Before the cut-off Grammy speech, before the Pusha T beef, before breaking the record for most weeks at No. 1 in a year on the Billboard Hot 100, before all the Platinum albums and singles, Drake was an artist from Toronto with a pair of locally acclaimed mixtapes and — as he puts it — “just a kid in pursuit of love and money”.
That all changed on February 13th, 2009, as Drake released his third mixtape, the eventual cult classic So Far Gone. In the minds of many casual fans, So Far Gone was simply the vehicle for smash singles “Best I Ever Had” and “Successful,” but in reality, the tape played a much bigger role in shaping the megastar we all know today.
In 2009, moodier themes and lyrics had been ushered into hip-hop’s mainstream, thanks in large part to Kanye West’s 2008 release 808s & Heartbreak, and rap as a whole was starting to trend towards the emotionally vulnerable. Unlike other artists trying to capture this mood with conspicuous use of Auto-Tune, all Drake used on So Far Gone was an honest rhyme book and a uniquely lo-fi soundscape, courtesy of his engineer turned executive producer Noah “40” Shebib.
Of course, So Far Gone had a plethora of hard-hitting rap tracks that satisfied those looking for a one-up to his previous mixtape, 2007’s Comeback Season, but it also highlighted Drake’s moody and melancholic R&B delivery. This was truly the project that saw singing and rapping become inextricably interwoven, throughout instrumentation that had never been heard of or even attempted before in mainstream rap. The combination helped birth a new subgenre of hip-hop that peeled back the bravado, took out the snappy drums and inspired the new generation to feel first and flex second.
With that said, there is variety across the 18 tracks and 70 minutes of So Far Gone — from the smash hits to the deep after-hours cuts. Below is a list of all the songs on the original mixtape version of So Far Gone, ranked.
The “Outro” on So Far Gone toasts to the completion of the mixtape and not much else. Drake asks 40 if they are done, a champagne bottle pops and then a smooth piano carries the song out for three minutes. In short, it’s the instrumental equivalent to the end credits of a rollercoaster movie with a seemingly happy ending.
17. “Brand New”
“Brand New” is a glitzy R&B track that builds slow and finishes with Drake questioning a girl’s motives. “Did you spend the night in his bed on the very first date?/Tell me baby, am I too late?/ Is anything I’m doing brand new?” are questions that come up here, and have stayed with Drake for the remainder of his career.
“Congratulations” was a lyrical exercise for Drake, who raps over a sample of Coldpaly’s “Viva La Vida.” He gets off some strong metaphors, similes and wordplay that still hold up today. In fact, when he started touring this mixtape around North America, this track would serve as his concert opener.
15. “Let’s Call It Off” (feat. Peter Bjorn & John)
A snappy cut that samples Swedish indie-pop favorites Peter, Bjorn & John’s 2006 track of the same name, “Let’s Call It Off” doesn’t resonate quite like some other songs on this tape, but was required training for Drake’s trademark “breakup” bars.
14. “A Night Off” (feat. Lloyd)
“A Night Off” is a very deep R&B cut featuring Lloyd, which is greatly needed as a contrast to the previous rap clinic that is “Ignant Shit.” The two crooners harmonize the chorus and get off slow jam-like verses with ease. It’s a textbook apologetic ode to women, which likely arose often in Drake’s life at that time.
13. “Sooner Than Later”
Drake hits his singing stride on “Sooner Than Later,” which is easy on the ears but doesn’t really push the Rap&B boundaries like some other tracks on the tape — and his rap verse is just lukewarm. However, it helps build the good-guy narrative constructed on So Far Gone, which Drake still leans into to this day.
12. “Unstoppale” (feat. Santigold & Lil Wayne)
Essentially a remix of Santigold’s original reggae anthem “Unstoppable” from 2008. Once again, Drake and Wayne go bar-for-bar over the bouncing beat, and get off some serious quotbales – especially Drake’s iconic, “My name is Drizzy, and I ain’t perfect/ But I work hard, so I deserve it/ And I belong, right where you see me/ Ain’t on the fence about it, I ain’t Mr. Feeny.”
11. “Little Bit”
Looking back now, this track based on Swedish singer-songwriter’s Lykke Li’s 2007 indie-pop ballad of the same name inspired a version of R&B Drake that we have since come to love. Instead of being incredibly deep, dark and hazy, Drake takes a more upbeat approach to singing and rapping – complimenting Li’s high pitched vocal range. The grooves he catches in both the singing and rapping portions of this song can be seen in the likes of “Passionfruit” and even “Hotline Bling”.
10. “Bria’s Interlude” (feat. Omarion)
Drake gets a dark R&B feature from Omarion on “Bria’s Interlude”. The song samples “Friendly Skies” by Missy Elliott and is yet again a product of 40’s lo-fi brand of music. As an “interlude” it’s quite a short track, but still holds strong replay value — especially if the mood is right. This would also spark the interlude series Drake carried on for a few projects where he would channel or use someone else to inspire said interlude.
