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Insider is reminiscing about the past 10 years of musical greats with a series of opinion essays dedicated to the artists who inspired fans around the world. Here, writer Mark Braboy explains why he believes Drake is the greatest artist of the decade. (He also thinks Kendrick Lamar is the artist of the decade.)
For a little over a decade, Drake has become a dominant presence, helping him become one of the most successful and influential hip-hop and pop superstars of the 2010s.
Insider is looking back on the last decade of musical greats with a series of opinion essays. Next up: Drake.
A week ago, I argued that Kendrick Lamar is the artist of the decade. But there's also an argument to be made that the title belongs to Drake.
If there was one meaningful lesson to take away from the life of the late, young legend Juice WRLD and his music, it's that it reminds us our heroes become more powerful, more real to us when the cape is off. Meaning that behind the flexing, glory, and the $500 shades is a real person, battling the same complex, yet honest emotions, demons, and choices just like us regular mortals are.
Drake — Toronto's golden boy and Lil Wayne's protege-turned-icon who arguably paved the way for Juice WRLD — is no different as he built his musical legacy by being honest, emotionally vulnerable (yet manipulative at times — see "Views" and "More Life" for evidence), and a lyrical and melodic gladiator.
For a little over a decade, his exceedingly dominant presence over music allowed him to be one of the decade's most successful and influential hip-hop and pop superstars with a complicated, all-star legacy that's continuously being written by the minute.
Since 2006, Drake seduced his way into our hearts through frosty Casanova-esque lyrics and soft, sultry singing that got an entire generation in their feels
I discovered Drake around 2008-ish indirectly through my twin sister who was into a lot of sultry and slow R&B when artists like Pretty Ricky and future collaborators Omarion and Trey Songz were well into their young primes.
Almost a year before Drake's classic, breakout mixtape "So Far Gone" would be released, the first single "Brand New" captured my emotions in ways I didn't expect as it was the soundtrack of my teenage love life at the time. And up until a few days later when I would eventually be introduced to his rapping abilities on 2007's "Replacement Girl" featuring Trey Songz, I swore up and down he was an R&B/Pop singer.
This anecdote is important because a few weeks ago, there was a heated debate on Twitter about whether Drake popularized singing in hip-hop among his generation and the following one after The New York Times's Jon Carmonica published a controversial decade-end piece on Drake.
The short answer is no and yes — I'll explain.
Melodies and singing in hip-hop go as far back as the 1980s and would eventually evolve multiple times throughout the 1990s and 2000s with artists like Bone Thugs & Harmony, Lord Infamous & Koopsta Knicca, Missy Elliott, Nelly, Snoop Dogg, and more recently, T-Pain, Future, Lil Wayne, Kanye West and Drake's direct influences, Little Brother's Phonte and former collaborator and fellow Canadian rapper Saukrates.
During the height of the overwhelmingly popular wave of autotune-heavy hits that had nearly every rapper doing the best imitations of T-Pain and the late great Roger Troutman, there was a distinct difference between what Drake innovated and popularized and what everyone else was doing.
At the time, there were virtually no artists who were both a legit rapper and a legit crooner who delivered velvety smooth pop/R&B hybrid vocals that could exist separately from his hip-hop songs. There also weren't many artists who were entirely removed from the warped sounds of autotune, let alone consistently successful when it came to sheer quality as well as Billboard chart success.
One of the most captivating aspects of his music over the span of twelve bodies of work was his ability to convey the full range of our complex emotions in his music, whether it was about his love life, personal struggles, or tumultuous family drama, as expressed on 2011's "Look What You Done" and 2013's "Too Much" featuring Sampah.
We connected with Drake because both his delivery and straight-to-the-point lyrics made it all the more relatable, including the darker side of love that many of us are afraid to admit exists, like on songs such as "Girls Love Beyonce" and "Marvins Room," as well as our softer side, like the Nicki Minaj-assisted "Proud of You" and the Jhene Aiko-featured "From Time."
