Drake Is Bored
Five albums in, Drake wants us to know just how great he is at selling music. After a recent stretch of artistic malaise — and that whole ghostwriting thing — is he motivated by much else?
“Billboard awards, I claimed 13 out in Vegas like Sureños
Black excellence, but I guess when it comes to me it’s not the same though, all goodie”
- Drake, “Diplomatic Immunity”
Who cares about Billboard awards? Drake. And other folks who are in the business of selling music.
But the fans? No, we don’t care about Billboard Awards. Billboard Awards mean an artist sold a lot of songs or albums, not that the songs or albums are any good. Sure, they’re cool when an artist you’ve been fanning over in their early days finally receives some commercial recognition, but past that? Meh.
So why in the hell is Drake, a guy who’s been selling hits for nearly a decade, still bragging about them?
There’s one interview in particular where Drake gives us some insight regarding his goalposts in rap. On a podcast hosted by famed Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, he says:
“What I love about sports is, I love that there is a clear cut winner because in music sometimes, it gets frustrating….You can try your hardest, you can do your best, you can have your most incredible year….whatever that is for you, whether you achieved a feeling that you wanted, or whether you achieved numbers and statistics, or whether you achieved both. But, in our sport of music, there is no clear-cut winner. It is all opinion-based. There is no score. There is no trophy at the end of the year. There’s something about the competitor in me...it bothers me that there’s no trophy to hoist at the end of the year...
...And, not to say that there aren’t awards shows and trophies, but again, those are all opinion-based, sometimes controlled by politics, sometimes controlled by the popular fan vote which, with the Internet, you just kinda gotta write it off as whoever has the most interaction with their fans might win the award. But...I love sports for that reason.”
I think this quote helps explain what’s been so frustrating about Drake’s music after Nothing Was The Same: rather than push himself artistically, he has decided to take what’s worked before, pushing out the same thing to get more plaques.
Granted, we always knew he had somewhat of a formula.ver since So Far Gone, he’s lived in the pocket of sing/rapping to express his feelings and explain his reasoning for them. Each successive project following So Far Gone felt like Drake and his team took pains to perfect the formula and experiment on it, the crowning achievement being Nothing Was The Same (don’t @ me).
Something changed with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. The perfectionist tendencies of Drake’s previous works were gone, as he released a 17-track “mixtape” out of the blue, without a clear creative vision. There were some radio hits, sure, but overall, it was a bloated mess of material that cried out for actual curation.
The music only got worse. What A Time To Be Alive was a weak effort compared to both Future and Drake’s solo work, and it was quickly forgotten with the exception of a couple hits. Views was a tired, uninspired mess, with (yet some more) hits. More Life tried to use the playlist excuse to get a pass for 22 tracks that basically sounded the same.
In the years following Nothing Was The Same, Drake and his team have driven their their collective heels into the “Drake formula” to spit out more hits. “Energy” was an aggressive rap track that honestly isn’t terribly different from “Over,” “Headlines,” or “Started From The Bottom,” albeit with significantly more gun noises. “Diamonds Dancing” is the same save-a-stripper ballad Drake was discovering on So Far Gone, with a whole singing section featuring Drake crooning, “Your momma should be ashamed of you.”
Even the more recent “Dancehall Drizzy” was on his formula grind. It was a combination of the sing-songy pop single formula he started with “Find Your Love,” with a splash of island sounds. The only original part of it all was Drake’s accent.
Let’s be totally clear: this whole period for Drake has been very, very profitable. His singles are charting immediately and all of his projects are going platinum, despite the general rap consensus that his quality is decreasing and that he’s doing nothing new.
Back to his quote on the John Calipari podcast. Drake figured out that no matter what, he’ll never be able to win the rap fan accolades because he carries too much baggage — half of which is his singing and the other half is the whole ghostwriting fiasco.
I think the moment where Drake took that turn was in the aftermath of “Control.” He spent the whole Nothing Was The Same press tour answering the same question: “So, about that Kendrick verse…” When Elliott Wilson asked about it, he said:
“[Kendrick] is giving people moments. But are you listening to it now, at this point in time? Okay… it was real cool for a couple weeks. If I asked you, for example, how does that verse start? Mind you, it’ll go on – Complex and Rap Radar will give it like, verse of the millennium and all that shit or whatever.”
In retrospect, it’s an incredibly fascinating quote. Drake went from criticizing “moment” music five years ago to making it his main output. “Hotline Bling” is not timeless. “One Dance” sounds weird two years later. What A Time To Be Alive sounds as fresh as three-month-old asparagus.
Drake has now fully embraced what the new music market is, and his goals since then have been to get his trophies how he can: through sales. Views set multiple streaming records. In January, he got his first solo number one, set a Spotify record for most streams in one day of one song, and officially surpassed Jay Z as the rapper with the most Top 10 songs.
The issue is that making music for the express purpose of selling it is inherently draining, especially for an artist with Drake’s natural talent. And never has it been more obvious than on his latest release, “Diplomatic Immunity.” The fact is, Drake is bored. He doesn’t have any more records to break and he has no reason to challenge himself, so he’s settled for making music he really doesn’t care about to make some easy money. The fans can feel his boredom, and I suspect that sooner than later, they’ll get bored too.
Until Drake gets his hunger back, I’ll stick to “Tuscan Leather”’s three beats, and leave Dancehall Drizzy for the summertime parties.
Jimmy Branley is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, an obsessive rap fan and an occasional writer. Get his takes before they turn into articles by following him on Twitter.
Annalee Rigdon is a Raleigh-based graphic designer who spends her time analyzing everything Frank Ocean does, arguing about New vs Old Kanye and attempting to bake the perfect cream puff. Check out more of her work on Instagram.