J Cole Radio Single Opinion
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 13: J.Cole performs at O2 ABC Glasgow on May 13, 2015 in Glasgow, United Kingdom (Photo by Ross Gilmore/Redferns via Getty Images)
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Are We Witnessing The Decaying Relevance Of The Radio Single?

Though single sales remain inextricably linked to album sales in the pop industry, hip-hop seems to have found an out.

Hip-hop fans have, for years now, watched artists choose between their art and their pockets. There were albums that we loved—ones that reflected upon social issues, politics, and race artfully and poetically—but weren’t catchy enough for radio and didn’t sell. And then there were albums that we didn’t love—that were largely devoid of meaningful content, and yet had that one irresistibly melodic song that generated airplay, and as a result sold quite well. But in 2015, it seems those lines are blurring. Some of the year’s fastest selling full-lengths have also been the least marketed and most critically-acclaimed. Though single sales remain inextricably linked to album sales in the pop industry, hip-hop seems to have found an out. Is the industry being forced to adapt?

In order to better illustrate this trend, let’s consider the paths of Lupe Fiasco and J. Cole, two rappers whose careers began in the past decade with a considerable amount of critical acclaim, as well as fan appreciation for the creativeness and purposeful content showcased in their full-length efforts. In the early months of the 2010s, both were signed to major labels (the same ones they’re still with five years later), and struggling to navigate the distinction between what they desired for their art and the standards of the industry to which they were being asked to conform.

Both Lupe and Cole had certainly shown that they were capable of drawing a considerable audience. Lupe’s first two albums, Food & Liquor and The Cool, had already gone gold and were still selling steadily (to this date sales of the two projects have amassed a combined 1, 780,000 units). J. Cole, the recent Jay Z signee and Fayetteville native, was on the verge of releasing his second mixtape in less than eighteen months. The Warm Up had been met with widespread critical acclaim and was on its way to 500,000 downloads. Most of the songs that would later come to constitute Friday Night Lights had already been written; tracks that would help the project earn the Mixtape of the Year award from BET, and eventually produce 999,000 downloads on DatPiff (it also ranks seventh all-time on the site in favorites).

So why were they encountering so much friction from labels as they prepared to again hit a market that had been so receptive of them in the recent past? It was predominately because neither artist had been able to produce a worthy single; a song that their labels could release for mass consumption, to pique the public’s interest in their full-length effort.

Labels over time had solidified their strategy of using single performance as the primary gauge of future album sales. This had become deeply rooted in the system after many decades, and label executives were confident in this reliance. Both Lupe and Cole had been at work on their upcoming projects (Lasers and Cole World: The Sideline Story) for years. They had songs they were passionate about. Songs that sounded like the natural progression of their sound as they developed as artists. Lupe was getting more political. J. Cole was becoming more adept at his brand of social commentary. But they didn’t have a crossover success; a pop song that might sell outside the hip-hop realm.

In Lupe’s case, it was presented rather simply. In an interview with Complex in February 2011 titled "Lupe Fiasco Hates His Own Album," Lupe stated that he’d been approached by the President of Atlantic Records, and was told bluntly: without a pop single there wouldn’t be an album.

“He played ‘Show Goes On’ for me on the iPod. I was used to it because they presented me like ten other songs in the same fashion or via email… I had to do ‘Show Goes On,’ that was like the big chip on the table. I had to do it and it had to be the first single if the record was going to come out.”

Meanwhile, a few miles east in Queens, J. Cole was finished with his debut album, but it was still without a release date because his label had yet to hear a single-worthy cut. He tried giving them “Who Dat,” but it wasn’t catchy enough to compete with the likes of B.o.B’s “Airplanes” or Jay Z’s “Young Forever.” He made “Higher.” He made “Blow Up.” He made “Can’t Get Enough.” But none of these were the green light Roc Nation needed. At an NYC listening party for Born Sinner in June 2013, Cole had this to say about that time in his life:

I dropped [Friday Night Lights]. I now got a buzz that had spilled passed underground. It was to the real people now… to the world now. However, I don’t have a single. And the next six months of my life was like, literally, hell… The next six months of my life I was making some of the worst, most uninspired music of my life… Imagine every beat you make, you like, ‘Damn, is this a hit kick drum? Is this a hit snare drum? Is this a hit drum pattern? And then once I make that, like, ‘Is this a catchy enough line?’

