Drake combines the yin and yang of hip-hop in ways that seemed impossible until he showed up. He’s a blockbuster pop heartthrob who doubles as a rap warrior, having more feelings per bar than anyone else in the game. He’s mastered the more-is-more streaming economy, with a crazy sprawl of albums, mixtapes, deep cuts, one-off loosies, duets, SoundCloud digital dashes. Hold on, we’re going home.
Drake’s big creative breakthrough proved he can swerve from the street to the club to the after-hours drunk-dialing disaster without losing any of himself along the way. The title duet with Rihanna radiates erotic tension, and in “Headlines” and “The Motto” he takes care of hip-hop braggadocio. But after the party’s over, he opens up with “Marvin’s Room,” the ultimate late-night confession of loneliness. It also has the ultimate Drakean lament: “I’ve had sex four times this week, I’ll explain/ I’m having a hard time adjusting to fame.”
His defining album, pushing every mood to extremes. Emotionally, he goes from 0 to 100 real quick. Drake hit new heights with the Quiet Storm smash “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” “Started From the Bottom” and “Tuscan Leather” slam hard, and “Wu-Tang Forever” goes for romance. “Worst Behavior” is his thuggest moment ever, down to the comically Canadian title. Who else could get away with “Bar mitzvah money like my last name Mordecai”? Nothing Was the Same remains his most anomalously concise LP — from the last moment in history when Drake had any commercial incentive to hold back.
A surprise double LP, revealing more than anyone wanted to know about the passion and pain of Aubrey G. The titles tell you where he’s coming from: “In My Feelings,” “I’m Upset,” “Jaded,” “Emotionless.” People complained at first it was way too much, but with this guy, way too much is the point. And Scorpion is masterful from start to finish. “Summer Games” is a blast of New Wave synth-pop, and “Nice for What” combines New Orleans bounce with a Lauryn Hill soul hook. It’s too soon to tell how history will rate “In My Feelings,” with its controversial lament for a mysterious girl named Kiki, but it might just get remembered as the song that capsized the Kanye era. When Drake takes Pusha T’s bait and agonizes over sucking at fatherhood, he converts an L to a W (or at least a T) as only he can.
The mixtape that put him on the map as an MC, not to mention his long-running production wingman Noah “40” Shebib. “Houstatlantavegas” is a song that helped define the Drake enigma — introspective, miserable, yet also petty and bratty and self-sabotaging. In other words, a totally accurate introduction to the Drake that the world would come to know and love.
His collabo with Future is a brilliant quickie — they spent six days banging it out, though it sounds like they might have budgeted in some extra time for late nights at the strip club, flying on booze and pills and regret and shame. Both were feeling cockier than usual, and it shows. Especially when they flex “Jumpman,” which inspired a dance interpretation from Taylor Swift.
A straight-up mixtape that plays to his rap base with rage rants like “10 Bands” and “Energy.” He came to bring the smoke, airing grievances left and right. He complains about a groupie’s dad not sending a thank-you note for the Christmas gift. He even complains about driving his girl to her bar exam through the snow. Getting upset about snow in Toronto? Now that’s peak Drake.
A sprawling 22-song “playlist” — or is it an album? A mixtape? A way of life? Drake makes his big yacht-pop hip-hop statement on More Life. The internationalist flair is a real thrill. It sums up why Drake is a great pop artist — because at heart, he’s a great pop fan, always thirsting for his next new favorite sound.
His debut mixtape, with a title so ridiculously self-deprecating you wonder if he was kidding. True, he was still figuring out how to rap. But “Try Harder” previews his mature style: “Sometimes I feel like Lohan and Hilary Duff are the only ones with enough/To feel what I’m about to say in this song.” Any MC with the nerve to begin a song with those lyrics was clearly an original.
Only Drake would play the comeback card on his second mixtape. He jumps from belligerence to self-parodic pop floss, like in “Asthma Team,” when he yells, “Stop acting like teen girls are my only market.” Comeback Season is his most backpack album, openly influenced by undergrounders like Slum Village.
