Hip-Hop

Five Burning Questions: Drake Makes Billboard Chart History With 'Certified Lover Boy'

Drake
Courtesy of Republic Records

Drake

Another year, another series of Billboard chart records taken over by Aubrey "Drake" Graham. This week, his long-awaited new studio album Certified Lover Boy debuts atop the Billboard 200 albums chart, with 613,000 equivalent album units moved -- easily the highest first-week mark of 2021, nearly doubling the 309,000 moved last week by recent foe Kanye West with his Donda set.

However, it's on the Billboard Hot 100 that Drake really makes his historic mark. CLB launches all 21 of its tracks onto the chart this week -- including nine of the top 10, and each of the top five, led by "Way 2 Sexy" (featuring Future and Young Thug) at No. 1. He simultaneously sets the records for most concurrent top 10 hits and most total top 10 hits off the same album, and becomes the first artist since The Beatles in 1964 to hold all five top spots in the same week.

What to make of all this Drake history? And how has he been able to keep this up for so long? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.

1. The Billboard record books are at Drake's mercy this week, with him making all sorts of chart history with Certified Lover Boy's debut week. Of all the impressive marks made by CLB on both the albums and songs front, which do you think is the most staggering?

Cydney Lee: I expected CLB as a whole to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 but having 9 songs in the top 10 on the Hot 100 chart is mind-blowing to me. Drake deserves all his flowers!!!

Jason Lipshutz: Three years ago, Drake made Hot 100 history following the release of Scorpion by scoring a whopping seven songs in the chart’s top 10. It was a staggering feat at the time -- and the fact that he just broke his own record by launching nine songs into the top 10 of the Hot 100 with Certified Lover Boy is nothing short of astonishing. If there’s one stat that fully captures Drake’s dominance of popular music, particularly found on streaming services, it’s that one.

Neena Rouhani:  It’s the claim to nine of the top ten positions on the Hot 100 for me. That is a first, even for Drake- -- and we don't see many of those these days, considering he has basically achieved everything else under the sun. And it gave his longtime collaborator Future his first Hot 100 No. 1 which is the icing on the cake.

Dan Rys: Having nine of the top 10 songs on the Hot 100. First of all, it’s never been done before, and having the entire top five has only ever happened once (by The Beatles). But nine of the top 10 is just insane; having two in the top 10 is proof enough of cultural dominance, but a 90% marketshare at the apex of the most important songs chart in the country is mind-boggling. I’m curious, too, how many stay in the top 10 next week -- I wouldn’t be surprised if five or so stuck around.

Andrew Unterberger: Obviously the 9/10 on the Hot 100's top 10 is the most eye-popping, but I did want to give a quick shoutout to the insanity of him moving 613,000 first-week units at this point of his career -- basically lapping the rest of the field this year, including his good buddy Kanye West (though there's obviously some caveats there, with the latter having a shorter week after his Sunday release). With Drake entering his mid-30s and still riding this high, you do sorta have to wonder if he'll just kinda stay this bulletproof indefinitely.

2. With Drake's chart dominance at an all-time high, do you think he's at the peak of his career popularity? Or have the charts changed more than his own standing? 

Cydney Lee: Peak might be accurate, but I think he’ll continue to climb. After all, the charts are a reflection of his career popularity in a way.

Jason Lipshutz: The answer is somewhere in the middle, although, no matter how favorable different chart evolutions have been to Drake, it’s quite clear that he remains enormous in pop culture, a recording artist in a class of his own when it comes to streaming might. Whether or not he’s at the peak of his popularity remains in the eye of the beholder -- I’d probably still give his Scorpion era, with its radio-dominating smashes like “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What,” the slight edge -- but “nine songs simultaneously in the Hot 100’s top 10” serves as quite the argument, right?

Neena Rouhani: Yes and no. to the first part I think if you took a survey of how many people know who Drake is today, versus five years ago, he’s more well-known presently. But that doesn’t always translate into interest or sales. The initial buzz and freshness of what Drake represents is not what it was circa Views or Scorpion, but he’s still holding his own in comparison to the current musical landscape. He did not, however, manage to surpass his own previous first-week album sales (732,000 album-equivalent units for Scorpion and over one million for Views) which can also be attributed to the way music is consumed today.

