Drake was there before Abel Tesfaye released his first mixtape as The Weeknd. Drake was there before Nayvadius Wilburn released his first album as Future. Drake is always there; he appears like the rap version of Beetlejuice.
Drake is like as a treasure hunter in search of the next golden artist. He’s been called a vulture, a cultural leech, but Weeknd and Future are two artists he couldn’t leave behind as forgotten corpses. They had something bigger than a co-sign—bigger than a Drake feature—and continued to ascend with each passing mixtape and album. Drake might have foreseen their bright futures or promising presents, but these two are now able to stand beside him as peers in the music industry.
Last year, rather surprisingly, The Weeknd and Future stood together for the first time, completing a triangle between the three associates, an interesting trifecta that continued with Future's involvement on Starboy and another collaboration on Future's HNDRXX album.
The question is, what combination makes for the best music? Drake and The Weeknd, Drake and Future, or The Weeknd and Future?
Artists coming together is much more than simply two talents throwing paint on a canvas. The idea of big names together is enough to make heads do the Linda Blair spin, but will the results match expectations? With Drake, Future and The Weeknd, there’s enough material to analyze rather than speculate; looking at their work together to see who is, frankly, the best duo.
Drake & The Weeknd
Drake wanted The Weeknd’s sound, that's how Abel explained the beginning of their collaborative relationship to Rolling Stone in 2015. The two connected during the making of Take Care, Drake knew the direction he wanted for his sophomore album, and Abel had the sonic blueprint needed to create this project.
“Crew Love” is one of the House Of Balloons originals that Drake would take for his album. The song is almost entirely dominated by The Weeknd’s vocals, and that makes Drake’s inclusion feel more like a guest verse than a song meant to belong on his album. It isn’t a bad record, but imagine the Drake-less original having a much darker tone. When looking back on The Weeknd’s music from this era, his sound is far from radio-friendly. When he finally arrives, Drake contributes little, adding a rather banal verse to an instrumental practically screaming for him to crush it.
A stronger Drake arrives on “Live For,” from Weeknd’s debut album Kiss Land. I always found the production choice rather strange for a Weeknd and Drake collaboration―leaning more toward electro-pop than manipulated R&B. One would think that Weeknd would know the perfect sound for him and Drake to pour their hearts upon.
“The Zone” puts the two in a far more natural environment. Sonically, the song is simplistic―whispering keys and minimalistic drums being played from the center of a black hole. Weeknd’s vocals are the focus, as he draws listeners into a state of druggy darkness. Drake's entrance into Abel's world feels surprisingly natural, even though he isn’t an advocate of drug usage, he seems to belong in this strange but alluring zone.
Unity is all about creating a space where both artists' gifts feel in unison―this is done exceptionally well on “The Ride.” Originally, this is another song that was for House Of Balloons, but, I believe, based on the end result, it was destined for Take Care; Drake delivers by far one of his most enthralling performances on the entire album. What Weeknd contributes is a soothing hook, but the way his vocals are looped throughout the production is a genius touch. The 6-minute stream-of-consciousness shows how their skillsets can coexist, rather than overlap. This is what a true collaboration should feel like―entering two worlds at once.
Drake released “Trust Issues” back in June of 2011, an early release that predates Take Care. He took the chorus from DJ Khaled’s “I’m On One” and revamped the single to speak on his inability to put trust in the woman surrounding him. The Weeknd would later put his own spin on the loosie, and DJs put the two together in various mashups, giving us arguably the best Drake and Weeknd collab of them all.
Drake & Future
I still find it strange that out of all the Future songs he could have remixed, Drake chose “Tony Montana.” The 2011 single wasn’t a massive hit, it didn’t have the crossover potential of “Turn On The Lights,” but he decided to bless one of Atlanta’s most promising stars. Future mentions splitting heads like a cantaloupe and being plugged in with Colombians, while Drake chose to reveal how young women are lost these days―the juxtaposition between the two artists and their content has always seemed like a nerd being invited to the drug dealer's table. This is the same reason why most of What A Time To Be Alive sounds like Future featuring Drake rather than a true collaborative effort. The more trap-driven songs like “Live From The Gutter,” “Big Rings” and “Scholarships” show a clear contrast between the two.
At times, Drake doesn’t feel like he belongs, a chameleon who doesn’t perfectly blend into Future’s pain-drenched and lean-soaked setting. There are moments like “Diamonds Dancing,” “Plastic Bag” and “Digital Dash” where the harmony feels more natural. My biggest problem with What A Time To Be Alive has always been that the solo tracks—“Jersey” and “30 For 30 Freestyle”—are the album's best. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late proves Drake can enter a trap space under his terms, but trying to fit into Future’s foundation doesn’t allow such an easy crossover.
