(I personally do not listen to Drake anymore due to his attack on Kid Cudi and repeated stealing of flows, however, my friend Ziggy Starscream has examined Drake and how he has impacted hip-hop.)
Drake is really important and made a huge impact for a decade but he just isn’t there for me. I have heard him really rap and he surely does on “Back 2 Back” which made me take another look at Drake and his talent. He’s brought an emotional side to hip-hop to soften it up and broaden the genre overall. Drake has been popular since I was in high school. Hell, before that if you consider his time playing Wheelchair Jimmy. He earned himself a lot of respect (and trophies) from not only me but fellow artists, critics, and fans alike.
But I really have a hard time saying he is top five rappers or artists in the genre all time. I just can’t put myself to have him there. For starters, that top tier of artists/rappers is very, very difficult to break into let alone even come to a consensus on. Tupac and Biggie are always auto-includes as both made great music and revolutionized the genre in an insurmountable number of ways. Would hip-hop even survive the decade if it wasn’t for those two? Bringing both of them in also represents the New York where the sound was born and raised as well as the West Coast that transformed and baptized the world with fire through its blistering sound.
Regional bias is a factor when forming a list of the top five. The Atlanta sound is the sound that is dominating popular hip-hop right now. Migos & Gucci Mane are huge right now and it’s been a sound that has had a death grip on popular hip-hop currently. “Atlanta” is one of the most popular shows on television about Southern Hip-Hop. So wouldn’t you need to have an ATL artist there too? But almost every time I look at people’s top five lists, rarely do they have a southern sound rapper on their list. Why?
This is where I believe forming this list past Biggie and Pac gets extremely messy. I think the first thing to say is what criteria are we judging a hip-hop artist/rapper to quantify “greatness”?
For me personally, there are several I can think of right now in no particular order:
1) Advancement of the Genre
2) Originality & Authenticity
3) Technical Skill, Ability to actually “Flow”
4) Wordplay, Metaphors. (do they have “those lines”?)
5) Staying Power
6) Respect from Fellow Artists
7) Respect from Fans
8) Respect from Critics of the Genre
Drake has 1 from the opening of the emotional side of hip-hop as well as 5-8. But I am not sure on 2, 3 and 4 because there are just so many other legends of the genre that have achieved all 8 of these criteria in my mind. Drake is good. He has his moments where he is really great. If I am thinking about his flow, how would he be able to hold up to an Eminem, Andre 3000, or Common? Does he really make you think the way a Kendrick or Nas would? Has he really changed the sound the way Dr. Dre, Wu-Tang, or Kanye has? Does he make you gasp with brilliant wordplay the way MF Doom or Rakim would? Does he have that ultimate swagger that Jay-Z exudes in his music? It is difficult to even be mentioned in the conversation as you can see.
I don’t believe that he is quite there. Awards, sales, and critical success are great but I just don’t see it as an accurate measurement to place Drake in that conversation. He has had ghostwriters in the past which should eliminate him from the best lyricist conversation in the first place. While I liked “Views” there were several lyrics that I swear could have been written by someone using a crayon (Turn that 6 into a 9? Really?). I don’t feel impressive when I can rap all the words to a Drake verse. It’s not that hard. His songs aren’t really about much. He has the party lifestyle and does all this fantastic stuff that hip-hop is criticized for glamorizing and produces music that lacks the depth to really counteract any of that image. He was good in an era that didn’t have many others to compete with other than Kanye and Lil Wayne.
As a result, Drake has been busy and rather prolific. He has been omnipresent in pop culture for a decade now but at a time when there was not much to compete against. His music lacks the depth of many others. Lyrically he would be hard-pressed to compete against more than a handful of artists. Drake has been good in a bad time of the genre. Just because he has been here for a long time doesn’t mean he is great.