Search through most fan comments about Drake‘s recently released Care Package compilation, and most will include some variation on the phrases “in my feelings,” “sad boy summer,” or something else to imply that they’ll mostly be deploying the set for late-night solo wallowing and wistfulness.
It’s not hard to understand why. Listening through the collection of past Soundcloud uploads and other loosies — released to most DSPs for the first time this Friday (Aug. 2) — and it largely consists of Drake cuts featuring the rapper/singer at his most reflective, most contemplative, most nocturnal. It’s a lot of booming, slow-and-low grooves, a lot of free-associative verses without big choruses to follow, a lot of vowel-stretched croons directed at an anonymous, distant second-person subject. It’s Drake for Drake fans who are sick of the radio singles anyway, who prefer the Drake they listen to at home after the club to the one who gets played out at peak hours.
That’s what makes “Draft Day” such a standout track on the compilation. Not that anyone will confuse the song for “One Dance” or “Nice For What” or even “0 to 100” — its pitched-down sample and groaning beat aren’t exactly floor-fillers, and structurally it has much more in common with Drake’s stream-of-consciousness “Freestyle” series than anything resembling a lead single. But there’s just a buoyancy to the track, a casual, smiling brightness to it all that’s found only sparingly across the set’s other 16 cuts. And it’s a fantastic reminder of what a blast the song has been to return to over the five-plus years since its debut in April 2014.
“Draft Day” appeared in the midst of a rare moment of victory-lap coasting in Drake’s career — in between the next-level success of 2013’s blockbuster set Nothing Was the Same and before the Meek Mill wars of 2015 would temporarily undercut his career, before improbably propelling it to even greater heights. Drake didn’t release an album that year, and aside from the aforementioned “0 to 100,” he didn’t even release a new single of his own (although the exultant “Trophies,” ultimately credited to Young Money featuring Drake, was essentially a solo hit). That song’s regal horns and immodest verses properly reflected the general tone of Aubrey’s 2014, which saw him essentially laying back and reaping the rewards for his previous half-decade of crescendoing success, while releasing one-offs here and there and jumping on features at will, minting a hit with his appearance on iLoveMakonnen’s underground hit “Tuesday” seemingly just because. “Five years later, how am I the man still?” he asks on the “Draft Day” chorus, mostly rhetorically: He sounds much more interested in basking in his continued success than examining the reasons behind it.
But even if “Draft Day” hardly showcases Drake at his hungriest, its cup-runneth-over Drake quickly reveals itself to have charms of its own. The track’s appeal lies mostly in its lack of obvious direction: While Drake often titles his chorus-less state of the union summaries as “Freestyle”s, they feel too meticulously plotted — addressing controversies, settling scores, laying the groundwork for what’s to come next — to actually come off as something genuinely off the dome. “Draft Day,” on the other hand, legitimately sounds like he went in the booth not knowing what the end result would be when he came out, pogoing between boasts about his international connections (“Brunch with some Qatar royals”) and contextless updates about his recent culinary adventures (“Last night I tried some raw oysters”), while also taking a breather to let Jennifer Lawrence know “you could really get it,” just in case. (In the original version, he also ended with an O.B. O’Brien-sampled combo of hilarious press-conference rants from college football coaches Dan Hawkins and Mike Gundy — once the stuff of SportsCenter legend — but sadly the outro didn’t make it to Care Package.)
It all basically works, mostly because Drake is too high on his own supply to ever let the energy sag, and because he’s supported so ably by the track underneath him: an ecstatic loop of the “Watch out, watch out” break from Lauryn Hill’s 1998 Hot 100-topper “Doo Wop (That Thing!)” While his own “Nice For What” would ride a similar L-Boogie sample (from Miseducation album-mate “Ex Factor”) to much greater commercial success four years later, the “Doo Wop” lift feels both lower stakes and higher reward. “Nice For What” invests more in its source and has a higher bar of entry in repurposing the emotional climax to such a devastating heartbreak anthem.
“Draft Day” does more to divest “Doo Wop” from its original context and make almost an entirely wordless hook out of it, getting the maximum amount out of the a cappella breakdown’s gorgeous melodic depth without muddling its content thematically. The loop is powerful enough that Drake offers with faux generosity at song’s close to let it ride for an extra few measures so subsequent producers could swipe it for their own producers; it’s somewhat surprising more folks didn’t take him up on it.
Though the song still sounds great in 2019, in truth it will always be exceedingly reminiscent of April 2014 — not just because of the period in Drake’s career it loudly reflects, but because of its many then-timely cultural references, all of which have dated uniformly poorly. He shouts out college football poster boy Johnny Manziel and NBA mega-prospect (and Toronto native) Andrew Wiggins on the hook, blithely unaware that five years later they’d be regarded as two of the bigger draft busts in their respective sports. He disregards Chance the Rapper as if he was some frivolous freshman MC already rounding the corner on the 14th of his 15 minutes (“If I left this shit to chance I would’ve picked a name like Chance the Rapper/ Yeah, no offense ’cause I don’t know that n—a”). Even his J. Law come-on feels like it happened forever ago, especially because he precedes it with “On some Hunger Games shit, I would die for my district” — probably the last second such a nod could be made without it seeming fatally corny.
That might all sound like it should hurt the song in retrospect, but as is true of most of the songs on Care Package, the obvious timestamp on the track just makes it a more endearing listen years later. These songs weren’t designed for radio omnipresence, not meant to be unavoidable in any way — they were for the fans’ SoundCloud favorites and specially designated MP3 folders, to be kept personal and private and revisited only when needed. And in the case of “Draft Day,” most fans have likely come back to it a maximum of twice a year in the period since — once in April, and once in June. That might be about as much replay as the track can weather, but for those two listens a year, it’s been consistently delightful — as it is this Friday in Care Package‘s creamy middle.
And five years later, Drake is still as much the man as he was when he first released “Draft Day,” coming off his most successful year on the charts to date, and closing the ’10s as the rare prospect who continues to well exceed his considerable pre-pro debut hype. Hell, it might be time for a “Draft Day 2019” update — though given the circumstances, Zion Williamson and Kyler Murray might ask not to be namedropped in the hook this time.