Fast-forward five years, and everything has changed.

Neither Lupe nor Cole has a song in the Top 40. In fact, neither has had a single chart higher than No. 58 in almost two years now. And yet, they both have had albums released in the past five months, and their labels haven’t changed. (Lupe’s Tetsuo & Youth was his fifth with Atlantic, and 2014 Forest Hills Drive was Cole’s third on Roc Nation).

Cole opted for an intentionally atypical promotion route. He first made fans aware of his album on November 16th with a video trailer, just a little over three weeks before release day. In the coming weeks, no single was released to radio—the only additional promotion came in the form of a Complex cover story, where he explained the album’s inspiration, and a release of the preorder and track-list that came ten days before the full project. But with the release of the album came 371,000 first week sales, and to date it is his highest selling, earning him his first platinum stamp.

Lupe’s release process was also a rather unique one, as he never seemed to make a very determined shot at radio. He first announced the title on the red carpet of the Grammy’s in February 2013, and in May 2014 his first promotional single was released. “Mission” was certainly a more upbeat offering from him, but as a song dedicated to cancer survivors and those still inflicted, it was likely never regarded as a realistic radio success, and it unsurprisingly did not chart. Still, that October Atlantic tweeted that the album would be released on January 20, 2015, and within a month the first official single, “Deliver,” surfaced. “Deliver” was powered by a blazing synth line, but thematically wasn’t really geared for radio, either. As stated on Rap Genius, the song addresses “certain pizza joints that won’t deliver to neighborhoods that are considered high-risk,” and is more largely a “social commentary on deliverance, or lack thereof, for people living in the ghetto.” The song was his second promo release that failed to succeed on mainstream radio, yet the album still released on January 20th as planned.

While Lupe’s album had unimpressive first week sales (it debuted at No. 14 with just 42,000 copies sold), fans and critics have been very pleased by the final product. The album was assigned an 80 at Metacritic, which designates “universal acclaim”—his highest score in the eight-plus years since his debut. It’s also an album that feels very much like the one he set out to create, with its abstract cover art, narrative-heavy songwriting, and more than a few songs that stretch past the six-minute mark.

This seems to suggest that labels may be softening their measures, and—as a byproduct—giving artists more control over their own fates.

Jason Flom, co-founder and CEO of Lava Records and Lava Music Publishing, has had a long and successful career as an industry executive, having served as Chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records, Virgin Records, and Capitol Music Group, as well as being credited for the discovery of Lorde and Katy Perry. He notes that hip-hop has an advantage in marketing experimentation.

“Hip-hop is the most important music of this generation and to a large extent it’s where the voice of social consciousness is coming from,” Flom said. “It’s a genre where there are several contemporary living legends who each have their own huge, fiercely loyal fan base and this allows for innovative, experimental marketing plans to take shape. Radio is still a tremendously powerful force but now more than ever branding and awareness are coming from social media and from the streets.”

Nullah Sarker, the Creative Director for Lava Music Publishing, agreed that this trend is most applicable to hip-hop. “You have to be more holistically appealing in hip-hop than you do in pop. Hip-hop artists are tangible longer… they are embodying a culture. They are more at one with their artistry.”

Elsewhere, Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late has had similar success under quite comparable circumstances. His project, like Cole’s, came as a surprise to fans—a trend that has become increasingly popular after Beyonce’s eponymous and unexpected album rode the strategy straight to five million worldwide sales. This strategy has not been proven equally effective for all, but in many cases, it creates a much more personal sensation around what is typically a middle-man-heavy album release process.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, Jason King—a professor and musician at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Record Music—stated, “[Beyonce’s album] seems like a direct gift from the celebrity to the consumer, in a way that I think is going to benefit her. She seems extremely altruistic actually for doing this.” Drake’s new work evoked similar emotions from fans and critics, and has shared the same success. Without an official single, If You’re Reading This was designated platinum the very same week as Forest Hills Drive.

