“Marvin's Room” was seen as an anomaly at the time, a six-minute, somewhat avant-garde, ambient-R&B lament, but it’s come to be known as the stereotypical Drake song. After all, what’s more quintessentially Drake than drunk-dialing one’s ex and inadvertently mentioning all the sex he’s been having since? “Marvin's Room” set the stage for a string of Drake songs that are ultimately about his needs, even as he tells his ex that she could do better than him. Maybe he believes that, maybe he doesn’t, but it’s hard to hang up from this call and ultimately feel that the woman already trying to get over him needed this shit right now. “I’m lucky that you picked up / Lucky that you stayed on / I need someone to put this weight on.” There’s no emoji for what that unlucky woman probably felt in response.
“From Time,” Nothing Was the Same (2013)
This spooky and sparse Nothing Was the Same highlight put Jhené Aiko in the unfortunate position of consoling Drake to the point of absurdity. The chorus she was given is so jaw-droppingly devoid of reciprocity that one realizes Drake’s true innovation insofar as rap’s emotions was his bravery in allowing it to be on his own record. “I love me, I love me enough for the both of us / That’s why you trust me / I know you been through more than most of us,” is just a… bold thing to have a woman sing. No wonder her character is “passive-aggressive when we’re texting,” as their relationship appears to have been in the rearview long before Drake has the epiphany of making life “deeper than money, pussy, vacation.” But most infamous of all is when he complains that Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree had the bad manners to go and get engaged when Drake had earmarked her for the duty of completing him. He probably didn’t mean for his hive to go seek out the poor woman on social media, but this is where it became clear that Drake’s foibles weren’t as relatable as they may have seemed at first.
“6PM in New York,” If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015)
Drake’s surprise-hit “mixtape” was filled with subliminals, to the delight of a fan base that was happy to see he had some teeth on him. But this closing track took aim at just about everyone: Tyga (“You need to act your age and not your girl’s age”), Jay Z (“You rappin’ like the throne should be the three of y’all”), Kanye (“I’m never ever scared to get some blood on my leaves”), and various women claiming he’s DM’d them, such as porn star Mia Khalifa (“Bitches alter my messages like we had words”). The song itself describes Drake’s career as a “how-to manual,” therefore the hate he gets is “understandable.” But one-sided self-awareness is his calling card, and he knows the mass appeal of such arrogance; the song ends with “You gotta love it.”
July 2015 was arguably the single biggest month of Drake’s career as it set into motion two events that proved how immortal he’d become: his Meek Mill beef and his biggest viral hit ever. In a rap State of the Union moment as pivotal as Kanye’s 2007 chart defeat over 50 Cent, the court of public opinion ruled in favor of Drake that no one cares if you use ghostwriters. What they did care about was whether or not you looked uncool and out-of-touch. Thus, Drake refocused the ire onto Meek’s tour with his far more commercially accomplished fiancée Nicki Minaj: “Is that a world tour or your girl’s tour?” Our protagonist devilishly implied that Meek can’t afford the good seats at Drake’s own shows. Worst of all, it was the second diss track Drake made in two days, after the dry run “Charged Up.” He had already hit Meek twice and was enjoying his Internet-validated victory, performing “Back to Back” at shows in front of a screen of Meek-dissing memes, when just two days later his stature as one of the biggest artists in the world was about to ascend even higher.
“Hotline Bling” (2015)
The biggest song Drake will ever make officially retired any kind of geeky underdog status from his beginnings. Long after “Started from the Bottom,” he was officially hitting his head on the ceiling of the top. Therefore the tune’s condescending tone felt just a little less benign than the similar “good girl and you know it” admonitions from 2013’s big, gorgeous “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” This time he cast himself as the one receiving desperate calls late at night from an old flame who’s gotten a “reputation” for herself now while he feels “left out.” He specifically chides her for “wearing less” and drinking champagne, all stuff that would sound wincy if not for the glorious distraction of the video and Drake’s goofy dancing, which signals along with the tropical cha-cha-derived beat that we’re not supposed to take any of this too seriously. But by this point, Drake had gotten a reputation for himself.
“Child’s Play,” VIEWS (2016)
Views confirmed what many had already believed: that Drake’s playful-seeming reminiscences of women he missed were really starting to lack in charm and empathy. One of the most egregious tunes was “Child’s Play,” where he seems less concerned about him and his girl fighting than the fact it’s ruining Cheesecake Factory for him (“You know I love to go there!”), and he hides the keys to his Bugatti so she can’t take it to CVS and pick up Kotex. And it’s hard to give the auteur’s perspective the benefit of the doubt when he includes an intro on the track where a strip-club DJ says that any woman with seats at a season-opening Toronto basketball game must be banging someone on the team.
“U With Me?” Views (2016)
This is a song about Drake questioning the loyalty of his exes, whom he group-texts to save time. “I tell ‘em they belong to me / That goes on for forever,” he asserts proudly.
“Redemption,” Views (2016)
It’s not that Drake’s not allowed to be vindictive or angry about his past relationships. He’s certainly allowed to craft a narrative where he’s absolutely the bad guy, whether it’s a character study or just a way of alleviating his boredom when it comes to sing-rapping about himself. It’s the fact that when he says “this year for Christmas, I just want apologies,” one flashes back to the woman from “Hotline Bling” or “Marvin’s Room” and wonders if they’re really worse off without a guy who brags on his fifth album that he “gave your nickname to someone else.”
“Too Good” is one of the more fun and catchy songs on what is by most reports a slow, sodden, and very long album. It manages to marry the hallmarks of old Drake (presumably playful shots at a female counterpart) and the new (a danceable, trop-house beat, just like “One Dance,” “Controlla” and “Hotline Bling,” the world’s favorite songs off of Views). But he’s just not as likely to have a hit this time around from a chorus too many abused women have heard in worse context before: “I’m way too good to you / You take my love for granted / You just don’t understand it.” Considering how bad a boyfriend Drake wants us to know he is, it’s hard to not cringe at the balls of it, which is fairly boilerplate for his dark-humored phase. None of these appalling examples make Views an unworthy catalog entry because they chose to ruminate on the man’s dark side, but they do shed light on the darkness of his previous material, which sounds less charming than ever.
“Two Birds, One Stone” (2016)
Finally, a diss track for an ailing, depressed Kid Cudi (“You were the man on the moon / Now you just go through your phases”) completes Drake’s journey from awkward rookie to neighborhood bully. No doubt, it’s fascinating to have a rap version of Walter White as the dominant artistic persona in one of the most consistently creative genres that music has ever seen. But we all know what happened to Walter White.