So Far Gone: 10 Years of Aubrey “Drake” Graham
Written by Brandon C. Kesselly (@bckesso)
On February 13, 2009, some dude from Degrassi decided he was a rapper and released So Far Gone — a mixtape that was so good “that shit sounded like [an] album.” In fact, due to its eventual popularity, he re-released it as an EP featuring only the original songs from the project, catapulting himself into the spotlight. That mixtape led him to Lil Wayne, and he became a record-breaking hip-hop artist.
Ten years later, we have arrived at the point where Wheelchair Jimmy is officially an old head and not the new hotness. He’s been through it all: crushing on Rihanna and Nicki Minaj; beefing with hip-hop legends and contemporaries alike; and witnessing the inner workings of the industry. All of this has been catalogued in his albums. With that in mind, how has his music aged and progressed since that first EP? More importantly, which is his best album since he made his official debut? Without further ado, I give you the The Definitive Drake Album Ranking!
Note: I’m solely focusing on his LPs — partially because What A Time To Be Alive is really a Future project featuring Drake, and partially because I refuse to sit through More Life a second time. I’m also skipping If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late despite finally admitting that I like it.
5) Thank Me Later (2010)
Thank Me Later was not only Drake’s debut album — it was by far his weakest. Sure, it had some hot songs, but it was ultimately underwhelming. It had a lot of star power behind it, but Drake was also being suffocated underneath the sheer weight of it all. “Light Up” was great, but JAY-Z stole the spotlight with his Windows 7 reference and self-proclaimed “triple entendre”; Alicia Keys’s talents were wasted on backing up half-baked singing from the Toronto MC; and Nicki Minaj phoned in a verse for her label mate in the same year she did “Monster” for Kanye West. With the all-star cast backing the young hype, however, we didn’t get a clear picture of what a Drake album was supposed to sound like yet. We had flashes of it, but he hadn’t found his perfect collaborators yet outside of 40 and, to an extent, West.
Yeezy produced “Find Your Love” and “Show Me A Good Time”, two of the strongest tracks on the project. The former showed that Drake was extremely adept with conveying emotional honesty in his music, while the latter showed his endearing charm and fun side. Both are really fun listens, even in 2019. They also proved that Drake and Kanye were a musical dream team. “Miss Me” is also a really great track: Drake is in top form, blending his singing and rapping seamlessly while also high key professing his love for Nicki Minaj. He’s also noticeably more mature than Wayne. It’s crazy coming back to this at 27, because I loved this album at 17. But it really feels like trash today. And I’m glad he improved on most of his albums going forward.
Best Tracks: “Show Me A Good Time”, “Fancy” (Featuring T.I. & Swizz Beatz), “Miss Me” (Featuring Lil Wayne)
4) Views (2016)
There are two “truths” when discussing Views: 1) The album is called Views From The 6, and 2) “One Dance” is FIRE. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. While the album is admittedly better than I remember three years ago, I’m still not entirely sold on Views. After all of the confidence Drizzy had built up with Nothing Was The Same, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and What A Time To Be Alive, Views felt like a regression of sorts. Where previous albums had a lot of successful experimentation, a lot of the songs here felt either “safe” or like bad experimentation. None of that has changed in 2019.
And yet, where the album is good, it’s damn good. “One Dance”, “Controlla”, and “Too Good” showed that Drake might have a solid future in dancehall if this whole rap thing didn’t fully pan out. The latter, in particular, continued a long-running trend of amazing collaborations between the Toronto native and Rihanna. “Childs Play” is also a really fun track to listen to, while “Weston Road Flows” is a hidden gem of rap track. It’s frustrating to listen to this disparity now. But at least it’s better than Thank Me Later?
Best Tracks: “One Dance” (Featuring WizKid & Kyla), “Too Good” (Featuring Rihanna), “Childs Play”
3) Scorpion (2018)
Drake should have gone the Nelly route with this one. This album is mainly too long. At 25 songs, the hip-hop “double album” only works for the likes of Biggie, Nelly, and OutKast. Drake doesn’t have enough lyrical variety to keep me interested for 25 songs. It’s the same reason I refused to listen to More Life again. Still, Scorpion isn’t a bad album. I just feel like there’s a lot of fat to trim. It’s got some bangers, some meme-worthy songs, and some introspective ones that we’ve all come to expect from the Toronto native. But maybe that’s admittedly part of the problem: expectations. Scorpion could never have lived up to its own hype, but it’s good enough for how long it is.
