With no holds barred, one writer ranks Drake’s discography from worst to best.
Long before he was in danger of watching his career being pulverized by a certain Virginia-bred lyricist with braids, Drake proved himself to be one of hip-hop’s most admired luminaries. He jumped, or, pedaled, from Degrassi into the booth, exploring rap punchlines with goofy panache and showcasing the kind of sensitivity that would give Ralph Tresvant a run for his money With the impending release of probable double-album Scorpion, reflecting on the work that’s got him here paints a picture of a Toronto singer/rapper with a chip on his shoulder and a willingness to always reinvent his urbanity through constant switch-ups.
Scorpion has a lot of weight on his shoulders because of Drake’s recent bout with Pusha T, but if he sticks to the plan, he could have a classic on his hands. Especially with an album full of rap and another full of R&B music. Dividing his artistic personalities would be something previously unheard of in Drake’s catalogue, making consuming it well worth the wait. It would show that he’s still willing to reinvent the envelope as he’s done over the course of his past five albums. On the eve of the sixth, the possibilities are endless.
However, before facing the sting of the new LP, we’ve ranked Drizzy’s five albums from worst to best.
Drake’s 2016 release, Views, saw him spin the furthest he’s ever spun from being ensnared in rap’s clutches at the tail-end of the 2000s. Of course, nothing’s wrong with that; after all, some of the most memorable music period mixes genres and goes around your expectations. But Views was Drake’s spin of the globe, covering his eyes, and landing on Jamaica, thus meaning that Jamaican dancehall would be the project’s primary influence. What hurt it was the fact that each attempt lacked substance and grit, being nothing more than pale pop imitations in the process. “One Dance” and “Controlla” were so flat that they were borderline parody.
Of Views’ 20 tracks, only a handful were thick, substance-y cuts that warranted more than a curious listen or two (“Redemption” did, for sure). Four albums in, frequent consigliere 40’s icy, spaced-out productions felt a smidge thinner, more rushed to capitalize on sounds of the moment. It may have become Drizzy’s sixth consecutive number-one album on the Billboard 200, but critical reception for it was lukewarm at best. This was Drake at his lowest point, appropriating the world’s musical wonders without fully committing to any of them.
4. More Life
Billed as a “playlist,” More Life was boilerplate Drake — surface-level introspective, just enough-type raps and strategic feature placements from the hottest artists that could support the notion that he’s everywhere listening and soaking in game at all times. Freeing the album from any narrative guise afforded Drizzy the opportunity to throw stuff at the wall ‘til it stuck. Spoiler alert: it worked, somewhat. Frank Dukes, Boi1-da, Murda Beatz, Kanye West, T-Minus and countless more producers paraded through the door and dropped off beats outside of Drake’s typical palette. Young Thug, Quavo, Travis Scott, 2 Chainz and PartyNextDoor offered their voices as well. More Life was a 22-track celebration without purpose, just because.
But then again—and this becomes a common thread in the path of Drake releases—the Toronto crooner’s ability to trim bloat from projects practically doesn’t exist. Much of the grime work on the album sounded out of sorts, passable at best. Even when he decided to return to the dancehall for “Madiba Riddim,” the lackluster, indolent attempt couldn’t hold a candle to standouts like “Portland” (mainly because of Travis Scott’s chameleon-like superpowers when he’s the featured artist) and “Gyalchester,” because of its ominous air of finality.
Still, you’ve got to hand it to him, he’s one of the more adventurous artists in the game. Many wouldn’t continuously place their credibility on the line by venturing out into the world with other cultural mainstays, but that’s what makes him, well, Drake.
Drake’s swaggering debut may show its age due to Father Time, but when it came out, it was a bold statement and foot in the door for Lil Wayne’s protégé. Swift, ambient production that focused on creating an atmosphere first on every song, empowered Drake to either beat down the listener’s head with overblown punchlines or to use his soft singer’s touch to showcase his, at the time, impressive artistic range. “Best I Ever Had” and “Shut It Down” mixed the two Drakes, bringing about club melodies and sensual jams for the bedroom at the same time. A laundry list of rappers with prestige comprised the album’s feature list, further bolstering its appeal. (When was the last time you’ve heard JAY-Z or Young Jeezy on a Drizzy record?)
