IYRTITL also releases a lot of enigmas that the listener tries to solve, notably led by the famous number "6", of which 2 true logical meanings appeared. The first one indicates the 6th anniversary of his mixtape So Far Gone, and the other one is a kind of code that Drake associates with his city of Toronto. These symbols and signs are precisely one of the threads of the mixtape, creating a kind of mystery around this project. Unlike previous projects, Noah Shebib "40" is more in the background, leaving room for other regular producers, such as Boi-1da, who were better placed to offer him trap beats. Nevertheless, the spectre of Noah Shebib "40" remains very visible on the whole project, even when he is not involved, where we capture the essence of his musicality. An achievement and a perfection which do not come by chance, since IYRTITL also marks a kind of return to the themes linked to his home town, perhaps even more than before. The magical introduction Legend, a charismatic and minimalist R&B lesson, immediately announces Drake's colors and state of mind. To understand it, we have to go back to 2014, which heralds the beginning of hostilities (especially the 0 to 100 freestyle), when Drake begins to compete with other rappers and thus asserts its place as "number 1" in the Hip Hop game, as against Jay Z and then Meek Mill in the year 2015. We're also thinking of a young Canadian rapper who's also getting a lot of attention: Tory Lanez.The Legend song can also be understood as a hidden attack against it. Going from a nice rapper, a former teenage TV show actor, who finds it hard to be relevant to a confident and unbridled freestyler. And just when you're getting close to the top, showing character is your only way out. That's exactly what Drake fought for, even though it was often a kind of healthy competition. The beginning of the mixtape features a series of Bangers Trap where Drake displays his anger, venom, ego trip and a set of tributes to his city and especially to the Jamaican community in a popular part of his city. Never before had his hip hop performance and interpretation been so powerful and masterful on his part, which again brings us back to the idea of personal achievement and perfection. Note also the magnificent transitions that IYRTITL exudes, which shows the fantastic realization of this mixtape, as well as its hybrid double instrumental which offers an important variation and versatility, making it possible to hold the intensity of the project. It might make you laugh, look at it more closely, I'm sure that most contemporary Hip Hop classics very often contain a phone call like on Star67 (which reminds us of Marvin's Room.) IYRTITL is also the highlight of PartyNextDoor, producer of Legend, lead singer of Preach and Wesnesday Night Interlude. A very important shadow element for Drake, but it's not the only example since the mixtape offers time for Travis Scott, producers like Wondergurl and Sevn Thomas. To this day I'm still in admiration for the demented rendering of Compagny. Finally if IYRTITL shows a real progression in Drake's Hip Hop interpretation, the Canadian excels as never before in his vocals throughout the album, like the amazing Jungle or Now & Forever.
When Drake reached the end of his limits
You will have understood it, one cannot even roughly say "there is nothing to throw on IYRTITL" because on the contrary everything is memorable and perfectly set up. After a lot of reflection where I notice a very similar level between several albums, because they all have arguments of choice and without having badly aged which is something very rare. So I think that IYRTITL remains his best performance. To put it simply, this mixtape is the coup de grâce that will allow him to reach this famous glass ceiling and to remain forever a legend of contemporary Hip Hop. Of course, there is a lot of controversy around the writing of this project with multiple ghostwriters like the famous Quentin Miller, but in the end it doesn't really matter when we talk about Drake. We know that he's smart, that he vampires what's best in others to use it to his advantage. We also know that his production team is vital. Yet despite his fierce methods, we must not forget all that Drake has brought to the table over the past six years. To go even further in the analysis, that's what we notice later on when Drake sinks into this unhealthy methodology and gradually loses its creativity. The album Views, which arrives in 2016, was supposed to be this famous album of achievement, instead this album is characterized by the beginning of the downfall. It gives way to a freewheeling Drake, relying on trends and deliberately steering itself into as much pop as possible and detaching itself from its singularity. It is largely because of this deviation and limitations that Drake will never be considered one of the best rappers of all time...
Discography (without EP)//
If You're Redding This It's Too Late (2015 / Mixtape) 89
Take Care (2011 / Album) 88
Nothing Was The Same (2013 /Album) 84
Thank Me Later (2010 / Album) 81
More Life (2017 / Playlist) 77
So Far Gone (2009 / Mixtape) 72
What a Time to Be Alive [with Future] (2015 / Mixtape) 71
Views (2016 / Album) 69
Dark Lane Demo Tapes (2020 / Mixtape) 69
Scorpions (2018 / Album) 57
Comeback Season (2007 / Mixtape) 53
Room For Improvement (2006 / Mixtape) 44
A small parenthesis for the More Life playlist, which from its format emerges from the rest of his projects. That's why, even though it has a higher rating than So Far Gone, I thought it was not necessary to talk about it if we base it on the review's problematic. Personally, I really appreciate More Life, because of its design, its coherence, its versatility and its contributors that make this playlist really enjoyable to browse, either fully or partially.