So, what does this mean for labels’ presumed tried-and-true method of determining potential sales outcomes? Has this criterion been outgrown? The times seem to suggest a rapidly changing landscape in the music industry; a landscape where more accessibility and spontaneity in one’s marketing efforts are generously rewarded by more dedicated fan bases.

The inverse of this has proved to be interesting still. Take Omarion’s new album, Sex Playlist, or Jeremih’s repeatedly delayed Late Nights, or even current airway heavyweights Rae Sremmurd’s SremmLife. Each of these artists have produced Top 20 hits: Omarion’s “Post to Be” currently sits at No. 13; Jeremih’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em” peaked as high as No. 6; Rae Sremmurd’s “No Flex Zone” has reached No. 16, and two other singles of theirs have peaked inside the Top 30. Yet Jeremih’s album is still in limbo, and neither Omarion or Rae Sremmurd have managed to sell more than 200,000.

If this method is outdated, as seems to be the case, then what has taken its place?

Fan base certainly plays a role. Cole, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar (whose sophomore effort To Pimp a Butterfly has also sold efficiently, reaching gold status in under two months without a Top 40 single obviously have larger fan bases than the likes of Jeremih, Omarion, or Rae Sremmurd. A more even comparison is Nicki Minaj (who has almost twice the combined Twitter followers of Cole and Kendrick). The Young Money first lady released her long-awaited third album, The Pinkprint, in December, after spending much of 2014 following what was largely a traditional promo route.

Four singles were promoted prior to the album’s release date. To date, there have been five promo singles, three of which (“Anaconda,” “Only,” and “Truffle Butter”) have peaked inside the top fifteen, and another in the top thirty. Yet the album has sold only a reported 607,000 copies since its Dec 12 release. It took eight weeks to earn gold status, which is longer than it took her rap counterparts (Drake passed 500k in his first week, Cole in his second, and Kendrick in his third.)

This is not all to say that the market for single promotion in hip-hop and R&B is going away anytime soon. More than a third of the Hot 100’s current Top 40 also appear on the Hip-Hop/R&B chart. As long as catchier, simpler hip-hop is popular, there will be a window for our Trinidad Jameses and Rich Homie Quans—artists who are capable of producing gold-selling singles, but still aren’t able to get a major label album funded and deemed as necessary or desired from the public.

The singles market may never fully disappear from relevance altogether, but the times openly suggest that labels begin searching for alternative strategies. The process of deciphering which artists are deserving of the funding and distribution is becoming increasingly more difficult. Data is beginning to more clearly show that what will motivate a fan to spend 99 cents is not sufficient in getting them to spend nine dollars more. No, it is the artists capable of creating an album’s worth of meaningful content who have found themselves in control, at least for the time being.

It has been a long five years watching our artists’ creativity suffer at the hands of the gatekeepers. A long five years since J. Cole sat in his apartment, depressed and hopelessly uninspired, trying to create a song that would allow the rest of his work—the songs he’d made out of love and passion for hip-hop—to be heard by his fans. A long five years since Lupe penned the words, “They treat you like a slave,” in regards to Atlantic. But finally, it seems, these measures that have kept our artists in captivity for so long no longer will be maintained with the same force. Other methods have proven themselves to be successful. Methods where artists’ relationship with their fans and ability to create an album’s worth of quality material becomes more relevant than the single is—or maybe ever was.

During that night in the SVA Theatre in 2013, J. Cole spoke at length about his song “Let Nas Down”—a song he’d made about the shame he’d felt after learning Nas hated his album’s first single, “Work Out.” Less than a week after its release, Nas remixed the song out of respect for Cole. “Radio records are needed, I just wanted to bring the warning,” he rapped. He was referencing his 1999 label appeasement cut, “You Owe Me,” a deeply misogynistic and unimpressive song that forever hangs over the legacy of one of the genre’s best writers. The need to conform has tainted the work of even hip-hop’s most celebrated technical rappers and poetic lyricists, ever since the lines between popular music and hip-hop began to blur.

But what labels may find waiting at the end of these questions, at the end of their search for a new barometer, is that they really aren’t the ones with the answers anymore.