The official debut of a new pop phenomenon, though not yet the assured “artist as professional mess” he’d become. This was a showcase for pop froth, but it’s bracing to hear him team with Lil Wayne — they sound like they’re from the same place, instead of thousands of miles apart.
A mixed double album, surprisingly underwhelming considering how many hits he parked on it. By the time Views came out, “Hotline Bling” was already a pop classic, and it was hard to ignore that it demolished the other 19 songs surrounding it on Views. These days, Views sounds like a dry run for the global pop scope of More Life and Scorpion.
An early thematic statement, one that he’s kept revisiting ever since, from “5AM in Toronto” to “6PM in New York.” It could have been a defining song on his debut — except it just missed the album deadline.
A Gucci Mane banger from The Cold War: Guccimerica, with Drake trading rhymes with Gucci and Killer Mike.
“I talk slicker than a pimp from Augusta,” Drizzy proclaims here. It was a game-changer for the Boy, flaunting his diamond-life lover-boy lifestyle of posh ennui, as he cops to feeling full of “Marvin Gaye shit.” Although he never put this on an album, he did a sequel on Nothing Was the Same: “Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2.”
For a while there, Drake and 40 were scheming to do a mixtape of full-on Nineties-style R&B. “I Get Lonely Too” has a lean Atlanta sound — based on TLC’s “Fan Mail” — that could have been a TRL-era chart-topper.
One of those internet sensations where Drake stunts on someone else’s beat — here, Jai Paul’s “BTSTU,” which Drake sets out to decorate with his own rhyme but ends up claiming as his own.
Drake and 40 team up with James Fauntleroy, bowing to Ms. Carter while slicing up a loop of “Say My Name.” Nobody knew it yet, but Bey was secretly prepping her Drizzy duet “Mine.” Rapping about Beyoncé makes him meditate on why he can’t be a better man, a real proto-Lemonade mood. A touching confession: “I need someone I leave through the front door with.”
A SoundCloud duet with J. Cole, paying respect to titans of Nineties R&B. They sound so deep in the Nineties pocket, the track is suitable for airplay on the Box. (Another great Drake tribute to Jodeci: “How Bout Now.”)
Drake gets to play Paul McCartney here, with the hip-hop answer to “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” — in other words, he combines two totally unrelated songs into a six-minute opus of a single that’s profoundly weird, yet one the radio couldn’t resist.
“Man, this shit is not a love song/This is a ‘fuck a stripper on the mink rug’ song.” For once, he’s not kidding himself — it really isn’t a love song. He’s busy nursing grudges against his enemies.
Drake adds his two bits to the Ramriddlz electro-sleaze hit, resulting in a viral duet that never got officially released but makes an already dirty song even filthier.
In the summer of 2015, Meek Mill came for Drake’s head, charging him with high crimes against hip-hop — specifically, using ghostwriters. Drake hit back even harder with this — hearing them slug it out was one of the summer’s radio highlights.
Four days after “Charged Up,” Drake came back again with his knockout punch. The cover artwork is baseball great Joe Carter hitting the home run that won the 1993 World Series: i.e., the moment when Toronto dunked on Meek’s hometown, Philly. Best boast: “Very important and very pretentious.”
The long-running story of Rihanna and Drake: These two just can’t let it go. In the tradition of “What’s My Name?” and “Take Care,” they duet about the thin line between love and sex, with Rihanna going full Caribbean with her patois. One of Drake’s most awesomely doofy pickup lines: “If you had a twin, I would still choose you.”
A victory-lap anthem — Drake compares himself to “Jimi Hendrix with the solo,” because he’s bold as love. He also compares his swimming pool to Kanye’s: “Look, man, ‘Ye’s pool is nice — mine’s just bigger, is what I’m saying.” Never change, Drake.