What exactly is a deep cut? Like anything in music, the definition shifts depending on who you ask. For artists as well-known and responsible for shaping the landscape of current-day popular culture such as Drake, this process becomes even more difficult. Let's face it, how many Drake fans haven't heard a vast majority of the Toronto rapper/singer's catalog?
For our purposes, then, we've set a few loose guidelines in our search for the best "deep cuts," selecting only records that were NOT released as a single and that never made it onto the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
Throughout this list, you'll find several mentions of "peak-Drake." This refers to our ideal Drake song, where he extends the middle finger to his haters while conflicted about the positives and negatives brought on by such a high level of fame and success, over a perfect storm of ambient Noah "40" Shebib beats. Glad we're on the same page.
Oh, and these are in no particular order.
"Dreams Money Can Buy" (prod. 40)
Is this the greatest song Drake has ever made? A fairly convincing argument can be made. Despite his range, it's safe to say Drake is at his best on records like "Dreams Money Can Buy." Every one of your typical introspective Drizzy tracks, where he perfectly toes the line between gloating and melancholic depression, lives in the shadow of this pre-Take Care loosie. 40’s production pulls every regrettable mistake from the deepest depths of your subconscious, forcing you to reexamine every failed relationship and lost opportunity you’ve experienced. It almost tricks you into feeling bad for Drake before you realize he’s complaining about Ferrari Italias and Fendi throw carpets. Lines like “Too fuckin’ busy, too busy fuckin’” are as equally infuriating as they are commendable.
Best Line: "Ohh, I never seen the car you claim to drive / Well shit I seen it, you just ain't inside / And I feel like lately it went from top 5 to remaining 5 / My favorite rappers either lost it or ain't alive"
"We Made It" ft. Soulja Boy (prod. PurrpDogg)
Does this count as a Drake song if it’s a Soulja Boy remix? You’re fucking right it does. This is the theme music of champions, the triumphant recumbency that results after demolishing the obstacles that previously stood in between you and your dreams. This song made me write the word recumbency without even knowing what it means and—what do you know—it fits perfectly (look it up). That’s the type of shit that happens when you’re in your zone, and you are never more in your zone than puffing out your chest to the horns that carry "We Made It," and listening to a now-D-List rapper shouting ad libs that clearly don’t reflect his current career situation. Yes, you made it Soulja Boy. You made the perfect soundtrack to victory for Drake to waltz over.
Best Line: "When I walk through these halls, man this beat should be playin' / I just came to make sure you not missin' no payments / Now turn this shit down while I issue my statement / It needed a moment of silence, nigga we made it!"
"Cameras" (prod. 40 & Drake)
“Word on road is the clique about to blow.” The fact that this song never blew up is a travesty. Drake’s drugged-out flow fits the warped, bass-heavy 40 beat to perfection. The Jon B. sample winds its way through the background, coming into fully-focused glory for the bridge. It’s leaned-out-late-night-back-of-the-Rolls-Royce-ride-through-the-city music, able to maintain a low profile while still providing enough knock to warrant two 15-inch subs.
Best Line: "Girl, they love me like I'm Prince, like the new king with the crown / Bunch of underground kings, thought you knew how we get down"
"Ignant Shit" ft. Lil Wayne (prod. Just Blaze)
There’s no way we get through this list without one mention of a collaborative lyrical showcase between Drizzy and Weezy. "Ransom" is certainly the earlier example, but stacked up next to "Ignant Shit" it falls far short quality-wise (the beat was a little too YMCMB-ish, if that makes sense). This one, however, found Drake and Wayne tag-teaming a Just Blaze heater originally rapped over by Jay Z and Beanie Sigel with prime shit-talking and plenty of "stunt hard"-ing. Yes, this one is better than the original (fight me).
