As the 2010s come to a close, rappers are beginning to look backwards. Drake put his 2009 mixtape So Far Gone on streaming services for the first time in February; Chance the Rapper followed suit, making several of his releases officially monetizable at the end of June. Drake returned Friday with Care Package, a collection of one-offs and loosies he sprinkled onto the internet earlier this decade. At this point, you should expect Future to put Monster and 56 Nights on Spotify any day now.
There may be a reason for all this hip-hop nostalgia: The supremacy of rappers who were dominant earlier in the 2010s is waning. (The same can be said of pop stars — witness Taylor Swift’s inability to wrest Number One from the vice-like grip of Lil Nas X.) In Drake’s case, the decline is partially due to a temporary lull in his release schedule. While he has released at least one new album or mixtape every year since 2014, 2019 has only brought an unremarkable celebration of the Raptors’ victory in the NBA finals.
But there’s also a shucking off of creative authority in progress — we no longer live in a universe where Drake can boast “your new shit sound like you do covers of all of my old shit,” as he does on Care Package‘s “Jodeci Freestyle.” Up-and-coming R&B singers once imitated Drake, but now they are reaching past his catalog, searching instead for Nineties hip-hop soul (Jacquees, Ari Lennox) and light sophistifunk (Snoh Aalegra, Daniel Caesar).
At the same time, rising rappers either commandeer the conversation with viral curios (“Ransom,” “Uno”) or sound like A Boogie wit da Hoodie. Calboy, YK Osiris, Lil Baby and others may be indebted to the rap-singing Drake did when they were 12, but they represent a very different aesthetic. The rapper once boasted that “every song sound like Drake featuring Drake” (Care Package track “5 AM in Toronto”), but that’s not the case today.
While Drake is no longer pop’s creative North Star, he remains a commercial titan, omnipresent as the air we breathe. He currently makes five appearances on Rolling Stone‘s Top 100, including three duets in the Top Ten. His remix of Summer Walker’s “Girls Need Love” is still played over 2,000 times a week on the radio, while “Nice for What” racks up another 500 plays every seven days.
In fact, the demand for Drake’s music is so high that his oldies still outsell almost everything new. In February, So Far Gone debuted at Number Five and was the third most-streamed album of the week. Considering that no major releases came out on Friday, Drake’s Care Package may be battling for Number One — probably with Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? and Ed Sheeran’s No.6 Collaborations Project — even though the star did not record a single fresh note.
Care Package is archetypal Drake; so Drake-like that it’s actually surprising that these songs were not included on the slew of full-lengths the rapper released earlier this decade. Drake put out “Paris Morton Music” — a rework of Rick Ross’ “Aston Martin Music” with Ross excised — in 2010; he released “Can I,” an odd song that tries to reduce Beyoncé to a background element, in 2015. Five years make little difference, and the tracks breathe easily next to each other.
That’s because Drake has been refining many of the same ideas for the last ten years. You know these attitudes, the appealingly schizophrenic swings from bruised to blustery, and these stances, preening one moment and curling up in the fetal position the next. You’ve heard Drake enhance his own considerable melodic gifts with samples and interpolations from unimpeachable R&B records (Jodeci, Lauryn Hill) or contributions from despondent Englishmen (Jai Paul, Sampha). The production style of Noah “40” Shebib, who oversaw several of the tracks collected on Care Package, is as recognizable and impressive as Mount Rushmore, elegant, unobtrusive and overwhelming at the same time.
Even though the songs on Care Package are old, their official appearance at this moment makes sense in the context of Drake’s discography. He was already looking back on Scorpion, the first Drake album of the decade that suggested a holding pattern. Rather than trying different flows, readjusting the proportion of singing to rapping in his songs, or plugging new musics from abroad, he has been retracing his steps, shoring up and polishing past accomplishments. “Jaded” and “8 out of 10” could have come out eight years ago — at times it sounded like Drake’s new shit was covers of his old shit.
Maybe, then, this marks a new stage in Drake’s career. Care Package reaffirms Drake’s inescapability, but it also signals that his career’s first remarkable expansion is over; a storm has given way, for now, to an ebb tide. And after a comfortable period of consolidation, he can set his sights on growth again — if he wants to.