Jeff Baird is a writer based in New York. He has previously written for The Atlantic, Potholes In My Blog, Fresh New Tracks, and more.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Stacy-Ann Ellis

Meet Koffee, The Rising Jamaican Star Who Is Hot Like A Thermos

Back in 1962, a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Robert Marley recorded a song called “One Cup of Coffee” and went on to take reggae music around the world. Fast forward 55 years to 2017, when a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Koffee dropped her first record, “Burning,” setting her on a path to become the most talked-about new artist in dancehall reggae right now.

Koffee got her big break when veteran singer Cocoa Tea invited her onstage at the January 2018 edition of Rebel Salute, Jamaica’s biggest roots reggae festival. “She name Koffee and me name Tea,” he quipped, calling her the “next female sensation out of Jamaica.” The artist born Mikayla Simpson doesn’t actually like coffee though—she prefers hot chocolate.

After graduating from Ardenne High, the same school dancehall star Alkaline attended, Koffee turned her focus to music. She shot a live video with new roots superstar Chronixx at Marley’s Tuff Gong Studios, then dropped her breakout single “Toast,” produced by Walshy Fire of Major Lazer fame. That video has racked up 10 million+ views and made the artist, who stands just over five feet tall, a very big name on the island. Now signed to Columbia UK, Koffee will release her debut EP Rapture next month.

“Mi only spit lyrics, don't really talk a lot,” she states on the track “Raggamuffin.” But when Koffee turned up to VIBE’s Times Square headquarters, bundled up against NYC’s February chill in a hoodie, thermals, and Nike x Off-White sneakers, she opened up about her musical journey, the power of gratitude, her surprising inspirations, and how she plans to spend her birthday.

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VIBE: I haven’t seen you since your EP listening in Kingston. Congratulations on an impressive body of work. Koffee: Thank you. I feel humble and proud at the same time. I really put a lot of thought into the EP, the way I structured it, and the content, the lyrics. It really means a lot to me, so I appreciate you saying that.

It’s amazing how much you’ve accomplished since Cocoa Tea brought you out on Rebel Salute. Yeah, and that was only a year and a month ago!

So how did the link with Cocoa happen? Actually, it happened through Walshy Fire. After my very first single “Burning,” Walshy reached out and sent me some riddims, in hopes of us working together, which we ended up doing. We were supposed to meet up at a studio in Florida and when we went there Cocoa Tea was already in the building. We were like, “Wow, Cocoa Tea!” Because Cocoa Tea is a reggae legend for us in Jamaica. Walshy actually introduced Cocoa to some of my music, and Cocoa was like, “Wha? Mi gonna bring her out on Rebel Salute next month!” This was in December, and Rebel Salute was in January.

Timing is everything. Rebel Salute made a huge difference. It opened me up to a lot of opportunities. Even today a lot of places that I go, people remember me from there. I was doing music before. I’d done a few shows here and there, but the audience at Rebel Salute is very important. It’s an epic stage to present yourself.

Were you nervous? Just before going out on the stage I was backstage pacing back and forth. I was trying to keep warm as well because it was chilly that night. But I was really nervous because it was my first time being in such a light.

Do you think being so young has helped you? Like, you may not overthink everything. I think you have a point. Because I’m young, my mind is a bit more pure, or uncorrupted. Experiences do have a way of taking away your mental space and the things you’re willing to try. Staying in “the comfort zone” is the most comfortable thing, but sometimes pushing yourself to step outside of that will help you overcome your fears. That, and just the drive and motivation. I definitely try to keep challenging myself.

Reggae has always been a male-dominated industry, but female artists are definitely on the rise. How do feel getting catapulted into that category? I feel like it’s a big responsibility, and “to whom much is given, much is expected.” So I don't look at it as, “Oh, I’ve made it.” But I acknowledge that I’m in a position where I have a responsibility now to fulfill and to pull through. It just pushes me to work harder, make more things happen, and just keep it going.

I love the line in your song “Raggamuffin” where you say, “Mi give them heart attack inna mi halter back.” Was that inspired by Althea & Donna’s “Uptown Top Rankin’” from the ‘70s? Yeah, I love that song. That’s the thing, I would say that every artist is an influence to me. Growing up, I would hear these songs being played by people next door, down the road, all around. Just in the Jamaican environment on a whole. So those songs definitely do have an influence on me, the messages from those times. Once you hear it, it’s in your head. You know it now and it really makes a difference in how you think, how you speak, and everything.

