It’s not hard to find 100 Drake songs worth compiling into a list of his best work. In an era when rappers drop multiple albums/mixtapes/”projects”/whatever in a calendar year, the Toronto artist also known as Aubrey Drake Graham has been as prolific as anyone. On Nov. 4, he’ll release Her Loss, a full-length collaboration with Atlanta-via-London rapper 21 Savage. It’s his third project in just over 12 months, following Certified Lover Boy from September 2021, and Honestly, Nevermind last June. There’s a surplus of material, and more than a few standouts to appreciate.
Yet some rap fans sick of hearing about the 6 God will complain: Why does Drake need more shine? Since scoring his first Billboard top-two hit with “Best I Ever Had” in 2009, he’s been omnipresent, as unavoidable as the weather. Just as his incredible chart success has brought him pop ubiquity, so has it fueled a chorus of naysayers who won’t accept him as one of the greats, whether that’s among past heroes such as Jay-Z and Lil Wayne, or current icons like Kendrick Lamar, Future, and Young Thug. His tabloid romances with women both famous and relatively unknown, his meme-able videos, and his very public and ostentatious display of wealth all seem to distract from serious discussion and, yes, appreciation of his music.
If a list like this can accomplish anything, then it’s to refocus attention on his art. His catalog may be thematically narrow, circling around familiar stories of growing up in Canada, grinding away in home studios in search of a distinctive sound, and achieving instant global fame along with all the problems that brings. But it’s a rich sonic tapestry. There are clear differences between “Find Your Love” and “Passionfruit,” two songs on which he memorably exploded the concept of the rapper as crooner. His verbal techniques and vocal cadences on “Energy” are more sophisticated than early cuts such as “Headlines.” And while his portraits of women remain a work in progress, there’s clear growth from the paternalism of “Houstatlantavegas” to the exuberant celebration of female persistence that is “Nice for What.”
Even the most hardened rap nerd will concede that “Crew Love” was a moment, and “Jumpman” sounds great when cranked up to 11 in an arena; a few might even admit that they retweeted a meme inspired by “Hotline Bling.” Maybe Drake has had so many hits, whether they’re the Billboard kind or simply songs that impacted the culture, that it’s easy to blur them all together. After all, he’s arguably the unofficial king of streaming who seemingly reigns all year round from June to June, as GZA once rapped. But it’s worth sifting through the wheat of Drake’s career, and figuring out which songs are flawed gems, bright diamonds, or rough drafts that led to better pieces. Nearly 20 years after the release of his debut mixtape, Room for Improvement, it’s time to dig deeper.