It took me a long time to appreciate Chick-fil-A. It was never a question of taste or enjoyment, but the creativity behind the menu. With Chick-fil-A, there are rarely surprises or experimentations. However the company tries to spice up the menu, you know that you’re getting some iteration of a nugget, strip, sandwich, or wrap. There’s nothing you can do about it but enjoy what they offer because this is fucking Chick-fil-A and those four items taste pretty damn great regardless of presentation.
It then shouldn’t come as any surprise to realize that Drake is the Chick-fil-A of rappers. Fight as you must through this realization, but as a bona fide rap superstar for the past nine years, Drake’s vast catalog of music has mostly drifted towards the same types of songs over and over again, and no matter how many singles, albums, playlists, or loosies October’s Own has ushered out, that process has never faltered.
Drake is almost always good to great, yet almost never transcendent, just like how Chick-fil-A is mostly good to great, but never the absolute best. Similarly, Drake has always been the artist we listen to when we know what we want to consume, and we don’t have to stray too far from our typical meal to get a good, and sometimes great, experience.
The question remains, though: which version of Drake is the best? For as deep as his catalog goes in terms of quantity, every song can be broken down into one of 10 categories that fully encapsulate some of his best and worst habits as an artist.
Before we begin, a few notes...
No. 1: Three projects were left off this investigation because they were either a collaborative work (What a Time to Be Alive) or contained too many freestyles and unoriginal tracks (Comeback Season, Room for Improvement).
No. 2: Similar to the first note, not every Drake song in existence is mentioned below. Please stay out of my mentions.
No. 3: Many of the songs on this list spill over into multiple categories. Make no mistake, though, every Drake song fits into at least one of the 10 types.
No. 4: The ranked order of the types does not mean that every song included in a particular category is either bad or good because of the group it falls under. This is an overall ranking of which type of Drake song is his most successful.
10. The Crossover Pop Drake Hit
A.K.A. the Drake song that white people are most likely to request at a wedding.
Drake’s worst artistic habit has always been when it sounds like he’s going through the motions. The songs in this category mostly exist because of Drake’s choosing to sacrifice thoughtfulness and craftsmanship conceptually for the cheesier, more marketable approaches.
That doesn’t mean every song in this category doesn’t have a potentially pleasurable experience behind it. “Best I Ever Had” and “Houstatlantavegas” gave us the foundation of Drake's career, with alluring drum patterns and hypnotic, high-pitched hooks. “Fake Love” clings to a chorus so carefully crafted for mass appeal you would think Drake stole it from a quote tweet with a million retweets underneath it. “Fancy,” “Shut It Down,” “Make Me Proud,” and “Practice” each share many of the same intoxicating characteristics present with songs found higher up on this list, too.
However, what most of these songs miss is a purpose outside of attempted pop appeal. Even when they hit, like “Best I Ever Had,” or “Fake Love,” they only give Drake’s biggest fans enough to chew on until something more profound arrives. At the same time, Drake's critics enjoy all the ammunition they thought would never come. If and when they do contribute to his overall portrait as an artist, they expose the laziest of brushstrokes, filled with obvious lyrics, synthetic concepts, and the feeling he's trying to shine shit and call it gold.
Best Examples: “Best I Ever Had,” “Little Bit,” “Houstatlantavegas,” “Fancy,” “Make Me Proud,” “Shut It Down,” “Practice,” “Own It,” “Hotline Bling,” “Now & Forever,” “Fake Love"
9. The Radio-Friendly, Interchangeable Drake Rap Hit
A.K.A. the assembly line Drake rap song.
Death, taxes, and Drake having a rap song on the radio that sounds like his last rap song on the radio. Although the trend that was much more apparent in the first half of his career, Drake’s material, usually produced by either Noah “40” Shebib or Boi-1da, often carries an extremely familiar concept from track to track despite being separated by months and even years.
The Radio-Friendly Drake Rap Hit is rarely ever a misstep, and most of the songs on this list do a much better job at showcasing that, lyrically, Drake could land interesting concepts when he tries. The problem here is that things get repetitive. Raps juxtaposing his old and new lives, lamentations on being too busy for relationships but never too busy to fall in love, and lavish lifestyle lyrics that could only be described as “finer things porn” litter most of these songs.
