Drake has spent the last five years smashing one Spotify record after another, so it comes as no surprise that he's the service's most-streamed artist of the decade, having racked up a whopping 50 billion streams. Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Post Malone – none of these chumps are touching the Almighty 6 God.
Drake’s coronation as Spotify’s Most Streamed Artist of the Decade testifies equally to 1) the sheer size of his fan base, and 2) the volume of music he’s released. It also testifies to the emotional resonance of his music — specifically, his diaristic, rambling-breakup-text style of rapping — as well as the power of melody to enchant the masses. It also speaks to the way Drake has positioned himself in the cultural landscape, vis a vis musicians, musical trends, and larger institutions. The term quid pro quo is getting a lot of attention these days; I move to expand to the quid pro quo discourse to include its true master, Aubrey Drake Graham, who excels, more than anything, in leveraging personal, cultural, and financial transactions to consolidate his incalculable clout, of which Spotify streaming numbers are only one expression.
Here are four ways Drake has kept close to the warm, milky center of the zeitgeist. His methods haven’t always been graceful, but they’ve been effective.
The vaunted (and sometimes creepy) Drake co-sign
One measure of Drake’s power has been the impact of his co-sign of lesser-known artists. This has partly played out in the middle of the decade on Instagram, where he posted Dej Loaf and Father lyrics in his captions, photos of him posing with Bryson Tiller, and videos of him dancing to Kodak Black. With a few taps of the thumb, Drake forever altered the career arcs of artists like these.
The politics of the Drake co-sign, however, are complicated, especially in regard to his remixes of Migos’ “Versace,” Fetty Wap’s “My Way,” WizKid’s “Ojuelegba,” and iLoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday.” In each of these cases, Drake intercepted the artist as their fame or virality had reached a furious boil, simultaneously offering them his platform while taking advantage of theirs. This decade, Drake fashioned himself as a tastemaker to self-serving ends, forging musical relationships with rising artists that ranged from benevolent to predatory.
A similar dynamic also exists on a macro scale, as Drake has courted not merely artists, but the genres and cultures they represent. In the past few years, he’s played the role of musical tourist operating in the grey area between homage and appropriation. In 2016, around the time he started speaking in that weird, hybrid patois he enthusiastically rode (and propagated) the dancehall wave, and scored two of the biggest hits of his career in “One Dance” and “Controlla.” His 2017 “playlist” More Life constituted a relatively tasteful survey of global pop sounds and ceded ample space to British rappers Skepta and Giggs. The next year, he incorporated New Orleans bounce into a pair of hits (“In My Feelings” and “Nice For What”) and sang in Spanish on the chorus of Bad Bunny’s “MIA.” Drake has determinedly made this sort of genre-hopping cultural cross-pollination his personal mission and brand, for better or worse.
The golden age of OVO Sound Radio
With the launch of Apple Music in the summer of 2015 came Beats 1 Radio, as well as this decade’s closest thing to must-listen live radio: OVO Sound Radio, a biweekly program hosted by Drake and his manager Oliver El-Khatib. The show was a part of a $19 million deal between Drake and Apple Music. Both parties benefitted immensely from this arrangement. Apple got a killer weapon to aid them in the streaming wars; in addition to the money, Drake received a massive new platform on which to broadcast his playlists, further his tastemaker image and, most importantly, premiere new songs.
The now-defunct OVO Sound Radio peaked during its second episode, which aired less than a month after Apple Music’s launch. Drake premiered his Meek Mill diss and “Back to Back” prelude “Charged Up,” then followed that by premiering “Hotline Bling.”
Unofficial Raptors mascot
Drake has spent a good portion of the last decade cozying up to high-profile athletes, and while he lacks the skill required to achieve his dream of becoming a professional basketball player, he’s parlayed the next best role: “Global Ambassador” of the Toronto Raptors. Not that Drake needed this title or the blessing and possible financial support of the franchise to sit courtside and berate Draymond Green. He would be an incredible boon for the Raptors’ brand even if he simply politely sat in the front row and didn’t say a word. In 2014, he drew considerable attention for lint-rolling his pants during a game, a moment that inspired its own branding exercise, as the team handed out over a thousand Drake-themed lint rollers to ticketholders a week later.
What has Drake received in return? A $769,000 custom Raptors/OVO-themed jacket, a $150,000 custom 2019 NBA Finals championship ring, and the opportunity to give an emotional post-game interview when the Raptors won the title as if he was a member of the team. “We knew what we had to do,” he told the throng of reporters. “We did this off of heart. We did this off of love. We willed this into existence.” Some things are priceless.
All relationships are transactional. Drake knows this, and he’s spent the last decade milking every drop of juice out of his various relationships with artists, companies, and institutions in order to expand his listener base and maintain his steady cultural relevance. In this sense, his status as Spotify’s Most Streamed Artist of the Decade is just another award for his mantlepiece; it’s not a referendum on his music or on our culture, thank goodness, it’s just a popularity contest.