Ahead of Drake’s Scorpion album, we here in the illustrious Music Department at Highsnobiety decided to completely revisit Drizzy’s catalog of music from the past decade or so and attempt to compile it into some sort of ranking. Hailing mere kilometers from where Drake was born and raised, it was decided that I would take on this futile mission.
As a pre-teen devoted to Degrassi: The Next Generation back in the early 2000s, I would have cackled at the current reality that ‘Wheelchair Jimmy’ is one of the most famous rappers in the world. Though I can’t deny that he made me reconsider my ambivalence and disinterest toward where I come from – at the very, very least, he’s a great PR for the T Dot O, leading its successful, albeit unofficial “6” rebranding and acting as the official global ambassador for the Toronto Raptors – the only good sports franchise the city has.
Please note the following – this is is my humble opinion only and not that of Highsnobiety as a whole, I have rearranged the “ranking” as many times as Drake changes his footwear in a week, and I will be taking a serious break from listening to Aubrey Drake Graham’s music for the foreseeable future, or at until his double album Scorpion drops this Friday, June 29. So, without further ado:
8. ‘Room For Improvement / Comeback Season / So Far Gone’ (2006-2009)
“I’m not perfect, and I bet neither are you if you’re listening, so you just need to accept what’s there,” Drake explains in the intro to the first track off Room For Improvement, his first proper mixtape released over a decade ago on Valentine’s Day. His honesty, or at least his melodramatic-at-times veneer of genuineness, was there from the get-go.
While Drake was refining the charisma that would be a major asset throughout his entire rap career and finding his own sound through influences like André 3000 and Clipse, I was in high school, probably listening to ska and screamo and working on a mixtape for my then “boyfriend” – one who didn’t fully realize he was dating me even though I was certain we were soulmates. Similarly, Comeback Season and So Far Gone show a lot of promise, and Drizzy finally put himself on the mainstream map with “Best I Ever Had,” showing personal flair both lyrically and sonically. “Successful” on So Far Gone is a great demonstration of when Drake gets eyeroll-worthy. However, he was only 22 back in ‘08. When I was 22 I was definitely also an over-sensational, barely self-aware idiot.
7. ‘Thank Me Later’ (2010)
Damn. Come 2010, Drake knew how to make some certified bangers. Some cred must be given to 40, but wow… JAY-Z, Nicki Minaj, The-Dream, T.I.!?!? While it doesn’t have an overarching narrative that sucks you in like his later full-lengths, it is proof that Drake was destined to be a great pop star and one of the best rappers in the game.
“Show Me a Good Time” stands out with its wild production and melodrama levels not quite off the charts. He gets a grasp of wordplay, which has improved dramatically since he started in 2005; like in “Karaoke” when he raps “Isn’t it ironic the girl I want to marry is a wedding planner?” While it is rather corny that he feels the need to say “ironic,” he’s making strides. “Karaoke”! “Fancy”! “Shut It Down”! I am caught in the blissful undertow of the wave of hits from this mixtape….
6. ‘Views’ (2016)
Views came out at an opportune moment in my life – I was single for the first time in a while, and had almost no clue what to do with myself. So Views went straight to my phone, providing a soundtrack to figuring out how to be sans bae; walking to bars for awkward Tinder dates. “Feel No Ways” in particular gets me every time. To me, it sonically describes a weird manic sensation that can strike once you realize yet again that you really don’t need anyone but your own self to be happy.
Also, I am here for the low-key chillwave revival… Many critics of the album found it too derivative of his earlier work, settling in comfortably to his sonic routine. True, Drake is deeply awash in melodrama yet again, but he finally understands how to get it to work in his favor. It’s almost as if Drake is the Andy Warhol of the rap game – he acknowledges he’s pop af, and while haters and lovers alike may notice his tendency to reproduce the same bullshit silkscreen style over and over, it’s the subtle variations in palette and subject that can resonate and become all the more intriguing.
5. ‘What a Time to Be Alive’ with Future (2015)
For those that think Drake is “too soft,” this is perhaps evidence that he can in fact go hard. When Drake and Future unite, a magical yin-yang synergetic connection emerges. The surreal nihilism of Future and the cautious optimism of Drake converge on this mostly Metro Boomin-produced 11 tracker. If What a Time To Be Alive were a blanket, it would be a large, sinister grey, velvet throw from a discount store.
I also love the juxtaposition between song titles; “Diamonds Dancing” vs “Plastic Bag,” “Big Rings” and “Live From The Gutter.” There’s this amazing tension that emerges from WATTBA, and although its truly 50/50 Drake and Future, it cannot be excluded from Drizzy’s body of work. I’m also convinced this album was a foreshadowing of events that would soon befall the contemporary world, but that’s neither here nor there.