There's always been two sides to Future―the trap rapper and the melodic R&B artist. Future Hendrix is who Drake should strive to work with, the two are a strong duo on P. Reign’s “DnF," Wayne’s “Love Me” and Future’s “Never Satisfied.” Drake even jokes that he and Future should start a group that's far more K-Ci & JoJo than Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug, and that is where the power of the two coming together would glow the brightest. Not the trap rap records, but rhythmic hits, a comfort zone for Drake that is also perfect for Future; this is the common ground these two should stand upon.
Jodeci’s “4U” is sampled on both Drake’s “Jodeci Freestyle” and Future’s “Damage.” Just like Drake, Future doesn’t sound out of place over a ‘90s R&B flip. What A Time To Be Alive had Toronto’s 6 God rapping alongside the artist who made FUTURE, but instead, Drake and 40 should have locked in with the artist who made HNDRXX. Issues with women, the strain of fame, and trying to cope with ex-lovers moving on are subjects that Drake and Future both tackle well, but rarely together.
Songs like “Grammys,” “Where Ya At” and “Used To” aren’t to be ignored, the two have a solid collection of music, but there’s an unnecessary imbalance that could be solved if the two came together as one entity, more than just two artists sprinkling their individual talents into a blender.
Future recently called Drake a business partner, and I believe the two know that more can be achieved together than separated, but until they realize their fanbases would rather have more “Not Satisfied” and less “Tony Montana,” it’ll always feel like Burger King purchasing Popeyes and not Genius and Spotify merging for “Behind the Lyrics.”
Future & The Weeknd
“Low Life” is the title of Future and The Weeknd’s first collaboration, and it strangely depicts both artists perfectly. These two are known for living fast―devouring a copious amount of drugs and sleeping with countless women; outlaws who come to life at night. The song begins with a pitched-up sample saying “getting high,” and from there the two aren't bashful about their debaucherous lifestyles. Abel brags about being on his fourth eviction while Future admits if he’s caught cheating with your daughter he isn’t apologizing―two savages who aren’t ashamed to make an anthem for the fellow lowlifes.
My favorite part of the song is hearing how Future ad libs and harmonizes with The Weeknd’s vocals. It’s the small details that give the impression these are two artists building something together. “Low Life” sounds natural, the kind of song you expect these two to make together.
Future repaid Weeknd for his “Low Life” feature on the thrilling “All I Know,” which appears on Abel's Starboy album. This is the middle ground record that blends Future’s trap aesthetic and Weeknd’s R&B/pop roots. The song is spacey, druggy, trifling and captivating for all the reason that we love the two. Future also loans Abel vocals on “Six Feet Under," where his voice adds an extra layer to the record. You could easily see how these two would kill in a duet-esque project. It's like the perfect mix of lean and Percocets, a crossfade to remember.
While “Low Life” is far more trap, their latest collaboration on a Future album, “Coming Out Strong” could be a successful mainstream single―both vocalists giving listeners singing and melody with radio potential.
All the collaborative songs between Abel and Nayvadius show an effortlessness when these two come together, the subtle similarities in their artistry makes a bridge for them to cross. With only a few songs publicly released, Weeknd and Future could very well be one of music’s most promising duos. Collaborating is about chemistry, finding the common ground for both talents to shine, and these two have found it without much trial and error. Authentic collaborators more than business partners.
This may be a rather premature statement to make, but based on the music that’s been offered, I would bet Future and The Weeknd would make for a better joint album than either artist working with Drake. Drake’s biggest issue is playing the outsider role, instead of bringing these artists into his preferred creative zone. There have been cases where he’s able to adapt like a master of unification―2 Chainz’s “Big Amount,” Ross’ “Stay Schemin',” YG’s “Why You Always Hatin?” and Wizkid's “Ojuelegba” remix are all examples where he skates and wins in unfamiliar terrains. This can work for some artists, but when you’re dealing with specific rappers and their specific styles, it doesn’t always translate to a harmonious combination.
Harmony is something Future and The Weeknd have, they are naturally able to coexist and capture mutualism in their music. Drake did say on Tony Montana, “It’s just OVO and XO, and Freebandz the committee,” but I’m certain he didn’t predict two of his earliest co-signs becoming even better collaborators.
OVOXO and FBG x OVO are what we've heard the most, but it's FBG x XO that we need the most.
By Yoh, aka Yoh The Phuture, aka @Yoh31.