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Story by Tony Bueno
With this past weekend's release of Drake’s “More Life” playlist, Drizzy continued his trend of stopping the music world in its tracks and forcing us to launch our music streaming apps and give listen to the latest offerings he and the OVO camp have to offer. It feels like it has been this way since he burst onto the hip-hop scene with his critically acclaimed 2009 mixtape ‘So Far Gone’. What that project had to offer other than a pair of Billboard charting singles including ‘Best I Ever Had’ and ‘Successful’, was a sonic makeup consisting of moody instrumentals and backpack rap bars dripping in Young Money influence.
In the 8 years past, Drake has established himself as one of the most, if not the most, successful pop-stars of the 2000’s. Albums released by the Canadian crooner have achieved platinum, quadruple platinum, and triple platinum status. The commercial success has been coupled with plenty of critical accolades that include 27 Grammy nominations, with 3 hardware snags.
Drake seems to have his sights set on a throne that doesn't necessarily coincide with soccer mom friendly pop hits.
What seems to have eluded Drake in his quest for hip-hop domination is the rank of elite MC. While he has already taken the pop world by storm with a plethora of radio friendly hits that include ‘One Dance’, ‘Hotline Bling’, and ’Controlla’ among many others, Drake seems to have his sights set on a throne that doesn’t necessarily coincide with soccer mom friendly pop hits.
Drizzy has his eyes set on the golden throne of hip-hop king, and with the way his sales have been the past 8 years, there isn’t much denying him the seat. He’s running a campaign hell bent on making his position as rap king well heard, and there is no doubt that everyone in the hip hop community has heard his message loud and clear. At this point in his career, Drake is much more concerned about being the best to ever do it in the rap world than he is with trying to get more charted Top 10 singles than Madonna. If he isn’t muttering ‘Top 5, Top 5, Top 5’ over a Southside instrumental, he’s rapping “I’m never washed, but I’m not new, I know I said top 5, but I’m top two.” In the ten month span in which those bars dropped, it seems Drake has surpassed his own top 5 ranking and has narrowed competition to one other MC. Those bars have the whole hip hop community collectively thinking, “Who is the other rapper in Drakes top 2?”.
Without question the other MC is none other than Jay-Z. One can argue it might be Kanye West, but Drake has always treated Kanye as a peer rather than an untouchable member of rap royalty, with the two even collaborating numerous times. Add in the fact that Drizzy has been subliminally dissing Jay-Z for years and it isn’t hard to fathom that he wants to displace Jay from his throne of hip-hop king.
Well, what is keeping Drake from the possibility of ever displacing Jay-Z as the best to ever do it? Numbers aside, there’s a few things. First, while Drake has had an infinite amount of success with radio friendly songs, Drake's abilities as a rap artist don't really match up with Jay. You can’t really argue that Drake switching from spitting bars to singing melancholy hooks is not really all that much of a new sound. Before the rapper and singer had even begun to combine the two, there were the likes of Andre 3000 and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony executing the combination with great commercial success, although not at the magnitude of success Drake has achieved. Drakes skill set at a lyricist is not at all that progressive. What is progressive however, is the production of Noah ’40’ Shebib that has enveloped every Drake release since 2009. Spacey keys with atmospheric drums have propelled Drake out of the stratosphere, and 40 is the driving force behind the signature Drake sound. Without 40, its hard imagining Drake where he is today. On the contrary, Jay-Z crafted his early sound with the likes of DJ Premier and DJ Clark Kent among others. Take away the production and you still have Jay-Z verses that made the masses rewind their tapes trying to absorb every bar syllable for syllable. Jay's uprising in the era when lyrics were everything made him have to elevate his game or essentially get left behind. The lyrical ability between Jay-Z and Drake is really incomparable. Jay also didn’t stick to just one producer to lean on an already working hit formula, with each album he changed production teams to really show that he didn’t need the same producer to make hits. The only formula he needed was his own lyrical abilities and ear for timeless production.
After a while, it all just seems that even Drake knows he doesn't have enough of his own creative ability to propel him to greater heights without carbon copying a whole outside movement.
Secondly, the sound of 40 is what we hear behind Drake when Drake is not salvaging a sound from across the pond. It seems as if Drake starts his rap verses speaking patois to only end with forced London slang. It all seems a bit corny, and the ‘wave riding’ antics have not gone unnoticed. If he isn’t hopping on the Migos ‘Versace’ when its getting hot, he’s faking Jamaican patois while simultaneously stealing a sound the region has become known for. After a while, it all just seems that even Drake knows he doesn’t have enough of his own creative ability to propel him to greater heights without carbon copying a whole outside movement. Rap needs artists that are confident in their own abilities, much like Drake was when he wasn’t afraid to rap/sing about his emotions in an industry that has a permanent tough guy scowl on its face.
Lastly, theres that infamous ghostwriting thing. Rappers since the beginning of rap have borrowed lines, or even gotten help writing bars here and there, but the magnitude of Drakes ghostwriting is far more sinister. The very essence of hip-hop is writing bars that can cut through granite with every syllable, and when news broke that Drake was damn near copying word for word pre-recorded verses, all respect as a traditional hip-hop artist went out the window. When the ghostwriting news broke, it made it seem like Drake was more concerned about outsourcing his own songs and pumping out signature OVO sounding records rather than fine tuning his work in his own words. When we listen to hip hop, we want the artist to convey their scenarios and emotions in rhythmic form, just how hip hop started. We don’t want our favorite artists hiring a team or writers to tell their stories for them, turning out tracks like some type of pop song factory. Sure, you can argue that Drake has transcended rap and gone onto superstardom in the pop world, and that is a perfectly fine argument. However, that would mean that Drake would now have to go sit over there at the other table with all of the other pop stars that don’t write their own records. Drake is a pop star and a rap star, he just isn’t rap royalty, and he likely never will be.
Hip hop has forever been a genre that thrives on razor sharp bars, bass thumping instrumentals, and the colorful personalities to match. While Drakes almost 10 year career has contained those elements for the most part, what he lacks is the originality and respect for the craft. I may come off sounding like a hip hop old head, but I like to think that in my 23 years, I have been exposed to enough hip hop old and new, to develop a passion and respect for what made me fall in love with it in the first place; lyrics, originality, and always telling it how it is.
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Tony Bueno is Editor in Chief of Pages Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter here