Over the last decade, Drake has been the undisputed biggest rap artist in the genre, seamlessly delivering No. 1 records easier than maybe anyone in hip-hop history. Drake has platinum plaques, an array of A-List girlfriends and an unmatched versatility that allows him to dress formal and host the ESPYS or kick it with Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane in an East Atlanta neighborhood.
Raps biggest act who we remember once upon a time as Degrassi’s wheelchair Jimmy received strong endorsements from R&B act Trey Songz and rap superstar Lil Wayne early in his career and never looked back. With critically acclaimed mixtapes Comeback Season and So Far Gone under his wing to pair with five No. 1 albums, Drakes stardom has surpassed his peers and put him in conversations more in line with Beyoncé, Rihanna and Bruno Mars. So as the cocky Canadian continues to dominate the Billboard charts, I ponder on a question.
Has Drake ever produced a classic album?
In the upper echelon of raps hierarchy, you will find familiar names every time. Jay Z, Nas, Biggie, 2Pac. I personally believe Drake has the attitude, wit, and cleverness on the microphone to hang in conversations with the aforementioned MCs. The problem is Drake hasn’t produced a body of work that even compares in the slightest to the best of the legends named.
Drake is great. He makes music we can vibe, relate and party to all at once, however, he doesn’t have an Illmatic (Nas’s debut). Where is his Reasonable Doubt? (Jay Z ), All Eyes on Me? (Tupac) or Life After Death? (Biggie Smalls). Drake has gained comparisons to LL Cool J who was once the biggest act in hip-hop hailing from Queens, NY. Like LL, Drake possesses a crossover ability to peak the interests of men and women listeners that have allowed for some of the biggest billboard hits in recent memory. The argument can be made that Drakes formula works and he shouldn’t change a thing.
But even LL dropped Mama Said Knock You Out, a critically acclaimed album that had cross-over appeal while still receiving praise from hip-hop purist. For every I need Love, LL marched back with I Shot Ya or I’m Bad. Drake hasn’t been able to get his hands on one of those timeless records, at least to date.
So Far Gone is considered a classic in the eyes of many, but that’s a mixtape and therefore isn’t under consideration for this topic at hand. In recent years, Drake has grown more and more arrogant in a sense, but it’s necessary when individuals are increasingly aiming their competitive nature in your crosshairs. From his viscous Meek Mill diss Back to Back to More Life’s Free Smoke, Drizzy is clearly not holding any punches as his celebrity continues to grow.
In fact, one of the arguments against Drake early in his career was whether or not he would ever be battle-tested, having to prove himself on the mic against a formidable foe. Drake’s Back to Back clearly put an end to that debate and added a check mark on his To Do List for GOAT status.
While Drizzy used to shy away from battles he clearly has shown the wit to go head to head with anyone and has even continued to throw jabs at rap mogul Kanye West on several occasions. On French Montana’s “No Stylist” Drake raps during his guest verse, “Keep it a G, I told her don’t wear no 350s ’round me.” The clever bar is likely in reference to West’s popular Adidas sneaker, the Yeezy 350s.
Drake has seemingly answered the call to every indictment against him, the singular question that remains is whether he can deliver a timeless masterpiece that will be heralded decades from now. A tweak in production, specifically not relying as heavily on the likes of 40 would work wonders for Drake’s chances of creating a classic. It would actually be wise for Drake who undoubtedly has the skill set, to follow Jay-Z’s formula, and flood the audience ear waves with the highest level of production hip-hop has to offer.
40 and Boy1wonder are good producers, however, nobody would ever mistake them for Kanye West, Just Blaze, Timberland or Pharrell Williams — Jay-Z’s most common collaborators over the years. Reaching out to the likes of a Williams or Timberland to sprinkle some magic in the middle of a Drake project could be pivotal in securing him his first undeniable album.
Nas’s Illmatic is considered by many to be the greatest hip-hop album of all time. On Illmatic, Nas boasted production from Q-Tip, Large Professor, and DJ Premier to name a few. While Nas was in peak lyricism form, the production by some of the game’s greatest producers matched his every rhyme.
The same can be said for Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt or Biggies Life After Death. Immensely talented rappers need to be matched by attention-grabbing production, and while Drake has received good production, it is clear 40 has a ceiling and falls short of the ability to bring a Drake project to heights in which we have yet to see.
Drake is highly connected within the music industry and continues to ride a successful formula that is unparalleled, however, his lack of a classic project hasn’t gone unnoticed by everyone. There is an audience who agrees with this sentiment about Drake including The Breakfast Clubs own Charlamagne Tha God.
“Drake does not have a classic album,” Charlamagne said on the radio. “Hov’s first album was a classic, Kanye, Nas and Wu-Tang’s, too.”
Perhaps Drake is comfortable in the space he’s currently in? Realizing he’ll be in the record books regardless so why not just keep making hits and make as much money as possible?
It’s clear Drake feels he has accomplished every bit as much as his idols had before him. In terms of sales, fan base, and endorsements, Drizzy has a convincing argument to make. But this is hip-hop and the digital era has traded in the expectations of great albums for catchy singles. If Drake wants to one day become the unanimous greatest rapper of all time, there’s one hurdle standing in his way.
Deliver a classic album!