Lists, Reviews

The Fucking Best: Top 10 Drake Songs

Once when I was very young, I woke up in the middle of the night from a bad dream screaming “No, Norgay Tensing! Don’t do it.” It doesn’t take a psychotherapist to interpret that the internal fear that imaginably strange dream expressed wasn’t of historical Nepalese Sherpas, but rather of the idea of Everest itself. So no wonder I’ve been feeling immense trepidation at the thought of writing this list: I’ve found my Everest.

Aubrey Drake Graham has released three studio albums – Thank Me Later, Take Care and Nothing Was The Same – and a much-vaunted mixtape, So Far Gone. From those four works have sprung so many singles, more than enough to make a very good list out of, and that’s before you get to the deep-cuts, the b-sides and the internet-released tracks. There is simply too much choice. This list has been hellishly hard.

What Drake has done for hip hop is much debated, with champions on one side claiming he changed everything and detractors on the other saying he ruined everything. A unified consensus isn’t possible because Drake himself, as he is expressed through his music, is a man of contradictions and multitudes. Kind and caring at one turn, dismissive and arrogant at another, Drake doesn’t make for easy box placement. He wasn’t the first person to talk of himself as the ‘realest in the game’, but he didn’t seem to be meaning the same thing as everyone else. It seems that for Drake, ‘realness’ is oversharing, not being afraid to look bad in the eyes of men or women, admitting your flaws. Drake always says it best, though, and the end of ‘Headlines’ is where he spells it out: ‘I heard once that they would rather hear about memories than enemies, rather hear what was or what will be than what is, rather hear how you got it over how much it cost you, rather hear about finding yourself and how you lost you. Rather you make this an open letter, about family, and struggle, and it taking forever. About hearts that you’ve broken, and ties that you’ve severed. No doubt in my mind. That’ll make ‘em feel better.’

What follows are my favourite 10 Drake tracks. I left out a lot. I had to. If you feel I got it monumentally wrong, comment or share on Facebook and give your own. I’d be very interested to see. Take Care.

10 – Best I Ever Had

It feels apt to start this list at exactly the place it all started. Fresh-faced Aubrey announced himself to the world with this lead single off the mixtape (that “sounded like an album”) So Far Gone. This song got so big that it appeared he might never live up to the hype. If only we knew then.

Drake says it best: ‘Sweatpants, hair tied, chilling with no make-up on/That’s when you’re the prettiest, I hope that you don’t take it wrong.’

9 – 5am in Toronto

2013 and 2011 played in very similar fashion for Drake, owning the radio waves in the build up to his albums with a string of singles, many of which ended up not making the cut for the full-length. ‘5am in Toronto’ came in the months leading up to Nothing Was The Same, and had even Drake’s most vocal and persistent critic (read: hater) Big Ghostface admitting that it bumped. Drake went in hard in this superior sequel to ‘9am in Dallas’, showing how braggadocio rap should be done and taking shots at everyone from well-known enemy Chris Brown to frequent collaborator and fellow Toronto native The Weeknd, and even Lupe Fiasco. Drake’s often accused of having an outsized bark for his bite; this is one of the occasions where they sound like they might be exactly equal.

Drake says it best: ‘Niggas treat me like I’ve been here for ten/ Some niggas been here for a couple, never been here again.’

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8 – Over My Dead Body

There’s a case to be made for the presence of every one of Drake’s album openers to be on this list. ‘Tuscan Leather’ was celebratory and epic, with in-house producer Noah ‘40’ Shebib providing three variations on the same beat, and ‘Fireworks’ is Drake using the style of hashtag rapping that he helped pioneer at its best. But as far as statements of intention go, nothing can top ‘Over My Dead Body’. “I think I killed everybody in the game last year man, fuck it I was on though/ And I thought I found the girl of my dreams at the strip club, fuck it I was wrong though,” he begins, and proceeds to sketch lyrical landscapes between Chantal Kreviazuk’s sultry hook and over watery piano chords. The only hashtag rap on the whole of Take Care can be found on this song, where Drake economically renounces the style and vows that he’s upped his game: ‘Man all of your flows bore me, paint drying.’ You wouldn’t generally call Drake a ‘meta-ironic’ rapper, but damn was that a moment of genius.

Drake says it best: ‘Slave to the pussy but I’m just playing the field nigga’

7 – Worst Behaviour

Another Drake single, another viral catchphrase – in this instance, two. ‘On my worst behaviour’ was everyone’s favourite ‘out on the jol selfie’ accompanying hashtag. ‘Motherfuckers never loved us’ fared a slightly different fate, when it was appropriated in the most recent South African elections by the DA at their political rallies, signs reading: ‘Zuma never loved us’. All of this masks the fact that this is one of the least conventional Drake songs ever: his ‘angry’ shouting sounds awkward at first, but soon becomes deeply endearing. When he starts to rap it’s a verse structure lifted straight from Mace’s turn on ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’. Drake on his worst behaviour indeed.