When people think of a female dancehall artist they usually think of colorful hair, long nails… But you seem to have your own swag. How would you describe your style? I would definitely say unique, but at the same time, it is natural to me and not calculated. I don't put a name to it and say, “I’m gonna be this way.” I just kind of flow and whatever you see is me doing what I feel. Like, I’m not sure what these pants are, but I bought them in Berlin. I got this hoodie in the UK—I’m not sure what brand this is either. I was just trying to keep warm. My friend Ayesha from the UK styled me with this top recently for a shoot.

There’s a line on “Burning” where you talk about “Koffee pon di street, tank top inna di heat / Jeans pants an’ Crocs / No socks pon mi feet / Knapsack mi a beat / Well pack up an’ it neat.” Was that your real-life dress code in 2017? Yeah, I remember at that time that’s how I used to roll. You know in Jamaica it’s hot, so I probably had my tank top and my jeans on, or my shorts. And I had this one pair of grey Crocs that I just wore everywhere. And I always have my knapsack. So yeah, that was my reality at that moment.

How far away does that feel, now that you have a stylist and travel the world? That’s amazing. It’s a transition that’s really beautiful and something I really appreciate.

I have a feeling you’re going to re-introduce words like “appreciate” and “give thanks” into pop culture. I hope to start a wave of gratitude. Even by writing that song “Toast,” when I say “We haffi give thanks like we really supposed to,” it reminds me to be grateful. I aspire to be humble and I pray and ask God to help me be grateful. I try to maintain it and I hope that will inspire other people to do the same.

Let’s talk about “Toast.” On the chorus, you say “We nah rise and boast.” But then again, a lot of reggae and dancehall artists are very “boasy.” That’s part of the culture. When I say “Wi nah rise and boast” it means that no matter what happens along the journey, we’re still gonna remain the same. We gonna big up we friend and hold a vibes. I’m just making it clear that we never come fe hype.

You can spit pretty fast, but I feel like some people may be missing some of the things you say. But if you listen carefully you’re talking about real things. Thank you for noticing that. When I wrote “Raggamuffin,” a lot of my musical influence came from artists like Protoje and Chronixx. Chronixx has basically been an advocate for the youths, so his message had an impact on me. When I was vibing to the beat, I wanted to cover myself, cover my country where I come from, good things and bad things, and the music, reggae itself.

Growing up, did you see inner city kids not being looked after by their own government and their own people? Most definitely. I wouldn't say that the government is responsible for the lives of everybody as citizens. But there are some general things that need the government’s attention and they don't pay the attention that they should. They'd rather focus on things that can garner income. There are roads that need to be fixed in places that tourists don't necessarily visit. And nobody cares about those roads. Minor injustices, major injustices—just things that really need to be spoken about so that people can think about it and look into it.

BDP used the term Edutainment—education and entertainment. Is that something you present in your music? Yes, it’s definitely something I aim for. I think that it’s important to keep people interested enough to want to absorb what you are saying. And then it’s equally important to present something that is worth absorbing. Something productive, something inspiring, motivating. Just mixing both so that you have their attention and you’re also delivering something that’s worth their attention.

You were still in school when you did your song “Burning.” As a new artist did you have to convince the producers to work with you? Gratefully, no I didn't have to convince them. Because I did a tribute to Usain Bolt before that. I wrote a song with my guitar titled “Legend” and posted a video of me performing it with my guitar on Instagram.

Usain came across it and reposted it, so that garnered a lot of attention. People from the music industry reached out to me, and in that group of people was Upsetta records with their Ouji Riddim. They sent it to my first manager like, “Let’s see what she can do” and so forth.

There’s this thing in Jamaica called Sixth Form. It’s like you graduate high school and there’s an extra two years that you can do as like a pre-college. I applied for it and didn’t get through. Right after that, I did the tribute to Usain Bolt and then Upsetta sent me the Ouji Riddim. I was in a state of mind where I felt disappointed. I felt the need to motivate myself, so I was like “Come with the fire the city burning!”

