Drake’s Summer Sixteen: Prophecy Fulfilled
Numbers and cultural impact don’t lie: His current three-pack is perfect, and historic
“Life is gonna stress you just by being life. Work, bills, student loans, relationships, the world. Trump. Sometimes you just wanna party. That’s the beautiful thing about music … You can get lost in it for three-, four-minute stretches. I don’t care to know too much about Drake other than his music. Just give me a cold drink, “Controlla” and “One Dance.” I’ll figure out the rest.” — partygoer, Washington, D.C.
Hands-down the best party I’ve hit recently was in May at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. Colors is a respected name in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia party scene, but the event changed the game by making it an R&B-only party. And that night it really came down to three songs.
The vibes were cool all night. The drinks were cooler. And strong. If there was animosity, it didn’t RSVP. It’s hard to squad up on somebody when Jodeci is in the background crooning So you’re having my baby / And it means so much to me. No one was for the drama and the night was a resounding success — filled with slow dancing, slow grinding and so much twerking — it was the closest I’ve felt in years to being at a college house party at Hampton University.
But, more than anything, I like parties just as much for gauging how people react to music. And at about 1 a.m., the DJ went on a transition: Rihanna’s “Work” (which features one of the best Drake guest spots in a minute), followed by Drake’s “Controlla,” and “One Dance.” All songs from this year. The trio of tracks captivated the entire venue, and for as far as the eye could see, what I’d originally thought was the Howard Theatre had turned into the video for “Work.” Leggings, sweatpants, hands on hips grinding to the beat against walls, double cups of liquor and sweat. The whole nine.
The combination of the three-song care package works for simple reasons. One, the Caribbean vibe in all three records is inviting and intoxicating. And two, the trio of songs are a microcosm of what makes Drake’s style, well, Drake’s. The verses —But you can’t just diss and come tell man sorry / You can’t listen to me talk and go tell my story / Nah, it don’t work like that when you love somebody — are slick, charismatic and often self-centered appeals to women. Drake is not the second coming of legendary crooners Marvin Gaye or Luther Vandross (or a reincarnation of Jay Z), despite what he may believe. Yet, like musical prophytes before him who crossed the burning sands from superstar to worldwide phenom, he’s stroking the emotional nerves of his fan base. Drake thrives in an era when, however frivolous, direct messages (Got a couple DMs that I slid in already), Uber sendoffs (‘Bout to call your a– an Uber / I got somewhere to be) and FaceTime check-ins (FaceTime saying you got plans for the boy) are very real topics of conversation.
A dope concept about music — and one frequently lost in debates — is remembering and embracing the fact that different artists appeal to different moods in different moments. Drake’s connection to his people comes via songscapes starkly disparate from, say, rapper Kendrick Lamar, whose sociopolitical and graphic narratives led him all the way to performing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Drake’s musical persona parlays with ease between club dance floors, strip clubs, sports arenas, bedrooms and early-morning drunken phone calls to exes. He’s Entourage’s Vinnie Chase, but actually the interesting one.
So, whether one is at a house party in Harlem, New York, a wedding reception in Los Angeles, viewing Snapchat clip after Snapchat clip in Las Vegas or Miami, hearing it blast from parades of cars on Washington D.C.’s, U Street or in pre-performance DJ sets at festivals everywhere, the trio of “Work,” “One Dance,” and “Controlla” is an undeniable tour de force at the absolute most opportune time: summer. Furthermore, sometimes, two additional songs are mixed in — Drake’s “Child’s Play” and DJ Khaled’s “For Free” (which features Drake). It’s not a package that’ll one day lead him to be immortalized in the halls of the Library of Congress. But it’s part of the soundtrack behind a provocative group chat recapping the previous night’s ratchetness the following morning.
“Despite whatever else is going on, he coming with the smashes,” DJ Tay James, Justin Bieber’s official DJ, chortled before a recent stop on the singer’s Purpose World Tour. “You can’t say nothing wrong about that. I play about four or five records from the Drake album in my sets.”
What makes this triplet/quintet of hits all the more fascinating is the evolution of the supernova that is Drake’s 2016 album, Views. Hints of the project’s existence began to take form on Drake’s June 2014 track 0 to 100 / The Catch Up — he alluded to an album dropping the following summer. After the hint, he tweeted in August that it would be called Views From the 6. Except a year later the album wasn’t Views, it was his surprise joint project with Future, 2015’s What A Time To Be Alive (which went platinum in March). His next big single, last fall’s “Hotline Bling,” came with its share of controversy, but the video became a pop darling/meme gold mine and so gave the forthcoming Views a steroid shot of added anticipation. The audio all-points bulletin in late January on the freebie “Summer Sixteen,” a record that even name-dropped President Barack Obama, warned of a sinister plot of warm-weather domination.
The hype conjured comparisons to Jay Z’s 2001 opus, The Blueprint, an album some regard as the Brooklyn, New York, legend’s finest. By the time Views finally debuted on Apple Music on April 29, 2016, it had already suffered from the pressure of living up to fantastical hype. Mixed reviews, more than for any project in Drake’s career, arrived across platforms. Critiques poured in. He’s singing too much. He’s superficial and incapable of any musical growth. He hired the wrong ghostwriter. He’s bored. There are too many songs.
What Views actually is — an often dark and mercurial love letter to Drake’s hometown of Toronto. One conceivably better suited for late-night drives home than cookouts and summertime day parties. Pitchfork, which credited the album with having undeniable “great moments,” said Views largely plagued itself by being “claustrophobic and too long and weirdly monotone.” In fairness, Views is at times a wintry-sounding collection of songs — think songs “Keep The Family Close” or “Redemption” — released on the cusp of spring and summer. But there’s a flip side.
