Words by Ziyanda Ntloko
To be a Drake fan is to never be satisfied. Since his début in 2009, Drake has meticulously crafted himself from a seemingly non-threatening Young Money rookie into a wildly successful artist and pop culture phenomenon. With a discography spanning 6 mixtapes, 4 studio albums, 2 EPs, multi-platinum singles, a bevy of features and countless awards – Drake has successfully had this generation in a choke-hold for over a decade. Any Drizzy release automatically generates a significant amount of hype and there are few artists who have the superstar status he so easily wields. With a never-ending demand for new music, 2018 sees him on the cusp of his 5th album, possibly dropping within the next few weeks, and a record breaking #1 song in God’s Plan currently occupying the top Billboard spot for it’s 10th consecutive week, you can almost smell Drake season coming. What better way to prep than to revisit his dense catalogue so let’s take a look back and salute to Aubrey Graham’s best*.
20. Forever – ft Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Eminem
“Last name ever, first name greatest.” Appearing on the soundtrack to LeBron James documentary More Than a Game, this braggadocios line is not only a nod to the film’s subject matter but also Drake’s self-declaration as the best. Rap is a sport and on a track featuring three of the best rappers ever on a horn-heavy Boi-1da beat, Drake stepped up to the challenge. If anyone had been sleeping on him before, this was Drake introducing himself and marking his place in the game. In retrospect, he really wasn’t bluffing.
19. Underground Kings
There’s an overbearing narrative in Drake’s music where he’s both boastfully content and also slightly abhorred at the level of success he’s achieved. A highlight on Take Care, “Underground Kings” sees him examining the journey from his city-centric mixtape days to the peak he now occupies in music. For all that he’s attained, there’s a part of him that wants to get back to his old ways. Success can be a burden and despite all he’s achieved, the crown is heavy.
18. Portland ft Quavo and Travis Scott
A standout on the 22 track playlist, More Life, what’s great about Portland is how it’s really a song about nothing in particular. Drake has a knack for including the most random details in his story-telling and here he raps about a “side girl” with a cracked iPhone screen and what he charges for after-party appearances. There’s great chemistry between him, Quavo and Travis Scott, together with the flute-driven beat and a Michael Phelps reference, this track is just wavy
17. Miss Me ft. Lil Wayne
Based on the title alone, you would think this is one of Drake’s emo cuts but far from it. One of many Weezy F collaborations, the track finds Drake in strip club capital, Atlanta “stacking dollars to the perfect height.” And that’s right before he segues into a proposal to label mate Nicki Minaj. Produced by Boi-1 da and 40 with a 5 star verse from Lil Wayne and a smooth hook, this is a triumphant flex.
16. Find Your Love
There’s a long standing myth of this being a leftover demo from Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak. If Kanye found no use for it, Drizzy was able to create a song that is quintessentially Drake R&B – something in the vein of a cross-Atlantic Craig David. If anything this track proves how he’s able to occupy both spaces of rap and R&B with equal strength.
If there were ever a hype song to end all, it’s this one. Not just the theme track for sports teams, Trophies is a boisterous booster for any situation. The rudest wake up call, the perfect opener on your gym playlist, the pre-club song to pump you up, the post-club banger for the after-party. A Hit Boy and 40 production, those horns will get you going. Drake at his loudest and ignant, this is one of his best victory laps.
14. Best I Ever Had
One of Drake’s strengths is being able to take simple melodies and make them catchy. This is something shown early in his career as Best I Ever Had appears on his 2008 mixtape So Far Gone and to date it features one of his premier hooks. This is the boy-next-door Drake. Dedicated to that special someone that you don’t mind being too cheesy with, it will always have you reminiscing about your school crush days.
13. The Motto ft Lil Wayne
Remember YOLO? A real motto from the Bay Area, this song spread it far and wide. Crazy to think it was only a bonus on Take Care but it’s understandable as the song almost exists outside of the overall contemplative tone of that album. “I’m the fuckin’ man, y’all don’t get it do ya?” Right off the bat, he starts off with what most rappers do best – brag. Over the sparse, clap-heavy beat made up of just an 808 drum kick and a moody bass , Drake and Lil Wayne trade boastful bars about money and their fast lifestyles.
12. One Dance ft Wizkid & Kyla
Drake’s development as an artist is coupled with him being a international superstar and with that, it’s natural for him to draw inspiration from different parts of the world. Culture vulture accusations aside, One Dance is the culmination of Drake as world-wide pop force. Featuring Nigerian star Wizkid and UK singer Kyla, this cultural exchange took the globe and dance-halls by storm.
11. Club Paradise
Leading up to the release of Take Care, Drake released a trifecta of songs, Free Spirit, Round of Applause (a Wacka Flocka cover) and this synth based 40 production. Here Drake grapples with the perils of success by reflecting on the women he used to know in Toronto. Drake’s always tied his association with women from his home town to how in touch he is to home in general. “My biggest fear is losing it all, remember how I used to feel at the start of it?” The Drizzy between Thank Me Later and Take Care is one who’s already achieved success but now finds himself on the cusp of greatness. Drake is at his most potent when he’s this reflective, aware of his scope and potential but also what he’s lost on the way.