Conceptually, tracks like “Over” and “Headlines,” “We’ll Be Fine” and “Still Here,” or “All Me” and “Pop Style” feel like software updates rather than brand new products. Even as Drake’s style has shifted away from the more manufactured rhyme scheme structures he had shackled himself to during everything prior to Nothing Was the Same, tracks like “6 God,” “Hype,” “Energy,” and “Sacrifices” prove that even when Drake rearranges the furniture, the square footage of his artistic space doesn’t necessarily get any bigger.
Best Examples: “Unstoppable,” “Uptown,” “Over,” “Up All Night,” “The Motto,” “We’ll Be Fine,” “Underground Kings,” “Headlines,” “All Me,” “6 God,” “Energy,” “Used To,” “Pop Style,” “Still Here,” “Hype,” “Portland,” “Sacrifices”
8. The Drake Love Song That Blames His Problems on Women
A.K.A. the “maybe Drake isn’t such a great guy” love song.
There are two things Drake seems to think he’s really great at in life: rapping about love and heartbreak, and being rich. It’s important to note that a significant portion of Drake’s romantically-themed music is centered around being a selfish, concern-trolling asshole. In each track, Drake soothes his love interest by displaying concern for their well-being, wanting the best for them, and pointing out their biggest flaws, but only when it benefits him romantically.
People became mesmerized by the charm of “Hotline Bling” without ever realizing it’s essentially a song about Drake telling a woman she should feel bad for doing anything other than pay attention to him. “How About Now” is a vengeful tale of a guy still mad that he made a girl listen to his Degrassi raps when all she wanted to do was play Ludacris instead. Even “Nothings into Somethings” almost blatantly attempts to guilt trip Serena Williams for getting engaged and being happy. It’s an unfortunate trend in Drake’s music not unlike large swaths of music from his contemporaries, but one that stings more because it’s cloaked in earnestness and penetrates a very real and dark place, emotionally, for many of his listeners.
So why isn’t this category at the very bottom? Because, goddammit, these songs are almost impossible to not enjoy, especially when you’re just in the mood to be sad and irrationally angry. Who doesn’t like “Shot For Me” or “Days in the East”? So what if “Ice Melts” is about Drake needing a woman’s attention, even if she’s emotionally spent?! This Young Thug hook is hitting the spot!
Best Examples: “Sooner Than Later,” “Little Bit,” “Let’s Call It Off,” “Hotline Bling,” “Find Your Love,” “The Real Her,” “Shot for Me,” “Connect,” “Days in the East,” “How About Now,” “Company,” “Madonna,” “Child’s Play,” “Redemption,” “Ice Melts”
7. The Problematically Appropriated Drake Bop
A.K.A. the “I don’t know why his voice sounds like that, but this is catchy” song.
For better or worse, Drake has always been an artist influenced by the music around him in the most peculiar way. Unlike someone like Kendrick Lamar, who often enmeshes himself in jazz or G-Funk in ways that allow both he and the music to speak with the listener in a completely new way, Drake’s odes to other genres of music have straddled the line between celebration and misappropriation.
On “November 18th,” the chopped and screwed vocals and syrupy production, reminiscent of Houston's signature sound, feel like a polarizing display of Drake tightrope-walking between admiring the music he grew up listening to and him engulfing an established sound into the Drake brand. This is most prevalent in his last three projects—If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Views, and More Life—in which tracks like “Controlla,” “One Dance,” “Blem,” “KMT,” and even “Hotline Bling” find Drake immersing himself in everything from dancehall to UK grime in order to mine new avenues for music.
For whatever potential uncertainty there may be when it comes to the intention behind Drake’s sound adoptions, none of it truly matters. This type of Drake song is almost a guaranteed bop from start to finish. You know why it’s okay to still like these songs? Because, deep down, we’re all pretty terrible people, and terrible people don’t necessarily care about context; sometimes we just need the song to be good.
If you’re ever feeling a certain way about Drake, there is most assuredly a “Blem” or “One Dance” waiting to wash all your cares away to an island of blissful ignorance where everyone calls each other “woes” and where “Madiba Riddim” is the national anthem. We aren’t perfect people, but for as long as we can continue to ignore Jamaican Drake—Dramaican, if you will—the Drake bop will live on.