Despite Drake's soft, disarming, yet assertive voice being his musical moneymaker, it was his strong and, at times, fearsome raps that solidified his respect within hip-hop
And while he demonstrated range and versatility with plenty of storytelling moments ("Too Much"), his more fearsome highlights come from his guest features like Rick Ross's "Stay Schemin," French Montana's "Pop That," and his rap battles, which practically reinvigorated lyrical warfare on wax, against Meek Mill, Joe Budden, Pusha T, and supposedly towards Kendrick Lamar.
And let's not forget that he's known to open an album with cult classics, "Free Smoke," "Tuscan Leather," "Digital Dash" alongside Future, and "Survival."
These songs carry a lot of significance to his catalog because Drake is at his most defiant, braggadocious, and venomous. Especially on the aforementioned "Tuscan Leather" where he raps, "I reached the point where don't s--- matter to me, n---- / I reached heights that Dwight Howard couldn't reach, n---- / Prince Akeem, they throw flowers at my feet, n---- / I could go a hour on this beat, n---- / I'm just as famous as my mentor / But that's still the boss, don't get sent for."
But going back to Drake being a singing/rap hybrid, he did not invent anything that no one had attempted or had the talent to do before. However, it would be deeply disingenuous to suggest:
His style was not unique at the time in comparison to his peers Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, A$AP Rocky, Big K.R.I.T., Wale, and Wiz Khalifa among others.
That his style — which led to Billboard pop chart hits like "Find Your Love," "Best I Ever Had," "Hotline Bling," "In My Feelings," "Marvins Room," and the Rihanna-assisted "Take Care" — was not influential on nearly an entire generation around the world.
His contributions helped pave the way for artists like YK Osiris, the late Juice WRLD, Roddy Rich, Tory Lanez, The Weeknd, Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, PNB Rock, Bryson Tiller, and Post Malone to name a few.
And while he was not the only rapper or singer of his generation to be influential towards the next, Drake made the biggest impact.
Throughout his decade-long career, Drake became more and more of a relentless money machine both on the road and in the boardroom
Through his success, Drake built a near-untouchable and unprecedented empire.
Since 2010, Drake's tours have steadily grown into major blockbuster events of the year, even to record-breaking degrees.
In 2018, Drake's joint tour with Migos, Aubrey and the Three Migos, grossed $79 million, while in 2016, his Summer Sixteen tour became known as the highest-grossing hip hop tour in history earning $85 million. In fact it was even speculated that he could have broken this record even further had he not injured his ankle on that tour.
The gold and platinum music catalog of Drake is certainly the most decorated out of any of his peers in hip-hop and outclasses many others in pop music between several generations.
Last year, Drake became the top certified singles artist ever with 142 million certified units sold as reported by Forbes after he released his double-disc album "Scorpion." That same year, he broke The Beatles' legendary 54-year record of having the most singles on the Billboard Top 10 at seven singles and became the first artist of any genre to surpass the 50 billion streams mark on Spotify, according to Financial Post.
Drake's financial success grew to be even more astonishing as back in September, Business Insider reported that his current net worth is $150 Million. Forbes also ranked him at No. 5 on a list of the richest rappers of 2019 (with him being the youngest on the list at the age of 32).
He's also listed as the third highest-paid act in hip-hop, earning $75 million in 2019. And his entire net worth is comprised of real estate, being an ambassador for his beloved Toronto Raptors, his OVO umbrella company comprised of his label, clothing line, and radio station, and his famed and lucrative deal with Nike's Jordan brand that lead to the infamous line "checks over stripes" on Travis Scott's "Sicko Mode."
As the decade comes to a close, Drake leads a shining and unprecedented legacy of success and critical and commercial success, albeit a complicated one.
His supreme dominance over the decade in music, pop culture, and in business ultimately remains undisputed.
Mark P. Braboy is a Chicago-based culture journalist who specializes in black music and its intersection between entertainment and the cruel society it comes from. He's been published in over 15 publications and is a member of the NABJ-CC. He's also a sucker for Three 6 Mafia and underrated clean air of Mississippi. Find him on Twitter and Instagram at @Shootyourmark.
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