As the decade begins to wind down, there is a lot of discussion and debate on the horizon. These upcoming discussions and debates over the past decade in music will be centered upon the most crucial elements of musical legacy- cultural impact, boldness, creativity, novelty, longevity.
It would be awfully difficult to have a rational discussion over the past decade in music without mentioning Aubrey Graham.
When we look back on the 80s, for example, artists such as Michael Jackson and Prince are among the first to come to mind.
When we eventually look back on the 2010s, Drake will undoubtedly be one of the first artists to come to mind. We would be lying to ourselves if we said otherwise.
Ever since his “big break” following the release of 2010’s Thank Me Later, Drake has only gained more steam with each release. He has continued to show evolution on each album, proving year-in and year-out that he is one of the most dedicated and talented artists in the industry. Very few artists have honed their craft in the way Drake has.
In addition to his musical mastery, Drake has made a profound impact on pop culture as a whole- from acting to fashion; from memes to catchphrases- Drake has solidified his success by intelligently capitalizing on his multifaceted array of talents, fusing them all together into a distinguishable experience. Drake’s influence reaches to nearly every corner of pop culture.
He keeps his friends close, and his enemies closer. Drake is a titan in the game, truly playing in a league of his own. He plays by his own rules- the rest of the game just follows suit.
In honor of a decade of dominance, I see no one else more fit for the October Genius of the Month than Drake. October is known as Drizzy’s month, so that’s a plus. In usual GOTM fashion, I will break down the epic story of Aubrey Graham and take my shot at articulating what makes him such a unique talent. Here goes:
Aubrey Drake Graham was born October 24, 1986 in his illustrious hometown of Toronto. He was born to Dennis Graham, a drummer for Jerry Lee Lewis, and Sandra Graham, a florist. His parents divorced when Drake was 5, resulting in Drake staying in Toronto with his mom and traveling to Memphis to see his dad every summer. Drake’s mother was Jewish, placing him in Jewish Day School as a child. Drake also celebrated a Bar Mitzvah.
Drake and his mother lived in two Toronto neighborhoods. As a child, they lived in the Weston Road area where he grew up playing minor hockey. They later moved to Forest Hill, an affluent neighborhood where they could only afford to share a house with another family. Drake attended two different high schools, first beginning his acting career while attending Forest Hill Collegiate Institute. He later attended Vaughan Road Academy, where he claims he was bullied for his racial and religious background. He later dropped out of school due to the demands of his growing acting career.
Drake’s big break as an actor came through the teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation. Drake played the infamous role of Jimmy Brooks, a basketball star who became paralyzed following a school shooting. Drake was able to attain the role through a friend’s dad who happened to be an acting agent. Drake was on the show from 2001 to 2007, appearing in a total of 145 episodes.
Following his exit from the show, Drake began to focus in on his music career. In 2006, he released his debut mixtape- Room for Improvement. The debut tape featured Trey Songz and Lupe Fiasco and saw production from fellow Canadians Boi-1da and Frank Dukes. Drake described Room for Improvement as "pretty straightforward and radio friendly.” Drake returned with his follow-up mixtape, Comeback Season, in 2007. Comeback Season brought Drake to prominence as the first unsigned Canadian rapper to have his music video played on MTV (“Replacement Girl”).
In 2009, Drake broke through the underground with the release of his third mixtape, So Far Gone. The commercially successful mixtape featured Lil Wayne, Omarion, Lloyd, and Bun B. Drake attained many of his first major accolades with So Far Gone, debuting at number 6 on the Billboard 200 and receiving gold certifications for “Best I Ever Had” and “Successful,” with “Best I Ever Had” peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s safe to say that So Far Gone changed Drake’s life, putting him on an international stage after years of grinding in the underground.
The next chapter would be even more impactful for Drake.
THANK ME LATER - TAKE CARE
Released in summer 2010 after multiple delays, Thank Me Later made a massive splash as the debut studio album from Toronto’s prodigy. Thank Me Later was successful in spawning a number of singles that went on to become major, career-defining hits- “Over,” “Find Your Love,” “Miss Me,” and “Fancy.” All four of the singles off Thank Me Later made their way onto the Billboard Hot 100, with the Kanye West-produced “Find Your Love” erupting into a top-10 hit.
Thank Me Later was an unprecedented commercial success for Drake, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 and selling a whopping 447,000 copies in only the first week. Thank Me Later earned Drake his seat at the table of rap stars, serving as a braggadocious first real look into his life. Drake noted Nas and Andre 3000 as influences behind the album, claiming that he studied them closely while crafting Thank Me Later.