Best Examples: “November 18th,” “Know Yourself,” “Hotline Bling,” “One Dance,” “Controlla,” “Passionfruit,” “Madiba Riddim,” “Blem,” “KMT,” “Gyalchester,” “No Long Talk”
6. The Underrated, Heavily-Sampled, Drake Deep Cut
A.K.A. the songs Drake should make more often.
To be clear, a Drake deep cut doesn’t necessarily mean a song that wasn't a hit in its own right, but rather the actual effectiveness of the song, and how well Drake rapped, is forgotten too often. “Show Me a Good Time,” a clear standout on a middling Thank Me Later, lets Drake stretch his pop legs while intertwining more well-crafted melodies than some of the album's more well-known singles.
“Tuscan Leather” and “The Ride,” respectively, are arguably the best opener and closer to two of Drake’s most notable projects, yet they are rarely the first cuts mentioned when discussing Take Care or Nothing Was the Same. Even loosies like “Jodeci” and “Draft Day" feel like events within themselves because of just how comforting it feels to hear Drake rap over samples of the artists’ work he worships.
This particular type of Drake song only clocks in at No. 6 because of its inconsistency as a staple sound in his catalog. On If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, “Legend” stands out as the only true example of this type, while Views and More Life only produce “Weston Road Flows” and “Teenage Fever.” Maybe one day we can get an entire album full. I'm a dreamer…
Best Examples: “Congratulations,” “Show Me A Good Time,” “Lord Knows,” “The Ride,” “Club Paradise,” “Jodeci,” “Tuscan Leather,” “Legend,” “Draft Day,” “Weston Road Flows,” “Teenage Fever”
5. The Drake Feature
A.K.A. the song where someone else’s hit becomes Drake’s.
This is not a foolproof type in the sense that not every single Drake feature is memorable, nor is every song that Drake is featured on worthy of long-lasting relevance. However, Drake's ability to lend his talents to almost any type of rap hit over the past decade, where the song eventually becomes known more for his contributions than the original artists is—with the exception of Kendrick—unparalleled in hip-hop.
Much in the same vein as Lil Wayne in his prime, Drake operates like a chameleon, blending into the style and environment of whoever he’s working with until eventually, his unrelenting charm and confidence reach 11. Whether it’s Timbaland’s “Say Something,” The Game’s “100,” Meek Mill’s “R.I.C.O.,” or even newcomer BlocBoy JB’s “Look Alive,” while Drake’s point of view is always different, the success and memorability of his verses are always the same.
The Drake Feature is the type of Drake song that usually finds Drake either talking tough or rapping melodically. Although the occasional “Work” or “Fuckin Problems” rebukes this trend, the majority of Drake’s features have conquered foreign artistic soil, and planted the OVO flag in places we never anticipated.
Best Examples: “No Lie,” “Blessings,” “Tuesday,” “Trouble,” “R.I.C.O,” “Stay Schemin,” “No New Friends,” “I’m On One,” “Look Alive,” “My Way (Remix),” “Drama,” “She Will”
4. The Actually Introspective Drake Love Song
A.K.A. the “Alright, maybe he’s actually a good guy” song.
There truly isn’t much that separates selfish Drake and introspective Drake, but however thin that line may feel at times, there is definitely a line.
When Drake is at his very best, his penmanship (and the penmanship of his ghostwriters) and lyricism can cut emotionally deeper than almost any of his rivals could ever dream of. “Marvin’s Room,” one of Drake’s best songs, stops short of becoming just another selfishly written breakup song by allowing the focus to shift from jealousy and anger to the desperation and loneliness behind all of it.
On “Girls Love Beyonce” and “Jungle,” Drake narrates his way through complicated relationships and lost love with insecure and honest lamentations, and in such a naked fashion that you can’t help but forgive any past transgressions. Whether through poppier attempts like “Brand New” or “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” or on tracks buried deeper in the catalog like “Fire & Desire” or “Doing It Wrong,” Drake continually revisits the same conceptual well, and finds a replenishing blueprint for success every time. This is the point in the list where you can start to see that, once Drake finds the perfect solution, there’s no need to change the variables.
Best Examples: “Brand New,” “Paris Morton Music,” “Take Care,” “Marvin’s Room,” “Doing It Wrong,” “Girls Love Beyonce,” “From Time,” “Jungle,” “Fire & Desire”
3. The “Wow Drake Can Actually Rap Really Well” Song
A.K.A. the song you use to make the argument that Drake is the king of rap.
