Less than a year ago, Drake made history when seven songs from his 2018 double-LP, Scorpion, landed in the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100. It was a staggering achievement, with Toronto’s favorite son locking up spots one, two, four, six, seven, eight, and nine.
But Drake doesn’t rest: Even when he’s not in album mode, his presence atop the charts seems practically inevitable. “In My Feelings” was inescapable during the summer of 2018, spending ten weeks at the top of the Hot 100 and officially landed Drake the most number one singles among rappers. He was also nominated for four Grammys in 2018, taking home best rap song for “God’s Plan.” Even though Drake has stayed relatively quiet on the musical front since Scorpion, instead focusing his energy on trying to singularly will the Toronto Raptors to an NBA Championship from his courtside seat, he’s still been a regular chart presence via guest turns on hits from Meek Mill, Bad Bunny, Chris Brown, among others. So it was perhaps inevitable that Drake would use the Raptors’ championship run as a springboard back to album mode, or, at the very least, back to the top of the charts.
Drake’s release of music is so reliable, so constant, that even six months without him as a lead artist atop the charts has felt like an eternity. Perhaps it’s the pace of music consumption, perhaps it’s the prevalence with which Drake has dominated the pop landscape for nearly a decade now, but the past year has been dominated by storylines outside of the 6. However, with his two-song The Best in the World Pack, released the day after the Raptors secured their first championship in franchise history, Drake has sent a warning shot to anyone aiming for the crown.
For good measure, he’s set another Hot 100 record, almost exactly a year after he occupied 70 percent of the top 10. With the Rick Ross-featuring “Money in the Grave,” Drake has notched 35 singles in the chart’s top 10, besting the Beatles and setting his sights on Madonna’s 38. But aside from shattering records, the Best in the World Pack carries plenty of weight both musically and culturally.
First and foremost, Drake at least appears to no longer be on Cash Money Records. Scorpion was rumored to fulfill his contractual obligation with the label, and Drake now looks to be the biggest Canadian free agent outside of Raptors star Kawhi Leonard. The songs are listed under Frozen Moments LLC, “under exclusive license to Republic Records.” This is a huge shift in rap’s paradigm, with its biggest, most consistent star, quietly shifting homes. This is Drake’s first lead-artist release without Cash Money, and while the music doesn’t necessarily reflect such an Earth-trembling change, if the rumors are true, the aftershocks will be felt for quite some time.
And with the post-CMB release, Drake’s set himself up brilliantly for his future. Riding on the heels of the Raptors victory, if the Best in the World songs underperform commercially, the songs can be written off as throwaway championship celebrations, a stopgap release before the next official project. If they end up racking up streams and garnering critical acclaim, then Drake’s set up an entry point for his next album. Regardless, the songs are overshadowed by the circumstances around them, allowing for Drake to test out new styles and flows without the pressure of the traditional album release hype.
“Omertà” is the more interesting of the two tracks, with heavy bass and dusty melodies to prop up verses of pure shit talk, the sort of one-liners Drake has always excelled at creating. There’s one couplet that stands out in particular, a very gray retort to his fight with Pusha T: “Last year, n—as really feel like they rode on me/Last year, n—as got hot ’cause they told on me.” It’s the only reference to Pusha on the track, but the whole concept of “Omertà” refers to the vow of silence Italian mob members take in protection of their family. With the track, Drake is alluding to unhappy endings for all that betrayed him. Once again riding high and eyeing a new release, being on Drake’s good side is an enviable post to hold.
“Money in the Grave” features longtime collaborator Rick Ross, and filters haunted synths through a minimal, barely-there beat. There’s enough space here for Drake to really thrive as the song’s engine, menacingly demanding that all of his money join him in the afterlife. It’s the perfect combination of brash and humorous that Drake does so well, bold in its conceits but always a step removed from reality.
Generally speaking, however, the two songs on Best in the World sound more like Scorpion leftovers than a bold new step forward. Riding off the high of his beloved Raptors’ victory, Drake jumped at the chance to re-assert himself into the conversation, regardless of how long he plans on speaking, or whether he necessarily has all that much new to say.
But Drake is a master calculator. Between the sly reference to Pusha T, the maybe-news of a label departure, and Instagram activity that explicitly spells out album mode, Drake is planting the seeds for his next move. And he still sounds hungry: Despite releasing these two tracks on the heels of the greatest sports moment his city has witnessed since 1993, Best in the World shows Drake not in the throes of celebration, but rather chasing down his enemies and reflecting on those that turned on him. Even at a moment that should be his carefree — with a championship, new label options, and an audience eager for more music — Drake continues to frame himself as the underdog, to continue looking for and focusing on his next challenge.
With all of the change in the rapper’s universe, it’s comforting to know that some things will always stay the same. Drake may once again be on top of the world, but someone’s always gunning for his spot. As he already knows — and as his beloved Raptors will no doubt learn soon enough — it’s hard to become the champ, but it’s even harder to defend the crown.