Thank Me Later also bolstered more star-studded features and producers than ever before for October's Very Own. The album received guest appearances from Alicia Keys, Nicki Minaj, TI, Swizz Beats, The-Dream, Young Jeezy, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne. In addition to Yeezy, producers ranged from Noah "40" Shebib, Boi-1da, No ID, Francis and the Lights, and Timbaland. These contributors helped make Thank Me Later Drake’s bold entry into the game.
Following praise and touring, Drake smoothly returned with his sophomore studio album in the fall of 2011. Take Care was Drake’s first truly sonically cohesive album, the result of him entrusting his right-hand man 40 as the executive producer. While Thank Me Later did numbers, like insane numbers, Drake was unpleased with the sporadic sonic themes across his debut album. After linking back up with 40, the two were able to create a seamless R&B-rap hybrid album.
Amongst fans and pop culture enthusiasts, Take Care is known as Drake’s most R&B-heavy album; in turn being known as his “softest” album. Notorious tracks such as “Marvin’s Room” and “Doing it Wrong” have become synonymous with what the kids call, “the feels.” However, Take Care is a well-rounded spectacle that boasts many of Drake’s most notable hits- “The Motto” (ft. Lil Wayne), “Headlines,” “HYFR” (ft. Lil Wayne), “Make Me Proud” (ft. Nicki Minaj), and “Crew Love” (ft. The Weeknd). In addition to those three guests, Drake and crew wrangled in a diverse cast of vocalists and producers. Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Rick Ross, Andre 3000, and Birdman contributed verses while producers such as Jamie xx, T-Minus, Doc McKinney, and Just Blaze contributed their own special sauces to the album. This diverse group of guests is arguably what made Take Care such a special album.
Oh, and if you thought Thank Me Later did numbers, Take Care sold 631,000 copies its first week and obviously debuted at number one.
NOTHING WAS THE SAME - IF YOU’RE READING THIS IT’S TOO LATE
With his freshman and sophomore albums boldly establishing his place at the top of the rap game, his confidence was seen as clear as day on 2013’s Nothing Was the Same. Drake pulled all of his tricks out of the bag for this one.
Many fans, including myself, consider NWTS to be Drake’s best body of work. With an artist who has such a stacked discography, it’s always hard to pinpoint their best work. However, Drake’s pure talent, passion, and precision shines through on NWTS in a way that, quite frankly, none of his other albums accomplish. In an interview with GQ, this is what Drake had to say about the inspiration behind NWTS:
"This is my fucking moment to say if I wanted to rap all the time, really rap, I would, but I also love to make music. I'll do this for you right now. But it's for me, too. It's my story…I'm trying to get back to that kid in the basement. To say what he has to say. And I'm trying to make it last.”
As he wanted to level up from Thank Me Later with Take Care, he wanted to level up from Take Care with NWTS. A constantly-evolving artist, Drake was heavily inspired by Marvin Gaye at the time of crafting NWTS. While Take Care is widely considered to be Drake’s R&B passion project, NWTS might be even more R&B inspired. On the standard edition, Jay-Z was the only rap feature; the other features were Jhene Aiko, Majid Jordan, Detail, and Sampha.
NWTS set another career-high for Drake, reeling in 658,000 first week.
As usual, Drake took some time off to tour and recuperate following the release of NWTS. While 2014 was a quiet year for Drizzy, he shocked the world with a surprise project in early 2015.
Considered a “commercial mixtape,” If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late grabbed the rap game by its balls. While it has its fair share of R&B cuts, rap Drake is seen at full force on IYRTITL.
PARTYNEXTDOOR, Travis Scott, and Lil Wayne were the only features seen on IYRTITL, perfectly complementing the project’s sound and style. As IYRTITL had the least features seen across Drake’s major releases, he ultimately used that to prove that he can run the show with minimal assistance. Smash hits such as “Legend,” “Energy,” “10 Bands,” “Know Yourself,” and “Jungle” put Drake’s individual star-power on full display.
IYRTITL broke the record for most Spotify streams first week (17.3 million) and put Drake at the top of the charts for the fourth time.
4 for 4.
WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE - VIEWS
Later in 2015, Drake linked up with Future for one of the greatest collab albums of our time.
What a Time To Be Alive had Future hot off DS2 and Drake hot off IYRTITL. One could argue that both Drake and Future were in their prime when they dropped this masterpiece; in other words, they both had the juice on this one.
