Merry Christmas. There’s a new Drake song.
Late Monday night, he released a music video for a track called “War,” which was included on the new El-Kuumba Tape Vol. 1 mixtape, a collaboration between OVO’s Oliver El-Khatib and Kuumba International. “War Freestyle off of the EL KUUMBA tape,” Drake announced on Instagram, as he shared the AXL Beats-produced track.
We’ve had a little over 12 hours with the song now, giving us some time to process initial impressions and dive into what we can learn from “War.” What kind of headspace is Drake in? Does this provide any hints at what kind of music he’ll be making on the new album? Has he been listening to drill music? The Complex Music staff put together a list of five takeaways and thoughts from Drake’s “War,” which you can see below.
Update: Read our interview with the song’s producer, AXL Beats, here.
Drake has been listening to drill music
Drake goes through phases. Over the years, there has been Dancehall Drake, Latin Drake, Atlanta Drake, and even Grime Drake. Now, it seems he’s been getting into drill music. When “War” first dropped, there were reckless comments all over timelines about how he “made a grime” song. It got to the point that Skepta even started trending on Twitter. But more accurately, it appears he’s channeling UK drill music here. Instead of Skepta, he’s probably been listening to guys like Digga D, OFB, KO, and Headie One. Considering “War” is produced by AXL Beats, who has had success bringing the UK drill sound to America with artists like Fivio Foreign (“Big Drip”) lately, it’s also very likely that Drake is tuned in to the emerging drill movement in New York, as well. The UK and Brooklyn drill scenes have each had big years in 2019, and with one of the biggest artists in the world adopting the sound, it looks like we’ll only be hearing more of this in 2020. —Eric Skelton
Within the first two bars of Drake’s “War,” the first thing you notice is his accent. And, once again, the internet has mixed emotions about his vernacular. We’ve already heard a southern accent on Thank Me Later, a Jamaican accent on Views, and a Spanish flow on Bad Bunny’s “Mia.” Now, his UK accent, previously introduced on More Life, has made a return. Drake has shown an fascination with the UK in the past, whether it be championing grime music or helping to revive Top Boy. And similar to his “Behind Barz” freestyle, he jumped right into character and delivered “War” with an accent and UK lingo. Drake has addressed this in the past, and stressed in an interview with BBC’s 1Xtra Rap Show that this is how he really talks. “It’s actually funny because I think when I first came in the industry, I think I felt this pressure to ‘be American’ and sound American,” he said. “I think now that we are all so proud to be from Toronto, we start talking more like how we talk.” —Kemet High
He’s in the mood to rap
At this point, Drake has established himself as a major pop star, so he’ll always make time to write melodic hits like “In My Feelings.” But right now? Drake is in the mood to rap. On the majority of his limited this year—“Omertá,” “Money in the Grave,” and “Behind Barz”—he’s been throwing extra bass in his voice and focusing on getting bars off. The same applies to “War.” The song opens with an extremely Drake-y line—“I don’t cop things for resale, don’t do iCloud, don’t do email”—before he transitions into Angry Drake (“Anyone I’m beefin’ with is a no name”) while still getting off anti-social media bars that will 100% show up in social media captions everywhere: “You n****s spend too much time on captions, not enough time on action.” When Drake shared the song on social media, he clarified that it was a “freestyle off of the EL KUUMBA tape,” so we won’t get ahead of ourselves when it comes to predicting if his next album will sound like this. But, based off the music we’ve heard lately, it seems Drake is in a headspace to rap right now, as opposed to making big catchy pop songs. —Eric Skelton
AXL Beats is having a moment
“War” features growling, bass-heavy production from London producer AXL Beats. This isn’t his first big placement, though. AXL has been making waves recently by helping to bring the UK drill sound to America, linking with New York City drill artists like Fivio Foreign, Sheff G, and 22Gz. His Fivio collab, “Big Drip,” is picking up momentum in recent months, racking up tens of millions of plays and landing on Complex’s Best Songs of 2019 list. AXL Beats was already becoming an extremely in-demand producer in a subgenre that’s quickly picking up steam, and linking up with Drake on a song like this will only add to that momentum. The future is looking extremely bright for AXL Beats. —Eric Skelton
Drake & the Weeknd are on good terms
After years of skepticism, Drake finally acknowledged that he and the Weeknd are cool with each other again, and they “just had to fix things.” Early in their respective careers, Drake and the Weeknd were closely aligned with one another, but around 2013, things began to shift. After choosing to navigate their own lanes, the next few years presented what some fans viewed as a “beef,” which included Drake unfollowing the Weeknd on Instagram, and the Weeknd later sending some perceived lyrical shots in songs like “Lost In The Fire,” where he sung, “And I just want a baby with the right one/’Cause I could never be the one to hide one.” Finally, after six years, Drake acknowledged this, and explained to the world that OVOXO, and their respective crews, is again live and well. “OVOXO link up, man don’t drink up, me and the trillers/Hawk and Stix and Cash and Baka, Gucci, P, and Gilla/And the boy that sound like he sang on “Thriller,’ you know that’s been my nigga/Yeah, we just had to fix things, family, 6 tings, we can’t split up,” he raps. Both Drake and the Weeknd are due for new albums soon, so hopefully this means we’ll get another OVOXO classic soon. —Kemet High