Songs in the vein of “Hype,” “Weston Road Flows,” “Still Here” and “Views” call to mind just how potent Drake can be (see also the post-album released track “4 P.M. In Calabasas”). Perhaps it’s this merger of moods that allowed for frustration. But perhaps it also provided the album staying power quite unlike anything seen in rap in well over a decade.
Views, which was certified double platinum on June 9, and has been streamed over a half-billion times, is not staying near the top of the charts. It is, quite literally, the top of the charts. Views has been the No. 1 album in the country since the start of the second round of the NBA playoffs, claiming that pinnacle for a record nine consecutive weeks and running, surpassing rapper Eminem’s 2000 The Marshall Mathers LP for the third-longest streak in rap history. Not Jay Z. Not Eminem. Not 50 Cent. Not T.I. Not Lil Wayne. Not Kanye West. This is the longest streak for a male artist at No. 1 since singer Usher’s 2004 Confessions (which also spent nine nonconsecutive weeks at No. 1). And it’s the longest consecutive streak, per Billboard, since British singer Adele’s global takeover in 2012 with her album, 21. “In terms of chart statistics, this is the biggest domination of a song and album, at the same time, in more than a decade for a male artist,” said Gary Trust, Billboard’s associate director of charts/radio. “[The last] was 50 Cent, in 2005.” 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” was a No. 1 song and his album The Massacre was No. 1 for six straight weeks.
He’s boxing ghosts now. With Views and “One Dance” leading both the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 for the past seven weeks, he rides shotgun with Michael Jackson as the only male artists in history to hold the top spots for that long. Jackson did so in 1983 with Thriller and “Billie Jean.”
With regard to individual songs, right now, this summer, Drake is either the lead artist or featured artist on 11 entries on Billboard’s The Hot 100 singles chart. “Work,” “One Dance,” and “Controlla” all sit in the top 20. “One Dance,” which features Nigerian artist Wizkid and samples singer Kyla Reid’s 2009 U.K. funky hit “Do You Mind,” became the No. 1 song in the country in May. It’s the first song of his as the lead artist to reach the hallowed mountaintop. And it’s been there now for seven weeks total. “They’re streaming it. They’re buying it,” said Trust of the song that was initially overshadowed by Drake’s “Pop Style,” which showcased Jay Z and West. “Radio is playing it. Just based on a multisonic appeal, it’s hitting a lot of different angles.” Trust has been at Billboard since 2006. “It’s poppy. It’s R&B. It’s very mass appeal in its construction.”
“When I was in Jamaica, they all partied when those songs came on,” said Los Angeles by way of D.C. DJ Alizay of a recent business trip that had him spinning at six parties on the island. “This is in the club! The authenticity in “Controlla,” the authenticity in “One Dance.” It’s like “One Dance” is more of an Afro beat, but it’s got reggae in it, too. It’s just authentic, man. All those Caribbean sounds, all the producers that produced it are really from the islands.” Boi-1da, who produced “Controlla,” was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Wizkid, who landed both feature and production credits on “One Dance” is from Surulere, Lagos State, Nigeria. “That comes across. You can hear it. When I’m in Jamaica, I literally played that record and went right into [Jamaican reggae artist] Beenie Man. And the people don’t miss a beat!”
Versatility, though, is the straw stirring Drake’s red cup. His biggest hits in 2016 aren’t the blueprint for straight-up rap songs because he’s never fit the mold straight-up rapper. Predicting what a Drake song will sound like is the most inaccurate science outside of predicting the Powerball. His music’s DNA is as diverse as it is magnetic. As polarizing as it is controversial. And as simple as it is complex. And that’s why it captivates so many. Maybe it’s the second verse and hook on “One Dance.” Maybe the similar patterns in “Controlla” and “Work” inspire one big dutty wine, slow grind session. I’ve experienced this, as should everyone. Multiple times. At the Howard Theatre and beyond. Whatever the reason, whatever the inspiration, seven years after his third mixtape So Far Gone announced his arrival, Drake is still discovering different ways into people’s ears with a potluck of sounds spanning the world.
Cause while all of my closest friends out partying / I’m just here making all the music that they party to. — Drake, 2010’s “Light Up”
Drake is one of four acts with more than 100 entries on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The other four? The cast from the television show Glee, Lil Wayne and Elvis Presley. As a colleague recently noted via text, “You can luck into one hit. Kids might like doing the dance on Vine or something. But 100 hits? Nah. That’s a skill. A transcendent skill.”
ZenithOptimedia, a Toronto media-buying agency, recently estimated Drake’s endorsement of his hometown at roughly $3 billion. That’s billion with a “B.” With each achievement, with each return on investment, credence behind the boast rings truer and truer. Drake has the modern-day legend he cantillated about.
Scared for the first time everything just clicked / What if I don’t really do the numbers they predict, he rapped six summers ago on the track “9 A.M. In Dallas.” Considering the fact that I’m the one that they just picked/ To write a chapter in history / This s— has got me sick.
Six summers later, he’s certainly written that chapter. He’s dodged every bullet and survived every controversy. He’s no longer just Lil Wayne’s protege. He’s the biggest rapper in the world with a five-pack of bangers impacting the culture in deep and delirium-inducing ways. And he’s one of the greatest hitmakers rap has and will ever produce … whose run may be far from complete.
“It just kind of amazes me seven years into his career, which can kind of be a lifetime in pop music, that he’s reaching new heights,” said Trust of Drake’s current dominance. “That really says more than anything how well he is doing now. Whatever he’s been doing, it’s still working for him. And maybe it’s working better than ever.”