Part 1 of 2 posts discussing the similarities between the career trajectories of Kanye West and Drake, as well as the unique position Drake is in to alter hip-hop’s course.
Between 2004 and 2007 Kanye West made his debut with “College Dropout”, and went from the Chicago kid working behind the boards for Jay Z to a bonafide star. Within 3 years of his debut, ‘Ye properly displaced gangsta rap of its dominance in 2007 when his third album Graduation outsold 50 Cent’s Curtis by almost 300,000 copies in its first week. Graduation‘s release is Kanye’s most commercially successful first week to date (957,000 copies sold).
In the three year time period between 2010 and 2013, Drake dropped his debut album Thank Me Later. He too quickly ascended, from Black-Jewish Canadian wonderboy to the millennial generation’s greatest representative in hip-hop. The catchy sing-rap deliveries and somber overtones quickly became his signature sound and its influence is heavily felt in many rappers’ discographies post-Take Care. Drake’s most commercially and critically successful album release came in 2013, on his respective third LP as well. 658,000 copies of Nothing Was The Same were pushed its first week.
Along with the grand commercial success, the arrivals of both Kanye and Drake marked serious shifts in the direction of hip-hop. They each stretched urban culture into redefining a variety of tropes: popular hip-hop background narratives, masculinity, fashion, and most importantly, hip-hop’s sound. What makes the careers of these two artists exceptional is how quickly they were able to attain positions in the genre that allow them to tilt its axis almost at will.
Why not Kendrick?
Critically speaking, most would agree that Good Kid, m.A.A.d City and To Pimp A Butterfly are better than the Take Care/Nothing Was The Same combo. Fans go crazy over the debate, critics lean significantly toward K. Dot (compare Metacritic scores of Take Care and GKMC, or NWTS and TPAB). But the reason Drake gets the Kanye comparison rather than Kendrick Lamar is the overwhelming influence of his brand.
It’s not just Drake’s commercial performance that warrants the Kanye comparison. It’s that his work has completed the genre-shift that 808s and Heartbreak started. It’s the game-changing moods and oversharing in songs like ‘Marvin’s Room’. It’s the unforgettable nature of so many of his singles that give his older tracks such great replay value. It’s the sum of all the memes, “Drake the type of nigga” jokes, the “Drake” mood, and consistent production of anthem after anthem. It’s the fact that no one thinks trap rappers like Future or the Migos singing on their hooks in passionate autotune is strange because the style is THAT pervasive in today’s hip-hop. This is what puts Drake on a high enough level of musical and cultural influence to be compared to Kanye.
That is not to say Kendrick Lamar’s work lacks influence.
Kendrick tackles some of today’s most pressing social issues more effectively than most activists and politicians. Kendrick’s last two projects are already considered two of the most well-crafted albums in hip-hop’s history. It’s amazing how quickly people can already envision Kendrick’s place in history, which says a lot considering TPAB was his second major-label release. Though Drake is more popular, Kendrick Lamar is the only hip-hop artist of Drake’s peer group (e.g. J. Cole, Wale, Big Sean, Big KRIT, Meek Mill, A$AP Rocky) that has a more definitive claim to the genre’s hall of fame than he does. This brings me to my next point.
Drake’s fourth LP is crucial. Despite the undeniable impact Kendrick has had, Drake’s audience reach far outpaces his peers and is only rivaled by Kendrick, ‘Ye and Jay Z. While Kendrick’s messages are powerful, brilliant and necessary in our society, they aren’t nearly as easy to understand or identify with as Drake’s, which is no fault or misstep on Kendrick’s part. Simply put, Drake’s crossover appeal is overwhelming. Despite fans’ mixed feelings about If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, every song on the project landed on the Billboard chart. All of them. Whatever Drake puts out gets rabidly consumed and incessantly talked about by virtually the entire hip-hop community.
This is why I say Drake is in a prime and very rare position to fuck the whole game up. Like ‘Ye in 2008, Drake has expressed his intent to deviate from his winning formula with his upcoming fourth LP Views From The 6.
Peep part 2 of this post for my thoughts on what could come of Drake’s next move.