Drake says it best: ‘Who’s hot, who’s not?/ Tell me who rock, who sell out in stores/ You tell me who flop, who copped the new drop/ Whose jewels got rocks/ Who else making rap albums doing numbers like its pop?’

6 – Lord Knows ft. Rick Ross

Just Blaze has a history of producing massive beats, but he could go an entire lifetime and never top the largeness of what he achieved here.  It’s built around a choral burst and cymbal-heavy drums that simply refuse to relent. After Drake offers one of his most skilled (and longest) verses ever, he gets perhaps the only rapper alive opulent enough to match such a beat. Rick Ross delivers what is, in my opinion, still to this day his strongest ever verse, one that’s so ridiculous you cannot help but take it seriously.

Drake says it best: ‘Of all the things I hear they be pokin’ fun at/ Never the flow though, they know I run that.’

Rick Ross says it best: ‘Villa on the water with the wonderful views/ Only fat nigga in a sauna with Jews.’

 5 – The Motion ft. Sampha

‘The Motion’ is the kind of song that can appear underwhelming at first listen, good by its fifth, and downright addictive by the tenth. 40 here does a real job; the beat is so simple yet so infectious. Drake applies the idea of the ‘motion’ – simplistically, that things happen a certain way, and there’s nothing you can do about it – to two of his favourite themes: success and relationships. ‘The Motion’ only ended up as a bonus track on Nothing Was The Same but it deserves its place on this list.

Drake says it best: ‘Lookin’ back on it at least my pride is intact/ Cause we said no strings attached and I still got caught up in that.’

4 – Shut It Down ft. The-Dream

Drake’s no stranger to long concept songs. ‘Shut It Down’ was his first real one, and was the strongest song off Thank Me Later. Enlisting The-Dream to create a soundtrack for girls getting ready in front of the mirror might seem like pretty standard Drake fair, but Thank Me Later was his debut studio album and ‘Shut It Down’, considering the market it was released into, was downright subversive. Even when the song flips and Drake attempts to seduce the girl, it’s soft and gentle, even considerate. This was the song that began Drake’s redefinition of realness, and he never looked back.

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Drake says it best: ‘Baby, you finer that your fine cousin/ And your cousin fine, but she don’t have my heart beating in double time’

3 – Hold On, We’re Going Home ft. Majid Jordan

Although undeniably the centerpiece from Nothing Was The Same, it’s still difficult to pick out exactly where this song fits into Drake’s oeuvre. Its unabashedly RnB feel isn’t uncharacteristic, and neither is its upbeat time signature. What is notable is that ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’ has the fewest unique lyrics of any song Drake has ever put out. This doesn’t appear to be because he has nothing to say, but rather because, for once, he only has one thing to say: for a man who’s made a career out of rapping about relationships, this is the first and only time he’s been unconflicted, singular in his pursuit of one person. ‘I think there’s something,’ he sings, and against the sheer force of this song, you’d be hard pressed to disagree.

Drake says it best: There are only 8 different lines on the song; I choose all of them.

2 – Crew Love ft. The Weeknd

When The Weeknd first anonymously surfaced in 2011, Drake was one of his most high-profile backers, leading to speculation that he was The Weeknd. It seemed plausible to some, but Abel Tesfaye’s Lothario character (persona?) sensibilities have always been a few shades darker than anything in Drake’s palette. ‘Crew Love’, their collaboration on Take Care, comes out sounding like the best song off House of Balloons, a number that packs beats that pound like hammers, capacious soundscapes, The Weeknd being an asshole and Drake sounding completely assured. It is a masterful track, its contradictions and tensions erupting beautifully at various intervals, the interplay between Aubrey and Abel perfect. They’re a perfect match here, good enough to make you think: that OVO and that XO might just be everything you believe in.

Drake says it best: ‘And really I think I like who I’m becoming.’ 

1 – Marvin’s Room ft. Kendrick Lamar

No other song could top this list. I’m not even sure anyone is going to disagree. For an artist with so many remarkably popular tracks, who has packed so much content into his five years on the scene, the fact that this song could be almost universally regarded as his best speaks to how strong it is.

It begins with 808s and sparseness and a weary Drake singing: ‘Cups of the rosé, bitches on my old phone/ I should call one and go home/ I’ve been in this club too long.’ It’s often said how no other artist would be audacious enough to make an 8-minute track about drunk dialing an ex and then release that as the single. What’s really worth saying is: no other artist could have made an 8-minute song about drunk dialing an ex sound so much like it’s the answer to life, love and postmodern masculinity. The song has Drake as: drunk asshole, jealous ex-boyfriend, confessor, and ultimately the man who has everything except the thing he wants most. The song that launched a million tears – there is no worthier number 1 than ‘Marvin’s Room’.

Drake says it best: ‘I think I’m addicted to naked pictures and sitting talking ’bout bitches that we almost had/ I don’t think I’m conscious of making monsters out of the women I sponsor till it all goes bad.’

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