Perhaps its worst aspect was that Drake’s shine-the-mirror-on-himself rap style was raw to the point that it was borderline corny. His lyricism was on the head, with violence and drug-dealing off the table, so the only thing that he had to rap about, besides the conquest of love, was himself. At times, he seemed out-of-breath as he explored his psyche, and without the smart stylings that come with age, he delved into cringeworthy territory with his confessionals. But Drake’s debut, if anything else, provided his template. He has since expanded, but to what degree is arguable.
2. Take Care
Thank Me Later hit store shelves on June 15, 2010. Take Care followed almost a year and five months later. The difference was like night and day. Prior to the release of Take Care, Drake had revealed that although his debut had a sizable commercial impact, he wasn’t thoroughly impressed with the quality of the music. Take Care went into a starkly different direction, prioritizing minimalism, an ethereal sound that still can’t be replicated, and unabashed, often ridiculed, emotional lyricism — as a singer, and, surprisingly, as a rapper. His conquests with women were so bare that listeners often speculated on who could have made him into the monster that he was.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom either. “Headlines,” “Make Me Proud” and “The Motto” brought bounce to an album that, on the surface, reveled in its glumness. Drake explored narcissism, loneliness, the quality of his life pre-and post-fame, and slow heartbreak in his emotional cuts. But here, he showed his willingness to hit the other side of the spectrum. Whether it was women’s empowerment, senseless swag raps or even asserting his place in the game, Drake’s penchant for fun on Take Care felt authentic and we salivated for it. We may not have appreciated it before, but the album introduced us to a full palette of Drake’s emotions, and we finally identified with them.
On the third act of Drizzy’s musical journey, the icy unpredictably and grizzled production that sounded imported from Toronto, and the often-rote self-reflective tendencies that he’d perfected over the years were the best that they’d ever been. They still are, for that matter. Drake’s brief hiatus (punctuated with the two song-punch of “Girls Love Beyoncé” and “On My Way” with James Fauntleroy in early 2013) enabled him to gather the best of the ideas of Take Care and magnify them for its follow-up, Nothing Was The Same. The album’s first single “Started From The Bottom” made it clear that this iteration of Drake was confident, focused, and ready to break some barriers, the single sounding unlike what both listeners and critics were expecting from a few years of creating Drake music formulas.
Drake’s rapping was hungrier, more fraught. A fan of beat switch ups, Drake attacked the 40-produced instrumental for “Tuscan Leather” that warped from soulful opus to boom-bap slapper, then finally a melancholy backdrop for hushed tones. From there, the hardcore rapping dominated the first half, Drake giving his rap fan base the bars that they’d salivated over since Thank Me Later. On the album’s second half, his singing took hold, eschewing the previous dispiriting attempts. “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” was the kind of finger-snapping ballad that would be played for countless walks down the aisle. “Too Much” was similarly emotional, yet slower, and explored Drake’s anxiety that came with being the best in the game. The JAY-Z-assisted “Pound Cake” was the lyrical exercise that they both needed, reigniting two of the game’s most well-respected lyricists and sparking a competitive vein for four minutes of boss talk and breathless attacks.
That elusive narrative that took form on Take Care, and, to some degree, Thank Me Later before it fully manifested itself here. Nothing Was The Same was about the acceptance of fame and its’ subsequent dismissal. Peppered in were observations of interactions with women, both good and bad, but by the end of the album’s 13-track run, we’re left disoriented by Drake’s constantly thrown chunk of emotions that really relay the fact that, well, fame kind of sucks. But through the problematic affairs, Drake’s pursuit of rap’s crown is shown to matter more than anything else. The predominantly OVO camp-produced beats play a large part in creating the disorienting atmosphere with their chilliness, fully immersing us in a frigid experience that hardly ever lets up. This was Drake at his pinnacle, a rapper, and singer confident with his place and his abilities, experimenting and succeeding.