The glow of promise and potential radiated by the end of Drake’s verse on “Ransom.” The classic loosie was my introduction to the Toronto newcomer; Lil Wayne’s feature encouraged the initial listen, but I went back for the kid who said, “Add until they subtract me, I’ll never be your equal.” He captivated with wit and charisma, providing a first impression that led me to press play every time his name was attached to music posted on blogs.
In 2008, I didn’t expect that I would still be pressing play nine years later―I didn’t expect Drake to become the biggest music sensation since Kanye West―but since “Ransom,” I’ve listened and witnessed him grow and evolve, receive love and loathing, reach new peaks and jump over mountains with each new album. He is everything I never saw him becoming, but I’ve watched every step of the way.
More Life is being heralded as a “playlist project,” but it’s safe to also see it as Drake’s seventh commercially released project. Almost every year since 2010, a new Drake project has been given to the world on a silver platter to be devoured. If you include the free mixtapes, the first being Room From Improvement in 2006, it’s been over 10 years since Drake started putting music out to be heard or ignored. For the next 10 years, his career will likely continue to be placed under the microscope―reviewed, criticized, championed, rated―but that is to be expected when you're a generation's biggest star. That title comes with endless conversation, debates, discussions and arguments.
Since discourse about Drake is both our present and it is our future, we decided to rank all of Drake’s mixtapes and albums (and "playlists") from his humble beginnings to his latest offerings.
As a disclaimer, it's important to note that, personally, I prefer bars over harmonies and punchlines over melodies, but my favorite version of Drake is when his albums balance these two skill sets. Since Drake has always been judged by the duality of his rapping and singing post-So Far Gone, we felt it was appropriate to do the same here.
10. Room For Improvement
Young Drake, the little brother to Little Brother. This is the Drake more influenced by the underground, by backpack rappers more than anyone on the charts. You can hear it in his flow, delivery and even the hooks―on this self-released, DJ Smallz-hosted mixtape Drake was out to truly prove himself as a rhyme slayer in a world full of rappers uploading mixtapes to DatPiff and sending them to blogs.
This was the last time fans got a chance to hear Drake rap over a Lupe Fiasco instrumental, or hear him start a song with, “Get in my Slick Rick mode.” There are moments that shine with promise, glimpses of an artist who could have been an underground darling, but as the title states, there was room for improvement.
Drake was still discovering himself as an artist―still finding his voice (at times he seems to be rapping in a library), searching for the pen of a memorable songwriter and discovering the sound he could call his own. Drake wasn’t completely lost, but he had yet to find himself in the music.
There’s a sense of nostalgia if you want to hear what Drake would sound like as a backpacker, but most of the music doesn’t age well.
9. What a Time To Be Alive (w/ Future)
Drake's collaborative project with Atlanta’s most renowned lean-sipping wizard is highlighted with booming trap anthems, but is mostly dominated by Future’s enthralling presence; Drake is a visitor on What a Time To Be Alive instead of sharing the glowing spotlight. There’s a lack of balance to truly make their union Shaq and Kobe, they’re more like Will and Carlton on the first season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
The production is a blessing―all the right architects were brought in to build the perfect foundation for some infectious records―and the project is easy on the ears, but it doesn't leave the listener with a strong desire to revisit as time goes by. What a Time To Be Alive is the Big Mac of Drake’s catalog―sounds good when starving for a quick burger, but there are far better food options in his discography, and the same can be said about Future.
But hey, some days you just want a Big Mac, a large fry and a sweet tea to calm your hunger for junk food.
Highlights: “Digital Dash,” “Diamonds Dancing,” “30 For 30 Freestyle”
Drake’s commercial behemoth: Views dominated charts and streams, and transcended him to the top of both the rap and pop mountains but is the one album lacking the most luster in his catalog. Views is bloated with too many records, is long-winded in length, and struggles to maintain any kind of captivation from beginning to end. It's enjoyable in small doses, especially sonically, but Drake was the anchor that truly dragged the ship down―some of his most cringe-worthy, corny raps can be found sprinkled across the 1 hour and 21-minute runtime.
Even when the music is superb―warm dancehall, quiet storm R&B and sugary pop make for some noticeable songs―people still look to Drake for rapping, and the raps on Views fell below the bar he set for himself at the beginning of his career.
