Saturday night Drizzy dropped off a fresh bundle of tracks and, just like a certain writer predicted days ago, one of them featured Gucci Mane. But the real star of the show was "4 PM in Calabasas," not just because it's so far generated the most headlines, but because it made me realize that Drake's "AM/PM" series is now one of hip-hop's longest-running, most prominent series.
Stretching over six years and six albums, Drake's strategically used the format to vent and to remind the world of his lyrical prowess, and to follow the evolution of the "AM/PM" series is to exactly follow the evolution of his career. Just dig a little bit and it's all here.
"9 AM in Dallas" — 2010
Notable Line: "Scared for the first time, everything just clicked / What if I don't really do the numbers they predict? / Considering the fact that I'm the one that they just picked / To write a chapter in history, this shit has got me sick"
The one that started it all, Drake dropped "9 AM in Dallas" leading up to the release of his true debut album, Thank Me Later. I remember that time, there was a real feeling that hip-hop was at a crossroads, and in retrospect, that feeling was completely right. If that album had flopped, or at least not done huge numbers, that would have likely been the end of this new kid everyone was talking about. But it didn't, and now we're looking at one of the biggest stars in music history at his peak.
This is really classic Drake in the "switching between bragging and insecurity" sense, something that doesn't really happen anymore, not like it does on "9 AM." Drake might now be insecure about the people around him, if the ex-strippers he has cleaning his mansion really love him, but it's been a long time since we've heard his voice any "what if I don't make it?" doubts like he does here. Even in 2010, Drake was rapping about people missing the "old Drake," but it's the afraid of failure Drake that would eventually wither and die. The days of Willie Beamon references are long gone, and they aren't coming back.
Also Note: This was clearly during the height of what I called the Pause Flow era. You know, that was when every rapper would start a line, pause, and then finish with a couple words that cleverly but indirectly related to the first part. Big Sean started it on "Lemonade" ("I'm on the top floor getting brains...higher learning") and it exploded from there, getting picked up by Nicki ("Yeah, I said it, hang it up...flatscreen"), Lil Wayne ("And she don't want nothing but my Johnson...Howard"), Ludacris ("Comin down the street like a parade...Macy's"), Drake ("Smart kids that smoke weed...honor roll") and basically everyone else who was rapping at the time. Those were dark days, I don't miss them.
UPDATE: Good point, forgot about "Good Life." Interesting there's a three-year gap between that and "Lemonade," which is still clearly the song that truly kicked off the Pause Flow era.
"5 AM in Toronto" — 2013
Notable Line: "Give these niggas the look, the verse, and even the hook / That's why every song sound like Drake featuring Drake"
After a three year absence, Drake returns, this time waking up even earlier (or staying up even later) and moving his operation to his home soil. The only "AM/PM" song to also get the video treatment, "5 AM in Toronto" dropped right when Drake was fully making the transition from "guy who was fighting to make it" to "guy who was fighting to stay on top after he made it." He was right, every song at the time did sound like Drake featuring Drake, and in that sense, nothing's really changed.
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He's done revealing any fear and moved onto to straight intimidation, even delving into some straight up murder talk: "If anything happens to Papi, might pop a nigga for real." Interesting that opposite to the trajectory of most rappers, Drake came into the game without even a whisper of violence, and then the more rich and famous he got, the more gun talk and catching bodies we started to hear. Don't even tempt him, he might pop you, for real. Or at least throw a bottle at you in the club that also hits Tony Parker and then subliminally diss you in a song, which was an insane thing that really happened that only seems more insane looking back.
We also get some rare Jamaican/Canadian slang here with the "Str8, Y pree?" line that's now become a pillar of his music. The more stamps he's accumulated in his passport, the more Toronto he's become.
"6 PM in New York" — 2015
Notable Line: "It's so childish calling my name on the world stage / You need to act your age and not your girl's age"
The only one of the "AM/PM" songs to make it onto a project, which is why I can't find a stream of it anywhere on the interwebs, "6 PM in New York" is also the longest song of the series. If we're talking career trajectory, this is exactly when Drake was really mastering the internet and moving from superstar rapper to the Most Memed Alive. He says, "'Best I Ever Had' seems like a decade ago," and it really does.
Besides the excellent Tyga diss, which on one hand was very "come on, just say the dude's name" but on the other hand was very "oh shit, that line was straight ether to Tyga's dome piece," what's most notable to me about "New York" was Drake's ultra-rare foray into social consciousness, or something, kind of. I've struggled a lot with how much to expect Drake to even acknowledge that there's a world outside OVO, and it sounds like Drake has too.
"I've been tryna reach the youth so I can save 'em this year / Fuck it, I guess I gotta wait til next year / And I heard someone say something that stuck with me a lot / 'Bout how we need protection from those protectin' the block / Nobody lookin' out for nobody / Maybe we should try and help somebody or be somebody / Instead of bein' somebody that makes the news / So everybody can tweet about it / And then they start to R.I.P. about it / And four weeks later nobody even speaks about it / Damn, I just had to say my piece about it"
That was his piece about it? "Maybe we should try and help somebody or be somebody" is the kind of platitude you hear from a high college freshman who just finished their first semester of Sociology. On the whole, though, this might just be my favorite song of the series. "They scream out my failures and whisper my accomplishments" is one of the few Drake lines that stuck with me a lot. And to think, labels said they'd have a hard time marketing Drake.
"4 PM in Calabasas" — 2016
Notable Line: "We movin' militant but somehow you the one tankin' / No limit to where I can take it"
The most famous person from L.A. thing of all-time is to reference Calabasas instead of L.A., and Drake's clearly elevated his game to the point where he doesn't have to name these songs after world capitals anymore. Give him a year and he'll be rapping at "2 AM" from the Pacific Palisades, which come to think of it, sounds kind of fire.
Anyway...although Joe Budden tried to insert himself into the conversation, "4 PM" is clearly an extended retaliation for that one time Diddy slapped Drake a year ago. Drizzy's apparently been keeping that sting across his cheek bottled up for a minute now and decided it was time to bust back—the entire song is just one Puffy reference after another, which is borderline infuriating. How are you going to fire 27 shots at someone and never once just go ahead and say their name? This is why "Control" was such a big deal.
I know it's only been out for two days, but "Calabasas" is clearly the worst of the series so far. The beat, the Chris Farley reference (like Drake's the black sheep of anything at this point), the return to the gun talk ("Pistol by my bed") it all feels forced. Although remind me to write an entire article about him taking Kendrick and Rocky out on tour.
Still, if history's any indication we've got at least a year before we get another update to the series, hopefully by then Drake will be back on his "9 AM in Dallas" shit. As many time zones as he's traveled through, as much as he's grown in his career, it really never got better than the original.