In the 10 or so years since Drake first began making noise as a rapper, he has released three albums (and just as many mixtapes), won a Grammy, reigned atop the Billboard charts, become internet fodder for a horde of millennials adept at social media, graced the cover of numerous magazines (including FADER 100), and transformed the sound and face of Toronto’s music scene. Today, he is as dominant a force in our culture as 2Pac in the 1990s or Jay Z in the early-aughts. And so, on the eve of his album Views, we thought it best to take stock of 16 songs that have shaped his legend thus far. This is not a “Best Of” or a ranking of any sort, but an acknowledgement of the songs that represent Drake’s expanding influence in music, culture, and our lives.
“November 18” (2009)
Just seven years ago, Drake was largely unknown, more Canadian curiosity than bankable star. He was a mixed-race kid from the city of Toronto and former child-actor on a teen soap who sang as much as he rapped, and his songs were more like diary entries than big boasts. To say he lacked street credibility would not be inaccurate.
Arguably, it was the slow, syrupy “November 18” that eventually earned Drake accolades and acceptance from the streets. A deeply deferential nod to underground Houston rap culture, it name-checks UGK, Lil Keke, and Texas slang like boppa and candy paint. But what really laid bare Drake’s bonafides is the beat: a cleaned-up version of DJ Screw’s June 27 freestyle tape. It’s perhaps Screw’s most famous tape, using the slowed-down instrumental of a Kriss Kross deep cut (“Da Streets Ain’t Right,” which itself samples Biggie’s “Warning” and The Romantics’ 80s pop hit, “Talking In Your Sleep.”). In true Texas fashion, Drake whispers one verse and screws down another to fit the song’s woozy pace. He even credits DJ Screw as the song’s producer. Proper respect.
In the end, Drake conflates Texas’s “slow” music culture with his approach to sex, declaring, memorably, Pussy’s only pussy and I get it when I need it. It’s what we now think of as quintessential Drake: dramatic, confessional, boyish, and charming all in one. And the place, for me, that serves as the quintessential example for the Peak Drake we now embrace. —JOSEPH PATEL