There’s a hollowness if you're seeking soul and nothing but boasting and bragging if you prefer painfully honest and sincere. While I liked the idea of Views, and I enjoyed most of the songs, as an album, as an entire body of work, it is the Titantic―spectacular, grandiose, larger-than-life, but sinks towards the bottom of Drake’s discography due to the many glaciers that ruined it’s sail to the top.
Highlights: “Feel No Ways,” “Redemption,” “Controlla”
7. Thank Me Later
Drake’s commercial debut Thank Me Later is the type of project that is forever changing positions in ranked lists. When I first heard this album back in 2010, it felt rushed, as if the music was crafted too quickly in order to ride the So Far Gone explosion. Over time, though, the album has grown on me.
You won’t find the best production or the best rapping or the best singing, but there’s an honesty that is prevalent on each track. Thank Me Later is the album made by an early-20s rapper who was suddenly thrust into the spotlight; you get the waves of confidence and insecurities, the struggle to adjust and the fear of failing.
This is one of Drake’s clearest selfies, the first three songs exhibiting a level of transparency that will always be relatable. The more Drake reaches the status of an artist who caters to the world, the easier it is to appreciate the young rapper who poured his heart into every bar. Yeah, this was the soft Drake, the throw-him-in-the-locker Drake, the sit-outside-your-ex-house-and-cry Drake, but that’s who Drake was—the Drake we knew the best. If only the album was better put together.
Highlights: "Karaoke," "Miss Me," "Find Your Love," "9AM in Dallas" (included as a bonus track on the UK iTunes version)
6. Comeback Season
Comeback Season is a far more developed version of Room For Improvement, an example of what happens when Charmander reaches level 16 and evolves into Charmeleon.
Lyrically, Drake is a much better rapper, a sharper pen with far more conviction in his voice. Comeback Season is the project where 40 begins working with Drake, as an engineer but not yet a producer. With 40 on the boards, the mix is far more pleasant on the ears. This is the Drake that I would have loved to hear as an artist signed under Jamla; 9th Wonder would’ve molded this baby Phonte into something special.
I get why this Drake is missed―this is before he started to really incorporate a strong R&B presence into his music―since this is the final form of Backpack Drake. If you ever wanted to know what Drake sounds like over Dilla and 9th Wonder, this is the only project when such a phenomenon occurred.
While quality rapping can be found on Comeback Season, it doesn't offer much appeal for repeat visits all these years later. Underground rap may desire this Drake, but he most likely would have hit a ceiling if he didn’t change his approach. He wouldn't destroy Billboard and become the world's biggest star rapping like Common Sense.
Highlights: "Must Hate Money," "Think Good Thoughts," "Man of the Year"
5. More Life
More Life has only been in this world for a few days, so this is the most tentative and premature placement on this list. I went into this musical offering looking for a project that was better than his last, wondering if he could correct all the limitations that prevented Views from being a stronger project. Again, Drake went Titanic―a massive project full of grandiose beats, global influences, and luxury raps―but despite another lengthy cruise, More Life is the far more enthralling experience.
More Life is a people pleaser as if he sought to touch every corner of his audience and fulfill their every Drake desire; while this creates a project that essentially isn’t for everyone, you are likely to find the Drake you like most somewhere in the 1-hour and 20-minute listen.
There are only a handful of lines that caused me to cringe, while most of the music is pleasant to the ears. More Life is considered a “playlist project” because its 22 songs will be scattered across playlists and Drake will be completely unavoidable. This is his attempt at conquering streaming, cornering the market, while pleasing a majority of his fans.
As an album, it suffers from a few of the same shortcomings as Views, but it’s an overall improvement in almost every way. Time will tell, but this position could change as we sit with the album more.
Highlights: "Free Smoke," "Passionfruit," "Do Not Disturb"
4. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, the surprise mixtape they refuse to call an album.
In a way, this album is the complete opposite of Thank Me Later―braggadocious, boastful, with an arrogance that was rare to see. This is the album where Charmeleon becomes a self-assured Charizard. This is Drake going into the trap atmosphere with vigor and zeal, rapping with an assortment of tricks that makes each song a memorable moment.
I’ve always felt like this was Drake’s victory lap, the project you drop when you feel as if no man on this Earth can stop your reign. Despite being a sonic change, this is one of Drake’s most cohesive, well-balanced albums; he delved into the trap on his own terms, never feeling like an outsider.