Executively produced by Metro Boomin, WATTBA was a diverse collection of trap anthems. Some tracks are bold and upbeat- “Digital Dash,” “Jumpman,” “Big Rings,” “I’m the Plug.” Some tracks are dream-like and laidback- “Scholarships,” “Plastic Bag,” “Change Locations.” Drake’s own “30 for 30 Freestyle,” an elegant piano-led track with ice cold bars, is one of the album’s highlights in addition to Future’s own “Jersey.”
WATTBA debuted at number one with 375,000 units; it was the second number one album of the year for both Drake and Future.
Right in time for summer 2016, Drake returned with his fourth studio album, Views- one of his most experimental works to date. Views is where Drake began to implement his “island” sound, notably taking inspiration from Carribbean culture and music; tracks such as “Controlla,” “One Dance” (ft. Wizkid & Kyla), and “Child’s Play” were influenced by this new-found aspect of Drake especially. These tracks have a distinct dancehall influence, perfectly spliced into Drake’s typical rap-R&B sauce.
Aside from the venture into island music, Views was a sharp rap album with hits such as “Pop Style” (originally featuring Kanye and Jay-Z), “Grammys” (ft. Future), “Views,” “Hype,” “9,” and “Still Here.” Hybrid tracks such as “Hotline Bling,” “With You” (ft. PARTYNEXTDOOR), and “Too Good” (ft. Rihanna) went on to make a major cultural impact in 2016.
Despite mixed critical reviews, Views made a monstrous debut with 852,000 copies first week.
MORE LIFE - SCORPION
Following the commercial success of Drake’s island-inspired vibes, he built off of that sound on 2017’s More Life with songs such as "Passionfruit," "Blem," "Madiba Riddim," "Get it Together" (ft. Black Coffee & Jorja Smith), and "Glow" (ft. Kanye West). Even more than the island sounds, however, he incorporated influence from the UK- linking up with grime artists Skepta and Giggs and singers Jorja Smith and Sampha. British/Jamaican slang is scattered consistently throughout More Life, serving as its first introduction to many American listeners.
More Life is described as "A Playlist by October Firm." In playlist fashion, the tracks flow into each other seamlessly and many of them have cross-faded transitions, most notably seen between "4422," and "Gyalchester". Within Drake's discography, More Life is considered a "commercial mixtape."
At 22 tracks, More Life is arguably Drake's most well-rounded project to date. There are tracks where he raps his ass off- "Free Smoke," "Sacrifices" (ft. 2 Chainz & Young Thug), "KMT" (ft. Giggs), "Lose You," and "Do Not Disturb." There are tracks where he sings his ass off- "Since Way Back" (ft. PARTYNEXTDOOR), "Teenage Fever," "Ice Melts" (ft. Young Thug), and "Fake Love." More Life embraced diversity to create its "playlist" feel, supplying sounds for all moods and occasions.
In summer 2018, Drake shared his most expansive hybrid album with the world- Scorpion.
As Drake's fifth studio album, Scorpion was a double album comprised of A and B sides. The A side was predominantly rap, while the B side was predominantly R&B and pop.
This move from Drake was genius; people debated over the A and B side all summer. The A side boasted tracks such as "Nonstop," "Emotionless," "God's Plan," "I'm Upset," "Mob Ties," "Can't Take a Joke," and "Sandra's Rose."
The B side gained traction from tracks such as "Jaded," Nice for What," "Blue Tint," "In My Feelings," "After Dark" (ft. Static Major & Ty Dolla Sign), and the rare "Don't Matter to Me" (ft. Michael Jackson). If getting unreleased Michael Jackson vocals on your album isn't the ultimate flex, then I don't know what is.
Aside from music, Drake has also made quite an impact in the arenas of fashion, acting, sports, and business. He owns his own label, OVO Sound, with producer 40 and manager Oliver El-Khatib, distributed through Warner Records and a part of their October's Very Own brand.
Drake is heavily engaged with the Toronto Raptors, being named their "Global Ambassador" in 2013 after becoming one of the team's most notable fans. The Raptors training facility was even rebranded as the "OVO Athletic Centre" this past year. Following their 2019 NBA Finals victory, Drake released his two-song The Best in the World pack.
The businessman he is, Drake has inked deals with brands such as Apple Music and Sprite and also has his own whiskey brand- Virginia Black. As of last year, the Virginia Black brand has been publicly traded.
While his acting career has been quiet since he gained traction with his music, he has popped up in movies such as Ice Age: Continental Drift and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. He has made multiple appearances on Saturday Night Live and serves as an executive producer for the HBO drama Euphoria and the Netflix crime show Top Boy.
Aubrey Drake Graham is one of the most important talents of our generation.
Without him, the culture would be immensely weaker.
Thank you, Drake.