Best Line: "One touch I could make the drapes and the sheers change / And show me the city that I without fear claim"
"Free Spirit" ft. Rick Ross (prod. 40)
In the (shallow) sea of loosies that dropped before Take Care, "Dreams Money Can Buy" takes the cake. Following very closely in its wake are "Club Paradise" and "Free Spirit," two additional atmospheric, 40-produced heaters that honestly sound like part one and two of the same extended record. Both are great, but only one features Rick Ross uttering the unforgettable line, “tat my fuckin’ name on you so I know it’s real.” That singlehandedly pushes this song to the forefront, and when you consider the rest of Rozay’s almost laughably obscene verse it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Best Line: "New flows got new flows, rap is stress, but it pays great / Pimp flows and screw flows, my shit is sounding like grey tapes"
"Over My Dead Body" (prod. 40 & Chantal Kreviazuk)
If this song doesn’t touch your soul, it’s because you're a lifeless zombie hell-bent on shaming Drake for having starred on Degrassi and leaving YouTube (and DJBooth) comments to let the world know you think he's ruined hip-hop. The lead-off to the best album in Drake's career (at least so far) features yet another instrumental that's able to instill a sense of reflective sadness while still maintaining a sense that everything is going to be alright in the end.
Best Line: "You know I want it all and then some / Shout out to Asian girls, let the lights dim some"
"Karaoke" (prod. Francis And The Lights)
It's one of the softest songs in Drake's catalog next to "Hold On, We're Going Home," but unlike that mega-hit, "Karaoke" exists as a mostly forgotten track from his solid but unspectacular major label debut Thank Me Later. Francis And The Lights set the smooth 808s & Heartbreak-esque backdrop for Drake's airy vocals, and his singing floats over the production like a breeze off the ocean. The beat is simple yet maddeningly addictive, and an even more vulnerable than usual Drake pops up for a verse dedicated to an ex he's obviously distraught over losing. Pull this out with your friends in the whip and you're losing the aux and maybe getting backhanded. Pull this one out with your girl in bed and just remember to pull out.
Best Line: "Isn't it ironic that the girl I want to marry is a wedding planner / And tells me my life is too much and then moves to Atlanta"
"November 18th" (prod. DJ Screw)
It’s obvious that Drake has a huge connection to the city of Houston. It's obvious that the citizens of Houston hold on dearly to the influence they've had on many of your favorite hip-hop artists. Let's face it, no one is taking anything away from the golden legacy of the late DJ Screw, but you're kidding yourself if you don't think Drake is in part responsible for millions of younger listeners getting throwed to the sounds of this instrumental—a late-'90s chopped and screwed masterpiece. Drizzy almost whispers his way through a first verse on this So Far Gone standout, switches over to steal-your-girl singer for a hot minute, and finishes up with some blunted spoken word to appropriately finish off his vocal trifecta and shout out some of H-Town's finest.
Best Line: "She sent me one back, but I ain't never read it / Cause pussy's only pussy and I get it when I need it"
"Madonna" (prod. 40)
One of the very few records off IYRTITL to not land on the Hot 100 chart, "Madonna" is "new phone, who dis?"-Drake at his waviest. The heavy Houston influence is in full effect as Drake slides seamlessly through muttering how "laced up, dripped up, sauced up" he is these days and into the half-sung, half-rapped flow that's so prominent now. That he nearly puked his way out of an actual make-out with Madonna just weeks after dropping this drugged-out beauty of a song is baffling. The Ginuwine sample only further cements the fact that '90s R&B samples and Drake go together like Meek Mill and bad PR.
Best Line: "Plan this shit out on my own, the way it should go / Wrote it in code then wrote it in stone, so they'll never know"
"Too Much" ft. Sampha (prod. Nineteen85 & Sampha)
Since I got to make the list, I get to break the rules. "Too Much" was released as a single, but since a) nearly half of Nothing Was The Same was released as a single, b) it only peaked at only #86 on the Hot 100 and c) it's an incredible song, I'm including it here. Maybe Drake's most personal song to date, he touches on anxieties like wondering if anyone would show up to his performances, including a choice date back in '09 where a younger Drizzy was just hoping Bun B would make an appearance. It's the production and Sampha that take this song to another level emotionally, though.
Best Line: "Fuck that, is anyone comin' 'fore I show up there and there's no one there? / These days, I could probably pack it for like twenty nights if I go in there"
Honorable mentions: "Tuscan Leather," "Bollywood Flow," "Club Paradise," "Ransom," "Jodeci Freestyle," and, of course, "9am in Dallas" and "5am in Toronto" (which were actually both promo singles).
Everyone knows the hits, but hopefully, this list gives you a better idea of Drizzy's better, lesser-known songs. Now go ahead and tell us what we're missing...