9. “The Calm”
Perhaps the most expressively detailed track on So Far Gone is “The Calm.” Another gloomy beat from 40 lets Drake get off some serious venting about his quickly changing life: “Drunk off champagne/ Screamin’ in the phone/ See my house is not a home/ Fuck is going on/ Where did we go wrong/ Where do we belong?” What’s most impressive here is actually Drake’s technical rap skills and the ability to rap each verse with the same rhyme sound — on verse one it’s the “own” rhyme and on verse two it’s the “pain” rhyme.
8. “Ignant Shit” (feat. Lil Wayne)
One of many such jacking-for-beats-style lifts on So Far Gone, “Ignant Shit” takes directly from Jay-Z’s American Gangster cut “Ignorant Shit”. He once again grabs Wayne for a verse-for-verse feature. It doesn’t necessarily add to the over-arching theme of the mixtape, but showcases Drake’s ability to rap with absolute ferocity alongside Wayne, who was then at the top of his game. This track also set the modl for Drake’s highly acclaimed time-stamp series (“5am in Toronto,” “4pm in Calabasas,” etc.) which also featured a continuous, seemingly stream-of-consciousness rap without a chorus.
The epitome of R&B Drake lives within the five minutes of “Houstatlantavegas.” The fictional place made up of strip club hubs (Houston, Atlanta and Vegas) represents the home of strippers he has fallen in love and lust with. He kicks it off with by singing across a very downtempo, “rainy day” beat, which then turns into a strong verse about said women that have him mesmerized; the women he “throws his ones up in the air” for.
6. “Uptown” (feat. Bun B & Lil Wayne)
One of the more traditional rap cuts on So Far Gone was “Uptown,” featuring Bun B and Lil Wayne. The biggest takeaway from this song is just how skilled Drake was at crafting lyrics that became instantly quotable: His opener “Hardly home but always reppin” has emerged as a staple in Instagram captions for those chasing their dreams but never forgetting where they came from. Boi-1da’s impressive organ-driven beat laid the canvas for all three MCs toeach get off one of their best verses in years. When it comes to posse cuts on this mixtape, “Uptown” is undefeated.
5. Successful (feat. Trey Songz & Lil Wayne)
The collaboration between Trey Songz and Drake has been well documented ever since they linked up on Drake’s very first single “Replacement Girl”. This took their collaborative efforts to the next level making it the ultimate Rap&B cut thanks in large to 40’s laid-back beat, perfect for self-reflection. Trey dishes out the silky chorus about money, cars, clothes and women, while Drake comes through with the verses to back up those aspirational sentiments. Drizzy was also able to nab Lil Wayne for a feature, which would obviously kick off their expansive collaborative efforts.
4. “Lust For Life”
The mixtape’s opener really sets the tone for the remaining 17 songs, as 40’s lo-fi, underwater production evokes emotions of curiosity and deep soul searching – which is exactly what Drake delivers. On the one hand, Young Aubrey is eager to explore his future as a rap star, but is pulled back to reality with the woes of home and people acting different. Lines like “So what I tend to do is to think of today as the past/ It’s funny when you comin in first, but you hope that you last/ You just hope that it last” ground a 2009 version of Drake who was unsure if things would pan out as planned.
3. “November 18th”
Despite Drake not being from Houston, “November 18th” has become an H-Town cult classic. The beat samples DJ Screw’s chopped-and-screwed version of Kris Kross’ “Da Streets Ain’t Right,” which in turn samples The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Warning.” Drake smoothly raps about sipping lean, riding slabs and of course “getting popping in parking lots”. This is also a perfect example of Drake being able to seamlessly rap and sing on the turn of a dime; one moment he’s hitting a dark croon and another he rhymes with perfect wordplay.
2. “Best I Ever Had”
It’s hard to deny the impact and importance the swooning “Best I Ever Had” had on Drake’s career. It was the first track that truly blasted Drake off into superstardom. He had found some international success with a few tracks on Comeback Season but the sheer catchiness of the song could not be denied, eventually becoming the perfect song for worldwide TV and radio. It was also the romantic ode that really drove Drake’s ensuing heartthrob popularity, with lyrics like “Sweatpants, hair tied, chillin’ with no make-up on/ That’s when you’re the prettiest, I hope that you don’t take it wrong.”
1. “Say What’s Real”
So Far Gone’s best track isn’t actually of the lo-fi Rap&B brand of music Drake made popular on the project. In fact, “Say What’s Real” features Drake getting some brutally honest bars off over Kanye’s 2008 “Say You Will” beat. He starts the song with the prominent statement “Why do I feel so alone?/ Like everybody passing through the studio is in character as if he acting out a movie role”. He backs up the theme of perceived fame and subsequent loneliness throughout the four minute rant with quotable after quotable. Even after 10 years, it still remains one of Drake’s most strikingly straightforward songs, allowing access into the mind of a superstar on the brink of fame, fortune and tentative failure in multiple parts of his life.