I’m not sure if Drake is determined to prove himself with the same vigor that he had five or six years ago -- similar to a former NCAA ballplayer that has now been in the NBA for some years, with a couple of rings to his name. That’s not to say he was incapable of performing better during the first week, just that he’s comfortable. I think there comes a time when your legacy alone becomes enough for you to break records and outdo other artists, regardless of whether or not the project you release is actually the best thing on the charts.

Dan Rys: I think it has more to do with both the chart changes and the growth in streaming, which so heavily skews towards R&B/hip-hop. You could look at it from a pure numbers point of view: CLB had the second-most on-demand streams of all time in a single week, coming in just two million streams shy of Drake’s own Scorpion from 2018, which had a few more tracks on it. But the average number of paid music subscriptions in the U.S. has grown from 43.7 million in the first half of 2018 to 82.1 million in the first half of 2021, according to figures the RIAA released this week. (Plus, CLB’s chart figure includes video on-demand streams, whereas Scorpion’s did not, a function of a recent chart rule change.)

More people are streaming more than ever now by a significant margin, and CLB still just missed that all-time mark. Now, there are all kinds of caveats you could toss in there -- Scorpion was preceded by three huge hit records, whereas CLB had none, for example, and Drake is still obviously a massive, massive artist by any metric -- but I do think that the chart changes helped here.

Andrew Unterberger: It seems to me that Drake has basically stayed equally successful while metrics the rest of popular music, on the whole, have dipped a little. The reasons for the latter are myriad -- the stratification of streaming artists and radio artists, the slowdown of new music consumption during the pandemic, the failure of a new rap ruling class to emerge in the recent absence of some of the mightier names, even some changes in Billboard rules. But fact is, as long as Drake keeps standing tall as ever, he'll look even bigger than usual as the water level continues to lower around him.

3. Going into CLB, there was some speculation that Drake's biggest days might be behind him in the new decade. What do you think was the biggest factor in him staving off any commercial stagnation with this album? 

Cydney Lee: I feel like Drake equally appeals to women as he does men, so that automatically widens his fanbase. The album is called Certified Lover Boy, for God’s sake! The title, meme-able album cover and the fact that it was delayed so many times just built so much anticipation. Also, there’s usually not many gimmicks surrounding his rollouts (unlike another major artist who dropped the week prior), so I feel like Drake is always able to maintain a sense of allure and hype when he finally does announce new music. Everything about CLB was very on-brand for him.

Jason Lipshutz: Even with some shorter projects and full-length non-albums in between, the three-year break between Scorpion and Certified Lover Boy helped generate ample curiosity when CLB finally arrived, as if the world was ready to check in with Drake and understand the details of his long-promised lover boy certification. The decision to eschew pre-release singles also helped stoke that curiosity -- we had no idea what exactly CLB would be before it was unveiled in full, and when it comes to one of the biggest artists on the planet, that’s an exciting feeling.

Neena Rouhani: First of all, he’s Drake. That is reason enough, but for the sake of extending my response, I’ll say that he definitely built considerable momentum and anticipation surrounding Certified Lover Boy over the past couple years.

Dan Rys: To this point, and to the point above, I do think that his stranglehold on the culture has diminished somewhat; from about 2011 until 2016 or so, it seemed like every bar out of Drake’s mouth entered the cultural lexicon as a commonly-used phrase, and while he’s still capable of doing that, it’s less automatic than it was at one point in the past. But I think what he says is still impactful in its own way -- and that the strategy this time of not releasing any singles ahead of time, of not tipping his hand, so to speak, as to what he would say or what styles he would dip into on this album, is what led to this massive debut. There was no lead single that might have turned a casual fan off this time around, and people were curious as to what he would say and do here. I think that genuine curiosity, more than even this feud with Kanye, is what helped make this so huge.