10. Tuscan Leather
This 6 minute introduction to arguably Drake’s best album, Nothing was the Same is him on the other side of Take Care‘s massive success. Noah Shebib’s beat is one that transitions effortlessly and sees Drake truly comfortable in his newly-cemented status in the rap game. When an album has an opener as strong as this, it’s hard to think the rest of it won’t follow suit.
9. Crew Love ft The Weeknd
There’s a running joke that The Weeknd wrote Take Care. Of course that’s not true but Abel Tesfaye’s woozy vocals occupying a significant portion of Crew Love, together with production from the Canadian crooner’s own long-time collaborator, Illangelo, this is Drake in The Weeknd’s world. Lucky for him they mesh extremely well together and although the title may suggest it’s a musing on groupies, Drake is again self-reflective about his achievements.
8. Hold on we’re Going Home ft Majid Jordan
You know when something should be corny but somehow isn’t? Hold On is the true essence of that. With an obvious influence from OVO signees Majid Jordan, this finds Drake shamelessly serenading his girl over an 80’s mid-tempo beat. It’s Drake at his most sing-songy and it just works.
7. Know Yourself
Found on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, if you had to look up the definition of crowd pleaser, this would be it. Released just in time for his Boy Meets World Tour, this song seems crafted for stadium audiences. Don’t rush it though because the build up is crucial. Drake delivers the verse in an unsteady, dazed cadence before reaching the dizzying heights where everyone’s screaming “running through the six with my woes”. This is the Six God in his final form.
6. Back to Back
The beef that broke the internet. Who knows what compelled Meek Mill to get on Twitter on July 22 2015 and momentarily derail his career by alleging that Drake doesn’t write his raps. What fast followed was a measured diss from Drake on Charged Up. Meek’s response? Radio silence, except on Twitter and that’s when the memes started. When rumours came that Meek would answer days later, Drake didn’t wait. While everyone was sleeping, Back to Back came out and that pretty much spelled the end for Meek. If Charged Up was the one-two punch, Back to Back was the knock-out. The punchlines, the flows, Meek didn’t stand a chance! “Is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?/ I know that you gotta be a thug for her/ This ain’t what she meant when she told you to open up more.” By the time Meek was ready to go on wax, the towel had been thrown. Lesson learned. To quote The Wire, “you come at the king, you best not miss”.
5. Worst Behaviour
An anthem to stunt on the haters. Live vicariously through Drake as he delivers an arrogant, unapologetic middle finger to every person who underestimated and overlooked him. Over a stammering DJ Dahi beat and the short, snappy sentences that make up the hook, Drake deads all talk that he’s soft. A truly braggadocios banger. If you ever feel guilty for holding a grudge, just put this on and be on your worst behaviour.
4. Hotline Bling
You either hate this or you love it, there no in-between. The hugely successful pre-Views single was for a moment, Drake’s highest charting Billboard song. Carried by an infectiously campy and tropical beat, Drake is more laid back than he’s ever been on here. Together with appropriately vibrant visuals, I don’t think we’d seen Drake quite as immersed in his pop stardom as on this song. Another expertly crafted pop gem to add to his already varied catalogue.
The real is on the rise. Stepping out of rookie status, Drake declares himself a contender. If he was unsure of himself before, here he is now cocky and assertive of his place in the rap game. It’s perhaps the first glimpse of the Drake we see an album later on NWTS. The non-album version of Headlines ends with a spoken word outro that aptly summarizes what drives Drake as an artist and is maybe the true essence of his music: “I heard once that they would rather hear about memories than enemies, rather hear what was and what will be than what is, rather hear how you got it over how much it cost you, rather hear about finding yourself and how you lost you, rather you make this an open letter about family and struggle and it taking forever, about hearts than you’ve broken and ties that you’ve severed, no doubt in my mind, that”ll make them feel better”.
2. Started from the Bottom
We all love a rags to riches story and every rapper seems to have one. Now whether or not Drake truly came from rags to riches growing up in a Toronto suburb, is unimportant because what he’s essentially done here is provide a soundtrack to every person on the come up. From whichever walk of life. The story of overcoming obstacles, being beaten down and getting up each time until you finally reach the mountain top never gets old. The universal appeal of this song is testament to Drake’s innate ability to be relatable to anyone, even if you’ve never lived a life quite like his.
1. Marvin’s Room
The Drakiest Drake of them all. The song that really defined the Take Care era sees Drake at his most emo. From the first seconds you hear the voicemail message over a bare, minimal production, the mood already captures the woozy, lightheaded-ness of early AM phone calls. “I’ve been drinking too much, that I’ma call her anyway”. We’ve all been there and Drake encapsulates the despair, desperation and regret of drunk dialling that only our generation can know of. Marvin’s Room feels like a culmination of many of his other songs, Trust Issues, Houstlantavegas, I Get Lonely – he’s visited a similar sound before but this is Drake’s brand of R&B mastered and among his best overall.
* This list is obviously based entirely on my taste and opinion. You’re welcome to share your own.