In the days before DJBooth, I wrote for a smaller, now dead blog, with fewer editorials and more music posts; a digital life spent promoting the unknown that deserved to be heard. I would swim through an ocean of submissions searching for the voice that would shatter sound barriers, rappers that would behead the crown wearers. Sadly, I found more glitter than gold, but there's one artist I’ll never forget. We got acquainted through an article I wrote, he seemed like a genuine guy that was passionate about music, so when he sent me a song I was honestly hype to hear it. It was unique, unlike anything I’ve heard before. His voice sounded like a mixture of Auto-Tune and helium, it was simultaneously catchy and cringing, like the offspring of Yung LA and J Money’s Atlanta swag rap era. I didn’t respond. In no time the song had reached over a million listens on Soundcloud and the artist would soon be performing in front of arena crowds.
The artist is Makonnen and the song was “Don’t Sell Molly.”
When I heard Makonnen I didn’t have a vision of him signing to OVO, world tours and platinum plaques in his future. But what I didn't see Drake saw and then made happen. He has the foresight of Nostradamus and the creative powers of Genesis. Makonnen was generating his following pre-"Tuesday (Remix)," but Drake’s verse rocketed him from internet sensation into a radio wrecker. It became inescapable, the song was an epidemic that spread worldwide. Who knew a song like "Tuesday" could become such a monster with just a healthy shove towards the spotlight? Drake did.
The same can be said for the Migos. The streets of Atlanta had already proclaimed them better than the Beatles, but Drake’s remix of “Versace” introduced the trifecta to an audience far beyond the Gwinnett County bandos. Fetty Wap didn’t need the co-sign, “Trap Queen” is the anthem that conquered the world without much outside help, but Drake’s appearance on “My Way” only increased the number of ears paying the crooner attention. Drake is hip-hop’s weatherman. Instead of predicting serene sunshine and apocalyptic blizzards he amplifies waves, rides them and brings the mainstream along for the ride too.
Is Drake hip-hop’s biggest fan?
He didn’t wait for The Weeknd to become a household name before becoming the sole feature on his second mixtape, Thursday. Kendrick was still underground when he made his surprise appearance on Take Care, by far his biggest mainstream look at that point. There was even a small, six-date Club Paradise Tour with K-Dot and Drake in 2012 that also featured A$AP Rocky, another buzzing young rapper Drake made sure forever owed him a favor. J. Cole's first big national tour? He has Drake to thank for that. Back when Future was mostly just that guy from "Racks," Drake gave his "Tony Montana" the remix treatment. He stamped OG Maco and Key! during his #hoodgrammy ceremony for “U Guessed It.” He performed Chief Keef’s “Faneto” while in Chicago, will rap Big Sean’s entire verse from “All Me” during his sets, turned up to Young Thug in the "Danny Glover" days, and has even thrown a Houston appreciation weekend paying homage to a city that has influenced him immensely, most notably falling out with the Sauce Twinz, a group so many were sure were about to receive Drizzy's Midas touch.
"Saw this shit comin' like I had binoculars" —Drake, "Versace (Remix)"
Is Drake hip-hop’s biggest opportunist?
He seems to be completely attuned with what’s happening underneath the mainstream, he understands pop culture's movements, and right when someone begins to rise he isn’t far behind, as if he has some mutated spider sense, some special radar. He invites himself into the moment, a charming wedding crasher that will make your ceremony the talk of the world. He doesn’t care to overshadow, long as he can stand with you in the spotlight. He’ll give away 15 minutes of fame if it means he’ll extend his hour, and his hour has been extended so many times it's now become years. This isn’t some new tactic to keep possession of relevancy, it's been going on for literally decades in hip-hop, but Drake's the best I’ve ever seen. Even better than Diddy, who I thought took the crown when he jumped on a SXSW stage with Lil B. Diddy was simply keeping up with the Joneses though, while Drake moved into their residence, impregnated their daughter, and became a part of their family.
Truthfully, Drake is both. He’s a man that I believe operates with passion before profit because he's learned that passion brings the biggest profits. It's hilarious to picture Drake himself searching the far reaches of SoundCloud late into the night like a struggling blogger, but I suspect he has a team that sends him bundles of music and his well-documented strip club indulgence allows him to stay current on club music, so he’s never far from what's hot and bubbling. Also, he’s quick. There’s no hesitation, no waiting period, he wants to be the stamp that breaks you, he knows how fast music moves, and he's sure to extend his reach beyond just music. Every time Curry drains a 3 in the NBA playoffs there's only one rapper whose song comes to mind.
Rumors are now surrounding his potential cosign of Ramriddlz, a young Canadian that doesn’t have a big social media presence beside 50K listens on SoundCloud for his “Sweeterman” single. Ramriddlz sounds like an edgy Rebecca Black meets Spooky Black in an Auto-Tune orgy. The song teeters on hardcore horrible and terribly tolerable. So how does someone relatively unknown acquire so many views? My gut was leaning toward purchased listens until I discovered a 10-second remix snippet featuring Drake. That alone will send someone scrambling to find the original. Drake has made miracles happen before. If he makes this kid into the next sensation, he is undoubtedly a legend, perhaps the GOAT co-signer. It's hard to imagine a world in which "Sweeterman" truly blows up, but years ago I passed on Makonnen, and Makonnen was walking a GRAMMY red carpet last year.
Mac Miller made sure to point out he did it without a Drake feature, a statement that becomes more and more relevant as Drizzy continues to leave his stamp by stamping others. It's the reason I think The Weeknd decided to leave the OVO camp, so he could build a career that didn't rely on Drake's throwing his arm around his shoulder like a big brother. But for every artist not concerned about grabbing a Drake verse, there are a thousand more praying to the Co-Sign God for his infinite blessings.
P.S. No hard feelings, Makonnen. Let’s do acid on a Tuesday or something.
By Yoh, aka MaYohnnen, aka @Yoh31