People tend to forget: Drake was two mixtapes in at the beginning of 2009. Two mixtapes that had promise, sure: You could see Drake's ideas, where they were going, maybe even glimmers of potential. But it wasn't until So Far Gone that Drake's career kicked into hyperdrive.
Plenty of rappers brag about being something people have never seen before, but do they want it? So Far Gone was a resounding answer: Yes. It had everything. This was a mixtape that featured Lil Wayne and Bun B right next to of-the-moment indie acts Peter, Bjorn & John, Santigold, and Lykke Li. It trafficked in chopped-and-screwed Houston rap ("November 18th"), perfectly flossy Young Money rap ("Ignorant Shit"), and an unstoppable song-of-the-summer breakout hit ("Best I Ever Had").
Most amazing of all, it had the obligatory R&B tracks with the rapper guest spots, with Drake playing both parts ("Houstalantavegas," "Sooner Than Later"). And of course it had plenty of what's unfairly referred to as "emo rap." But now we know it was just the beginning, our first look at the introspective side of an artist who was willing to break new ground in rap mixtapes by creating tracks that were so wildly revealing about the innermost details of his being ("Say What's Real," "The Calm") that it seemed everyone on the planet, at least for a moment, could relate, too.
So Far Gone didn't just have hits, or great rapping, or great melodies, or deep cuts or stellar guest spots. It had coherence, narrative, and resonance that stands up even now. Let the debate over whether or not Drake has matched its greatness since carry on. —Foster Kamer