How does your mom feel about all of this? I started writing lyrics at 14 years old, but she didn't find out until I was 16, when she saw me perform at a competition in school. I invited her there and she was taken aback, like, “Wow! So this what you've been doing?” (Laughs) She wanted me to do academics like every parent wants. And she was little disappointed when I didn't get through to Sixth Form. But over time, as I wrote more and performed more, she began to trust my talent and just trust the process. So she started appreciating the music and now she's fully on board.

What did your mother think of “dancehall pon the street,” like you sing about in your song “Raggamuffin”? As you know I’ve been living with mommy since I was a baby up until I was 17, so being under her roof I didn't go out much. I was always in the house just chilling and stuff. I know that there’s a dance on like every corner. lf you are driving, you always hear music playing. You have the oldies dancehall, you have the new dancehall—everybody just hold a vibe. That’s basically where that line comes from.

Do you go to dances now? I’ve been going to a few parties and getting out, but I haven't been to like a dance dance. I’ve been to Dub Club, you get some really good music there. But Dub Club is like a relaxed kinda vibe.

You recently performed at Bob Marley’s 74th birthday celebration in Kingston. Do you still listen to his music? Most definitely! Bob has set such a great and amazing foundation for the music, the industry, the genre itself, the country, the youth... He’s set such a great example that you haffi really learn from it and take a lot from it so that you know where you’re coming from. You haffi understand how to execute in honor of such people.

What are some of your favorite Bob songs? Well, I performed “Who the Cap Fit” that night, so that’s one of my favorites. And I like “Is This Love” and “Natural Mystic.” That’s just a few.

I know that’s a hard question. What about a dancehall legend like Super Cat? Hmm… “Mud Up” woulda be my favorite Super Cat.

Really?! Yeah, because of the flow he has on it, not necessarily the content. See, I’m from Spanish Town. Jamaicans on a whole, we like vibes. We like lyrics that, as we would say, “it slap!” It touches you, and really hits that spot. So I listen to a lot of different things, and the lyrics that I listen to aren't always conscious. But what I derive from music is not necessarily the message. Sometimes the flow that you’re hearing, that’s the wave for the moment. It may not be the best for the youth, but that’s what people like to vibe to. So you take that vibe, put a positive message to it, and that’s the spin. So I listen very widely.

One of my favorite songs on your new EP is the “Rapture” remix. It was dope that you got together with Govana on that. When I first wrote “Rapture,” Govana had recently done a song called “Bake Bean” that took off in Jamaica. When him drop that, it’s like the flow really resonate with me. I was like, “This is dope.” So when I did “Rapture” I was listening back to it and thought I should probably try to get Govana on this track. And it turned out so sick!

That’s cool to have the credibility where other artists respond to you like that. Because I'm sure it’s not always that easy. No, it’s not always easy. Me haffi give thanks for the way people have been responding.

So no one has kissed their teeth and said, “Nah man”? (Laughs) No, not yet. (Laughs) But what I have to appreciate is just when another artist really listens and pays attention. Sometimes an artist can be good and they don't get the response or the attention that they deserve. Some people don't want to listen, so I give a lot of respect to who is willing to listen.

Well Govana has given you that “crown” in his verse, which reminds me—how did the song “Throne” come about? I remember Walshy sent me that riddim in the first batch of riddims that he sent me. The riddim for “Toast” was also in that batch, but I started with “Throne.” It was basically like a challenge for me. I was like “How am I gonna spit on this?” Because the riddim sounded so dynamic. I was like “mi haffi mash this up!” Hence the fast spit-fire kind of vibe.

What music are you currently listening to on your phone? I don’t listen to my own songs that much. I’m vibing to Mr Eazi. I’ve been going in on the Afrobeats. Burna Boy. Smino the rapper. And I’ve been going in even more on Bob Marley.

Well, it’s reggae month right now. So there’s lots of legendary birthdays—Bob Marley, Dennis Brown. That makes the month even more significant! By the way, I’m born in February also. (Laughs) February 16th.

Happy Earthstrong! Were you keeping that quiet? I just remembered. I’ll be 19!

