When Drake hit the scene he was the hottest newcomer to the game. A teen-actor from Degrassi: The Next Generation turned singer/rapper, he got the music world to listen to him with a big sign from Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment. Accompanied by Wayne-sounding flows and hits like “Over,” he got everyone tuning in by being able to brag about himself like a car salesman, but once he had you, he hit you with his R&B material.
It was music that dealt with all of the same topics as rap—fame, women, success—but they were R&B songs mixed in with the more brag-rap tracks on his debut Thank Me Later, and they most often supported strong, independent women. He got big name features like Lil Wayne, Jeezy, and T.I. talking about trying to woo real women in a way that didn’t sound misogynistic, and his un-affiliation with gang life and drugs made him appealing as the confident gentlemen—both a rap star and a role model.
Kanye West might have brought emotion and vulnerability to rap with 808’s & Heartbreak, but although Drake’s Thank Me Later is still about him (Pitchfork reported he says the word “I” 410 times), it was more pop-lyric oriented, and not about the death of Kanye’s mom or a massive break-up.
Thank Me Later and Take Care were about little ol’ Drake going about town, being classy, and wanting to be real with these women he was dating. It made vulnerability and rap finally come together in a world where seeming “hard” was the coolest thing a rapper could do. Drake is corny as all hell, playing the nice guy who never gets any love, and is showed the world that being labeled “soft” was okay as long as you were also being true to yourself.
Recently in his career, however; over the course of his latest four albums, Drake’s character has become so stagnant that he often sounds like a caricature of himself. His failed relationships are always the woman’s fault, never placing the blame on himself, and he has an unnecessary fear, border-lining on paranoia, that everyone is out to get him.
It all started with Meek Mill calling him out for using ghostwriters, and Drake’s brutal assault seemingly ending Meek’s career. Clearly the one on the less-favored side of the argument, Meek hasn’t commented on the feud in years, as he dealt with his breakup with Nicki Minaj and unlawful imprisonment. Drake, on the other hand, was still rapping about it on his “playlist” album More Life, and the events of the feud probably birthed his fear that no one likes him.
He even came after Kid Cudi when the Man on the Moon singer dissed him on social media, despite Cudi later apologizing that he didn’t mean what he said because it was just a cry for help due to his low mental health. Drake still went way too far with his diss on his track “Two Birds, One Stone,” rapping: “You were the man on the moon, now you just go through your phases / Life of the angry and famous … You stay xanned and perc’d up, so when reality set in, you don’t gotta face it… Look what happens soon as you talk to me crazy.” The comments were not only in incredibly poor taste, but had little to no effect on Drake save fueling his paranoia that everyone is out to get him.
So where’s Drake now? Maybe way less mean, but pretty much in the same place when it comes to his personal life and ego. On “God’s Plan,” he not only tells a woman who says she loves him that he only loves “my bed and my momma, I’m sorry,” he also further perpetuates the fear that there are “a lot of bad things that they’re wishing on me.”
He may be doing amazing things outside of his work, such as donating millions to those in need and highlighting women in the entertainment industry, but within his music he’s still as self-centered, jaded, and needy as his overly-caricatured self.
On “Nice For What,” a ladies turn, girls night out of a Drake song, the singer/rapper seems to have realized where he’s succeeded the most over the past couple of years—on radio pop hits like “One Dance,” “Passionfruit,” and “Hotline Bling”—tracks that speak vaguely about relationships and largely appeal to general pop music listeners.
I’m not sure where Drake is heading on his upcoming album Scorpion, but he’s a bonafide hit maker and he’ll always have the penchant for melody and great production. Trying to be relatable without growth or character development however, can only go on so long.