Every once in a while, you start to get the sense Drake might be paying attention more closely to social media, to every meme we put him in, every subtle shot that is taken. The end result is always the same and, without fail, Drake has always had an uncanny ability to craft tracks that allow him to flex lyrically.
These are the songs that you use to argue with people on the internet about why Drake is the GOAT, almost as if he made the song just to support your argument. Although it might sound hyperbolic when discussing a rapper best known for his softest moments, songs like “Back To Back,” “Pound Cake,” “0-100,” “Miss Me,” and “Can’t Have Everything” prove that Drake is more than just a cornered animal lashing out; he’s been doing the hunting this entire time.
A muscle he seems to only flex when necessary, there is a particular world-stopping aspect to this type of song that might not even be present in the two categories ahead of it. Drake has always thrived on internet culture, whether it’s for or against him. Each of these songs feels like an antidote to online Drake criticism, composed of quotables and gossip-churning disses, all of which could erase bad PR overnight. No matter what chips might be stacked against him, this one has never failed to be his ace of spades.
Best Examples: “Miss Me,” “Pound Cake,” “No Tellin,” “10 Bands,” “6 Man,” “Back To Back,” “Charged Up,” “Summer Sixteen,” “Free Smoke,” “Can’t Have Everything,” “Diplomatic Immunity”
2. The Energetic Drake Anthem
A.K.A. the Drake song most likely to get stuck in your head.
There’s an episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza decides the most effective way to woo a woman he is dating, who is beginning to lose interest in him, is to use the same tactic as Mennen Speed Stick’s jingle, “By Mennen,” and melodically repeat “Co-stanza,” until the woman can’t get him out of her mind. The plan works better than even George expects it to.
Musically, Drake has employed the same tactic when it comes to what I refer to as “The Drake Anthem.” More than almost any other aspect of his music, Drake’s hook-writing ability—and his penchant for relentless and indelible catchphrases—is what truly makes him an undeniable rap icon. It’s a weapon in his arsenal he didn’t truly discover until “Started From The Bottom,” yet in each of his subsequent releases, from the wall-punching energy of “Know Yourself” to the insatiable positivity radiating from “God’s Plan,” Drake’s anthems are his most timeless pieces of music.
The fascinating aspect of them all is that each builds over time with every listen, with songs like “Worst Behavior” or “Glow” gaining momentum as they manifest in the tiniest corners of our brains. These anthems nest themselves deep within the roots of pop culture, and no matter what we do to move on or escape to other music, just one listen means that we are already too late.
Best Examples: “Started From The Bottom,” “Worst Behavior,” “Know Yourself,” “Trophies,” “We Made It,” “Energy,” “Glow,” “God’s Plan”
1. The Quintessential Reflective Drake Song
A.K.A. the relatable Drake song.
Despite everything that we ask of Drake as an artist, what we want—and need—the most is a sense of relatability. This seems like a pretty simple request, but when you take into account his constantly changing persona, his highs and lows artistically, as well as every other type of song on this list, the best of Drake’s music has always been when he turns the pen on himself and gives us insight into the flawed individual behind the mask.
What makes this type of song the most effective is that, from day one, Drake has never hesitated to treat his music like an image therapy session. So Far Gone has “Successful,” “The Calm,” and “Fear,” while Thank Me Later almost belabors the sentimentality with “Fireworks,” “The Resistance,” and “Light Up” to near-excruciating levels. Take Care and Nothing Was the Same push Drake to better writing with “Look What You’ve Done,” “Over My Dead Body,” “Furthest Thing,” and “Too Much,” while his later projects find him even shifting the narrative more towards his relationship with his parents (“You & The 6”).
Drake’s more reflective music has always felt less convoluted than Kendrick's or Kanye’s, more nuanced than J. Cole’s and, unlike Big Sean, with an ability to sheath the corniness when necessary, which is what places such a high importance on his music. It’s why each entry in his AM/PM song series, like “6pm in New York” or “9am in Dallas,” will always be well received, and why “Do Not Disturb” feels like the perfect finale to More Life.
Best Examples: “Successful,” “The Calm,” “Fear,” “Dreams Money Can Buy,” “Karaoke,” “Light Up,” “Over My Dead Body,” “Furthest Thing,” “Too Much,” “Star67,” “You & The 6,” All “time and place” songs, “U With Me?,” “Lose You,” “Do Not Disturb”