It can be argued that Quentin Miller’s pen is the reason why Drake was able to make such a graceful leap into a new environment, and while If You’re Reading This will always be seen as the project that outed Drake as a ghostwriter employer, the music is undeniable.
How can you hate on the stream of bangers from “Legend” to “6 God?” Or "6 Man"? IYRTITL houses, arguably, one of Drake’s best R&B cuts in “Jungle.” Even if this album will always be seen as more of an orphan than offspring, the music captured a moment and continues to age well.
Highlights: "Energy," "Know Yourself," "6 Man"
3. Nothing Was The Same
“Tuscan Leather” is the best intro that Drake has ever made. I will fight any man, man-child, or Demogorgon about that. From Drake’s rapping to the way 40 flipped the sample like a master chef making a supreme flapjack, it’s an incredible way to begin the album.
From there, Nothing Was The Same delves deeper into the psyche of a blossoming rap star coming off an acclaimed sophomore LP. Cohesion is both the gift and curse of NWTS, the album is a seamless listen and it flows effortlessly―smoother than driving a brand new Porsche in Malibu. At the same time, however, that same cohesiveness sucks you into a world that begins to feel repetitive, by not adding variety to the album's soundscape, even good songs feel extraneous.
Is it necessary to have “Wu-Tang Forever” and “Own It?” “Started From The Bottom” and “Worst Behavior?” “Connect” and “305 To My City?”
NWTS is Drake showing that he is a master of his universe, understanding the balance between bourgeois rap star and R&B aficionado, strip club connoisseur and famous casanova, the honest transparency mixed with bulletproof bravado. This isn't a cover-to-cover listen, but after this hit the mainstream, as the title suggests, nothing was ever the same.
Highlights: "Tuscan Leather," "Furthest Thing," "Too Much"
2. Take Care
The album that will be argued until the end of days as Drake’s "undeniable classic." Take Care, a moment that rap will never forget. I fear that the moment has always clouded my judgment on this album, like being attached to a memory of better days.
Sure, Drake will get flak for making “Marvin’s Room,” but at the time, I never heard a song that was so painfully pure on the radio. Take Care has so many of these bleeding vein moments, like Drake didn’t care if an audience heard him spill out his soul, the words needed to come out. He embraced being the simp, he embraced his fury against naysayers―everything he was feeling in his life at the moment can be heard on this album―and he got in touch with his feelings and let them live over incredible production.
Some of his best music is on this album―”Cameras/Good Ones Go,” “Doing It Wrong,” “Underground King,” “Look What You’ve Done,” “The Ride,” “Over My Dead Body,”―with the highs hovering way over Toronto's CN Tower. It should be noted that The Weeknd’s contribution to this album can’t be overlooked, he is a big reason why Take Care sounds the way it does.
The Drake that will always earn my money is the genuine, earnest, honest rapper who captures a generation of kids chasing dreams, loving and losing, all while striving to leave a mark on the world. Take Care left a mark.
Highlights: "Over My Dead Body," "Marvin's Room," "Cameras / Good Ones Go Interlude"
1. So Far Gone
Everything good that I’ve written about Drake in this ranking feature can be found in So Far Gone, his breakout project and magnum opus. And to be clear, we're talking about the mixtape, with all Drake's original vision intact, not the watered-down, commercial cash grab that was the EP.
Drake isn’t a complicated rapper. When it comes to depth, he isn’t taking us into the deep end, but he’s great at allowing us entrance into his life. So Far Gone is the doorway into the world of Aubrey Graham. He finds his voice as a singer without sacrificing his prowess as a rapper, is able to craft great songs with nod-worthy bars, is cohesive without being repetitive, and even though he owes Kanye and Cudi for the soundscape, Drake makes this dreamy, R&B-drenched world his own.
If More Life is a slice of Drake’s broad palette, So Far Gone is a Hyperbolic Time Chamber where he makes the most with limited tools. As a pony with only a few tricks, he made sure each one was better than the last.
This is the first project where 40 took on the role of producer, flipping all the samples that Drake desired. He found his sound while penning some of his most heartfelt music. Cool and sensitive, romantic yet with more heartbreak than heartbroken, assured with a hint of doubt―So Far Gone was the mixtape Drake was born to make and the album he’ll always try to overcome.
From front to back, So Far Gone is his best work to date.
Highlights: "Lust For Life," "November 18th," "Say What's Real"
By Yoh, aka You Can Hate Me Now, aka @Yoh31