Andrew Unterberger: Drake's sense of timing remains impeccable. He could've rushed CLB out late last year as originally planned, when he wasn't building off momentum and the buzz around his new stuff was pretty eh -- but instead, he laid back, biding his time with some big feature appearances and waiting for the right time to strike. The excitement around his social media sparring with Kanye West, combined with the release of West's own Donda, provided the perfect runway for him to jump back into the fray with the new album, which all of a sudden the world was once again eagerly anticipating.

4. "Way 2 Sexy" is the highest-ranking of Drake's 21 Hot 100 debuts this week, entering atop the chart. Does it seem like the project's breakout hit to you, or will it ultimately be overtaken by another track on the set? 

Cydney Lee: The ridiculous interpolation and video are probably why it ranks so high right now. For one, fans love when Drake and Future link, and they also love when Drake’s corniness is on full display (I mean this in the best way, love you Drake), and he plays it to perfection every time. “Way 2 Sexy” is a hit because of the laughs, but I think it will eventually be overtaken by another song. What song, I’m not sure yet.

Jason Lipshutz: Yep, it’s “Way 2 Sexy,” which hoists Right Said Fred’s catwalk ferocity and repositions it toward magnetic trap hedonism. Drake and Young Thug sound great on the track (in maximalist and minimalist modes, respectively), but this is Future’s wavy-cool show, and on his first-ever Hot 100 chart-topper, he sinks his teeth into the commercial potential of the interpolation.

Neena Rouhani: I think “Way 2 Sexy” makes sense. It samples a widely-known hit song that would easily go viral had it been released today. It’s making waves on TikTok. It’s extremely palatable. It has a music video where Drake is pelvic-thrusting in short shorts and a sweatband, strolling along the beach with a prosthetic beer belly and grey hair, and letting the choppa sing while dressed as Rambo. And that description is only scratching the surface. I will say, “Girls Want Girls” feels far more like a Drake hit. It’s moody and sing-songy, with signature Drake melodies and punchlines. We’ll see if it eventually swaps in for the top spot.

Dan Rys: Put me in the camp of people who thought it was a little ridiculous the first time I heard it, until I saw the video and appreciated that they agreed and were in on the joke, as it were. I do feel like it’s probably the most instantly catchy, maybe just because it takes the least work to dig its way into listeners’ brains due to the Right Said Fred lift. But I wonder if a song like "Fair Trade," which is probably going to go down as the most-quoted hook on the whole album, or "Girls Want Girls," which might be its most accessible song, will ultimately become the most lasting hit, at least among fans. However, let me go on the record as saying "Knife Talk" deserves it most, even if it probably won’t reach those heights.

Andrew Unterberger: It's "Way 2 Sexy" for sure, which I can't say I'm thrilled about.

5. Fill in the blank: Certified Lover Boy is the best Drake album since ________.

Cydney LeeViews.

Jason Lipshutz: More Life, maybe? The more I listen to CLB, the more I like parts of it, in the same way that segments of More Life have kept me coming back years later. Scorpion had better singles, but CLB may have more consistent multi-song runs, like “Yebba’s Heartbreak” to “7am on Bridle Path” in the middle of the album.

Neena Rouhani: Drake’s music ages like wine, so you’ve gotta give me a few more weeks for this one.

Dan RysNothing Was The Same. I don’t think this is necessarily a Drake-specific thing -- it’s honestly another thing I would probably chalk up to the influence of streaming -- but it does feel like the biggest artists rarely make front-to-back cohesive albums anymore. Instead, we get a lot of long playlists that almost feel like samplings of various palettes or collages that artists are working on simultaneously, rather than projects with vision and precision. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is different, and maybe it’s why there seem to be more EPs than there have been in the past, too; with how quickly music moves now, an EP of six to seven songs (or, in Drake’s case, one of his three packs) might be the best canvas on which to paint those portraits. To me, NWTS is probably Drake’s last album that made sense on the same plane all the way through, and CLB comes closest to that cohesion.

Andrew Unterberger: The one before it.