4. ‘More Life’ (2017)
When Drake announced his 2017 album would be a “playlist,” we all sort of smiled and nodded along until it dropped. Although More Life received mixed reviews, with many accusing Drizzy of cultural appropriation with its extensive borrowing from Jamaican patois and British roadman culture, it undeniably bangs. “Free Smoke” is an explosive opener, and Drake manages to keep up the momentum until at least the flute rap banger “Portland,” which became the sleeper hit of the collection.
While he probably could have benefitted from some Kanye-style concision, More Life overall gels, and to this day I still get “Get It Together” stuck in my head. If that’s largely because of Black Coffee’s beats, Moodyman’s banter, and Jorja Smith’s vocals that go down like a nice cup of afternoon tea, then so be it. The track is a microcosm for the direction he seems to be taking, which is to center the environment he’s found himself in and let other artists do the talking. As we put it in our review, More Life is nothing without its global influences, but that’s what makes it such a memorable collection of tracks.
3. ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ (2015)
From its street art cover image (s/o Jim Joe) to its references to Toronto, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late deeply resonated with me when it first dropped. I didn’t realize how much I needed it in my life until the third listen walking home late at night. It gave me a boost while I was in the midst of working another shitty job, trying to figure out what the heck I should do with my life. The trappy cockiness it oozes was much appreciated.
Production-wise, it is one of my favorites. Everything about the album is very Toronto, and I love it. At its best moments, I am driving down the Gardiner Expressway at night heading downtown, the corporate logos made of perfect green grass and hedges to my left, the sublime yet polluted Lake Ontario on the passenger’s side. Drake has his finger on the pulse of a certain facet of Toronto that I cannot describe in a way that doesn’t sound both sickly nostalgic and banal, but can immediately sense any time I wander the streets of the 6 late at night. This mixtape might annoy Drake listeners in 2018 with its perhaps excessive attempts at trying to make “The 6” happen, but there’s no denying it’s canonical Drizzy.
2. ‘Nothing Was the Same’ (2013)
Nothing Was the Same was the first Drake album I listened to, all thanks to my friend Devon. After erroneously labelling Drake as a try-hard former child actor and finding the Windows XP desktop-style artwork perplexing in a way that irked me, I was taken aback and proven extremely wrong. Admittedly, I wasn’t listening to much rap music at the time. My taste in electronic music was getting weirder and weirder and I assumed this was not compatible with the sort of thing Drake would put out into the universe.
But with each listen, I’d hear another strange sound that hit me the same way an odd synth line in an Italo disco track would. I was hooked. There’s the obvious “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “Started From the Bottom,” but it was tracks like “Furthest Thing” and “Worst Behavior” that really got me. Meanwhile, “Tuscan Leather” is possibly Drake’s best intro track? I’ll even excuse the worst JAY-Z verse of all time on “Pound Cake” because the rest of NWTS shows that Drake finds a pace and a space that works for him.
1. ‘Take Care’ (2011)
My favorite music in any genre is euphoric and melancholic at the same time, and when Drizzy can pull this off, it’s sublime. “Headlines” has always sonically stood out with those punchy yet woozy synths and the melody that emerges near its end. Lyrically, he’s dealing with his rising fame, with its equal doses of bottle-popping, stack dropping excitement and surreal levels of isolation. You’ve got the triumphant “Lord Knows,” the sentimental “Look What You’ve Done,” the amazing Jamie xx-produced, Gil Scott Heron-sampling “Take Care” featuring none other than Rihanna, Drake’s attempts at feminism with Nicki Minaj in “Make Me Proud,” and a collab with the legendary André 3000 (and Lil Wayne, too, I guess) – “The Real Her.”
“Shot For Me” reveals endless layers of the increasingly complicated personality that is Drake, his love for alcohol and women a mere starting point for unpacking his mental state at the brink of insanity-inducing levels of fame. “Marvin’s Room” must be mentioned – whether anyone will admit it or not, it fucked up a lot of soft power boys and possibly helped them actually deal with their feelings. When we first started dating, an ex boyfriend told me he couldn’t listen to this song while he was still getting over the girl he dated before me, and other men in my life have echoed similar sentiments. A serious achievement not to be taken lightly. This album is certainly a die-hard Drake fan favorite, but more importantly, it set a precedent for everything Drizzy would achieve and embody in his career (so far).
For more like this, check out our ranking of the 40 Best Kanye West Songs.