Wow—you’re gonna be out of the teens soon. What you gonna do on your 19th birthday? Wowwwww—I dunno. I’m gonna see when I get to Jamaica which party. I’ll probably just try and go to a dance or something. That ah go be mad!

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Solitary Alignment: 5 Self-Affirming Reads For Single Ladies On Valentine’s Day

Ahh, the Feast of Saint Valentine—the Hallmark holiday that strikes us with its arrow each year, for better or for worse, depending on your bae status. While the romantic holiday is adored and celebrated by many, if you’re still reeling over, say, your ex’s refusal to commit, chances are Feb. 14 is more of a heartache for you than anything.

But as a wise woman once said, “If they liked it then they should’ve put a ring on it.” So whether V-Day has you scared of lonely or sulking over a lost love, as another wise woman once said, they “would be SUPER lucky to even set eyes on you this Valentine’s Day. That’s it. That’s the gift.” Shout out to The Slumflower.

Sure, having a bae on Valentine’s Day is cool, but so is reminding yourself why you’re just fine without one (cue Webbie’s “Independent”). In fact, single folks have better relationships overall, according to the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. You know how the old adage goes: love yourself before loving someone else.

For this Valentine’s Day, VIBE Vixen rounds up a nourishing list of books for our sisters doin’ it for themselves. Consider this your reminder of how badass you are—because you are! Oh, oh, oh. *Beyoncé voice*

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Johnny Nunez

'So Far Gone': Re-Reviewing Drake's Iconic Mixtape 10 Years Later

“Draaaake?! Draaaake?! Aubrey Graham in a wheelchair... Draaaake?!”

Soulja Boy’s viral rant, while hilarious to 15 million viewers who watched The Breakfast Club interview, seems almost silly to contemplate now in a musical climate so easily dominated by the OVO frontrunner. But in 2009, at the release of Drake’s breakout mixtape, So Far Gone, Soulja’s questions of Drake’s influence and placement on the hip-hop spectrum actually mimicked the inquiries fans may have been asking at the time. Even Drizzy seemed to share those same contemplations on the project as he reflected his newfound stardom and the future that would unfold as a result.

So Far Gone, however, diminished those ounces of doubt. Ten years later, the 18-track project still comes together as one of the most cohesive mixtapes of this decade and has become the building block to one of the sturdiest foundations of a hip-hop artist to date. Revisiting So Far Gone and taking its temperature anew, we get a glimpse of how the personas of the emotional rapper came to be such inescapable and successful forces within the music industry at that time.

 

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@futuretheprince a decade ago you were Dj’ing all ages [email protected] a decade ago you were scared to share your [email protected] a decade ago you worked at a clothing store selling someone else’s [email protected] a decade ago you were in a basement with pink insulation walls figuring out fruity [email protected] a decade ago we were handing out flyers promoting club [email protected] a decade ago you were working the makeup counter at Beverly [email protected] a decade ago your moms house was my safe place and we really ran through the 6 everyday [email protected] a decade ago you were a legend and you will remain that [email protected] a decade ago you promoted me as if you were getting a cut of my [email protected] a decade ago you were the first person to recognize potential and give me a [email protected] a decade ago you came to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and laid a verse for an unknown artist from [email protected] a decade ago you emailed me the cover art for something that would change my life [email protected] a decade ago you came to my release party at 6 Degrees and made me the biggest artist in the city off your presence [email protected] a decade ago I rapped over your beat cause you just made the best shit and even though you stay wildin on twitter these days I will never forget what you contributed to the game and my career...Portia I don’t know your IG but a decade ago you told me to rap over June 27th and bonded me and Houston Texas [email protected] a decade ago you took a chance on MySpace and introduced me to [email protected] a decade ago you took me out of Toronto and gave me the biggest blessing anybody has ever given me...I will never forget anybody involved in this journey even if you don’t fit in this caption...So Far Gone streaming everywhere for the first time ever Thursday. 🙏🏽

A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on Feb 13, 2019 at 3:27am PST

With his follow-up to Comeback Season (2007), Drake interrupted the hip-hop landscape with introspective songs that played up relationships instead of violence and street life through a healthy mix of confident raps and charming vocals. The idea of “emotional rapping” was so novice that it seemed uncool or too feminine in a male-dominated genre (Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings, Nicki Minaj’s Beam Me Up Scotty, and J. Cole’s The Warm Up also created noise at the time), but Drake’s ability to reach his female audience while still resonating with the masses was irrefutable. The somber tone of “Sooner Than Later,” sung in his lower register, perfectly conveys his efforts to reach an estranged lover before she’s gone for good. “The girl or the world? / They say someone gotta lose / I thought that I can have it all, do I really got to choose,” Drake ponders on the record.