What’s crazy about this is that it’s a really fun listen through the first half of it. “This a Rollie, not a stopwatch,” he brags on “Nonstop”, “shit don’t ever stop.” “Mob Ties”, LeBron’s favorite song, channels some of the anger Drake felt from his beef with Pusha-T. “8 Out Of 10” is a fantastic track in and of itself. Strong beat, strong performance. “Sandra’s Rose” gets me every time, and “Is There More?” sounds like the perfect ending with a little hint of teasing you. The problem is, the album continues into its “B Side”, and proceeds to give you maybe three necessary songs out of 13. Again: they’re not bad. They’re just extra. At least he closes with “March 14”, a heartfelt confession about his son. That one is a welcome addition to his discography.
Best Tracks: “Nonstop”, “Mob Ties”, “Sandra’s Rose”
2) Take Care (2011)
Let me be clear: I love this album, I really do. For about seven years, it was my favorite Drake album — period. But, as I listened to it more recently, I’ve come to realize it wasn’t a very “Drake” album yet. While he was a much more comfortable singer and confident rapper at this point in time, he was still being bogged down by Wayne (“HYFR”) and Birdman (“We’ll Be Fine”), and you can really hear their influences in many of the tracks. Other albums have less of the Cash Money influence and sound more like Drake standing on his own. This was him as a “boy” in some regards. He was very much working within the constraints of the label, even if the songs sounded really fun at times. And it still has that boyish charm about it.
“Shot For Me”, a personal favorite, is a prime example of him standing out. Initially, he sounds like a really problematic ex-boyfriend — a recurring theme in his music, and one certainly present later in this album. However, what makes this track work is this: While he starts off with a bravado and cockiness, claiming to have “made you who you are” in the chorus, he peels it away to reveal his actual pain. The false bravado is used extremely well here, and remains brilliant even in 2019. Rihanna is also fantastic on “Take Care”. “I’ve loved and I’ve lost,” she sings, breaking my heart in the process. “Lord Knows” also gives Drake a great foil in Rick Ross.
The biggest surprise, however, is “Practice”. I will go to the grave calling this song a stroke of brilliance. Most people would think turning Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up” into a slow jam is a crazy idea. But having it come from Drake, the poster boy for “beta male” rap? It gave him a playful edge and turned a song that may have struck some as derogatory into a bedroom anthem instead. By changing the context of the hook, it became much less problematic and gave Drake one of his strongest tracks in memory.
Best Tracks: “Shot For Me”, “The Real Her” (Featuring André 3000 & Lil Wayne), “Practice”
1) Nothing Was The Same (2013)
This album has aged extremely well. Drake had the perfect blend of bars and brooding here. While I’ve always found him somewhat monotone as a vocalist, he’s wildly successful in conveying emotion and honesty in the studio. NWTS is a prime example of that. While I was in denial at the time, today I am willing to declare this Drake’s best album to date.
“My mother is 66,” he raps on “From Time”, “and her favorite line to hit me with is ‘Who the fuck wants to be 70 and alone?’” As an introspective guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, this line hurts in the best way possible. Meanwhile, “Worst Behavior” is a pure gem, blending ’90s rap references (a Drake staple) with modern trap production.
And, lest we forget: “Pound Cake” is hands down one of the best hip-hop beats of the 2010s. It also features one of the best collaborations between two of the most dominant forces in hip-hop. Drake’s contemplating whether to make his classmates “go through security clearance” at his high school reunion is the kind of pettiness that makes us all laugh. And JAY-Z gives us the “cake, cake cake, cake cake cake” line after declaring that his vehicle’s interior is “whiter than Katy Perry’s face is.” Classic!
Best Tracks: “From Time” (Featuring Jhené Aiko), “Worst Behavior”, “Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2” (Featuring JAY-Z)
Listening to ten years of Drake’s music was admittedly difficult. Some of it isn’t as good as I remembered, while others are better than I remember. Some of my favorites changed, and I realized that I have been more of a recovering Drake hater than a recovering Drake fan. In all seriousness, though, it was hard because a lot of his music resonated with me, and I thought I had outgrown it in some sense. But I was wrong, and I’ve learned to accept that and just enjoy what I like while being sassy and critical about what I don’t.
Anyways, how about you? What are your favorite Drake albums? What are your favorite songs of his? Hit me up with your rankings, favorite bars, and — most importantly — the best Drake memes of the last decade!
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By Brandon C. Kesselly on .
Exported from Medium on April 4, 2020.
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