On June 13, 2019, the Toronto Raptors defeated the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. Their victory marks the organization's first championship in franchise history.
Throughout the Finals, Drake, the Raptors' global ambassador and a megastar born in Canada, was seen courtside detonating after every play. We do not rejoice in silence, and so there was the expectation, following his countless sideline shenanigans and the Raptors' series victory, Drake would provide us with a song to harmonize with his country’s celebratory cheers.
Who else but Drake? He's the bard of Toronto. The Canadian keeper of anthems.
No one has captured this thesis better than renowned writer Rembert Browne in his 2015 Grantland editorial, "Drake, at Night." Published a few days after the February release of Drake's summer-conquering surprise mixtape If You're Reading This It's Too Late, the article outlines the energy the OVO hitmaker can inspire:
“There are Drake tracks that can make you feel rich—like you could spend it all in one night, and then wake up the next morning and none of it would be gone. There are Drake songs that you listen to when you want to feel like ‘the shit,’ because it’s like getting your confidence airbrushed.” —Rembert Browne, "Drake, at Night"
Falling short to Pusha-T during their 2018 war of words doesn’t change the fact Drake makes music for winners. The Toronto Raptors won, and from the moment the play clock hit double zero last Thursday night, Drake was on the clock to deliver a suitable soundtrack.
How can the credits roll without music? What is a victory without an anthem? Without making a formal announcement, everyone knew that a loud, global ambassador would not suddenly become a quiet rapper.
Two days later, at 3 AM Eastern Standard Time, on a Saturday morning, Drake released two singles, “Omertà” and “Money In The Grave” featuring Rick Ross, under the title The Best In The World Pack. A gift from the self-proclaimed 6 God. The surprise everyone saw coming.
What fans didn’t expect was a diversion from his practical blueprint. Neither “Omertà” nor “Money In The Grave,” as Browne described, “have that bounce.” You know the bounce; it’s the one present in his platinum-selling single “Worst Behavior” from the 2013's Nothing Was The Same. We can also find it in the couch-jumping energy of the famous Toronto hymn, “Know Yourself.”
Part of Drake’s reigning dominance stems from the creation of inescapable, on-the-pulse moments. Moments like “Jumpman,” and “Back To Back,” and "0 To 100/ The Catch-Up," where, in any public setting, the bounce creates this reaction:
“It starts in your shoulders, puts you permanently on your tiptoes, hops in your butt, causes your hands to start soul clapping, maybe you flick someone off, and then your face scrunches up like you just walked into a fog of fart. It’s that bounce where you look down at your outfit and couldn’t be more impressed with the work of art you’ve thrown together on the canvas that is your slightly-heavier-than-six-months-ago body. That bounce.” —Rembert Browne, "Drake, at Night"
But instead of dropping a timely sequel to the Hit-Boy-produced “Trophies” or the 5x platinum single “God’s Plan,” Drake kicked off the celebration with a song that sounds like an heir to 2018 loosie, “Diplomatic Immunity.”
Filled with a not-quite-bleak midnight air, the Deats, E.Y and OZ production on “Omertà” sounds like being in a room where plans and plots are being conjured, and the names of enemies are cursed. “Omertà” is not a menacing song, but there’s no light or kindness; it's a record filled with mafia sensibility and Biggie Smalls’ influence.
Lyrically, “Omertà” is Drake without any tricks. There are no standout punchlines or sing-along lyrics. The record is strictly a smooth performance: effortless, yet athletic. Drake's seamless flow switches, his passive-aggressive imagery, and a quilt-stitching delivery make for a nonchalant middle finger from the top of Valhalla.
This isn’t the Drake that Rembert Browne wrote about four years ago; this isn’t a conqueror of summers. “Omertà" is nothing more than familiar. This time, the Toronto giant didn’t have a global hit (see: “God’s Plan”) up his sleeve. Is it too soon to predict a change in artistic temperament? Ever since Scorpion, Drake’s fifth album, his artistic direction, especially in a rap sense, appears to have a much colder, malevolent influence.
“If I don't fuck with him, then I can't rap with him/I wanna be there when somebody catches him/I want a witness to see that shit” —Drake, “Never Recover”
Although Aubrey is incapable of convincing villainy, when he raps lines like, “I'm buyin' the buildin' of every door that closed on me” and “Borderline dangerous, approach with caution, I plan to buy your most personal belongings when they up for auction man, truth be told, I think about it often,” he sounds like hip-hop’s Lex Luthor. “Omertà” is replete with Instagram captions for the day your enemies fall.
And then there's “Money In The Grave,” which maintains the mafia spirit, with a far lighter, but more lively tempo. Producers Asoteric, Ljay Currie, and Cydney Christine support Drake's effervescent performance and a strong feature from Ross with a springy soundscape. “Money In The Grave” has commercial appeal, and is the single which will probably rotate on mixshows and spark conversations, but it falls short of an earth-shaking banger.
“I really might tat 'Realest Nigga' on my face” is a line we will repeat for months, but what Drake needed to deliver was another, “Bitch, you wasn't with me shootin' in the gym.”
Neither “Omertà” nor “Money In The Grave” is a worthy anthem of an NBA Finals victory. Neither track is a contender for song-of-the-summer. Instead, these songs present as fine Drake deep cuts, meant to live on an album like Scorpion’s A-Side, between “Elevate” and “Mob Ties.”
Every business provides a service. Over the years, the house of Drake has exported anthems. The Best In The World Pack is like going to Churches for fried chicken and learning the entirety of their menu is chicken salad. Chicken salad is fine, but it doesn’t conjure a memory like the Rembert Browne so poetically illustrates:
“Those six pulses that make up ‘I WAS RUNNING THROUGH THE 6 WITH MY WOES’ exploded in that bar, exactly how they should have. You had your six headbangs, your freeze for five counts followed by an eruption of limbs, people climbing on their chairs and spilling their drinks, people beating their chests like Training Day Denzel, people doing the Rick James couch kick. It was all terribly uncouth and totally appropriate. The worst behavior was the right behavior — it mirrored what was being heard over the speakers.” —Rembert Browne, "Drake, at Night"
How could Drake watch Rami Malek portray Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody and not give Toronto a “We Are The Champions?” How could he listen to Jay Rock’s “WIN” throughout the NBA Playoffs and not craft a song ESPN would play until next season? Drake, a service provider who knows his audience and who is great at reading the room, missed an easy layup.
Could Drake at night be changing? Has he transitioned from rowdy clubs to musty dungeons? Does he care more about putting heads on mantles than making them spin? As Drake descends further into his mafia persona, his sound is getting colder and less inviting. Instead of ruling over summer, maybe 2019 Drake is our reminder that winter is coming.