In addition to lyrical content, Drake’s audacity to sing on heavily R&B-inspired tracks is unmatched. We saw that on “Houstatlantavegas”—possibly the genesis of his infatuation with strippers (“Hey there, pretty girl/You know, exactly what you got/And I don't blame you at all/You can't resist it/Especially when the lights so bright/And the money so right/And it's comin in every single night,” he crooned)—a seductive song that listens as an open love letter to a mysterious working girl. The romanticization of this woman is reminiscent of T-Pain’s 2005 single “In Luv With a Stripper,” but it seesawed back and forth between velvety refrains and confident bars that captured the allure in a way that felt both sexy and humanizing. The girl was no longer just a stripper, but one who dreamed of making it out of her hometown.

His singing may have seemed comparable to Kanye West, who had just released his predominantly auto-tuned album 808s & Heartbreak just a year before (Drizzy actually sampled Kanye’s “Say You Will” from the same album, flipping it to be a rap track). Even so, Drake dared to pair his vocals alongside talented voices within the R&B space, proving that he could sing just as much as he could rap. “A Night Off” was an incredibly bold and ambitious move. Drake had cojones to pair his sensuous crooning with the high notes of a certified songbird like Lloyd, but somehow it worked. This was the vulnerability that would give him his “Heartbreak Drake” persona, and he won for it.

While his vulnerability would be his gateway into the industry, Drake wanted to remind fans that he was still very much a rapper and a force to be reckoned with. In comparison to “A Night Off,” Drizzy flexed his flows on “Successful,” while Trey Songz held down the chorus. The materialism that was an undeniable 2009 rap music theme stood on the forefront as the eerie harmony led into Songz’s hook, fully encapsulating the desperation of a rookie attempting to overcome struggles and bolster from nothing to everything.

A seasoned Drake would surely not equate his success to simply h*es and cars, but its message, while simple, was honest and provided insight into a naïve conversation on what fame meant to a newcomer. Drake went harder on “Uptown,” though. The rapper had no choice to flex cocky bars over the Boi-1da-produced beat in order to keep up with its A-list features, Lil Wayne and Bun B.

This reminder of Drake The Rapper was also prevalent in his sampling. He demonstrated his understanding of hip-hop’s rich history on songs like “November 18th,” where DJ Screw provided the perfect assist with a chopped and screwed sample of Kris Kross’ “Da Streets Ain’t Right” (which also borrowed from Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 single, “Warning”). Although the track held a lot of weight in its instrumentals, Drizzy forged his own story by illustrating the day Lil Wayne called him, which in turn changed the course of his fate. Likewise, a purely-rapping-no-hook Drake over Jay-Z's original “Ignorant Sh*t” on his version, “Ignant Sh*t,” is quite nice. Yes, breaking away from the usual blueprint of breaks and harmonious choruses makes it teeter on the exhausting side, but the song’s lyrical content was a time capsule of the last decade (“Rest in peace to Heath Ledger, but I’m no Joker”).

The entirety of So Far Gone set the pace for Drake’s career in the years to come, but the tape’s final track, “The Calm,” foreshadowed his position in the landscape of hip-hop the most. “Leader of the new school, it’s proven and it’s known / I’m sitting in a chair, but in the future it’s a throne,” he prophesied. The electronic and muffled beat leads in to Drake’s reflection about a sense of alienation in the industry and his personal life that surely has continued well into the 2010s. While he is now one of the most commercially sought after talents in pop culture, his artistry has often been questioned by his musical peers. But even then, like the song said, Drake has always known that things were going to work out in his favor: “Everything will be okay and it won’t even take that long.”

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