Drake Tells Us a Lot About Himself on Jack Harlow’s “Churchill Downs”

Drake let loose a long, introspective verse on Jack Harlow’s new album, giving us updates on his life (and subliminals for others). Here’s what we learned.

Drake Getty image 2022 by Amy Sussman

Image via Getty/Amy Sussman

Drake Getty image 2022 by Amy Sussman

Whenever Drake needs to get something off his chest, he puts it into his music. That’s clear throughout his new verse on Jack Harlow’s Come Home the Kids Miss You highlight “Churchill Downs,” which he fills with updates on his life and subliminal messages for peers.

His flow and subject matter are reminiscent of how he was rapping on “Lemon Pepper Freestyle,” getting into his introspective bag and delivering a more compelling verse than almost anything on Certified Lover Boy.

There are a few caption-worthy bars sprinkled throughout the verse (“How can I address you when you don’t own property?”) but Drake also dives deeper, revealing that he’s been going to therapy for lingering abandonment issues that might have stemmed from his parents’ divorce. Then he raps about how his “urges for revenge are uncontrollable,” and that he’s tired of hearing “plug talk coming from middlemen.” A few of these bars feel like subliminal messages for his rival Pusha-T, who responded to the leak by saying it’s not “scathing” enough for him and reminding everyone that he’s “here to burn down everything.”

Drake’s “Churchill Downs” verse diverges from the radio-friendly, relatively surface-level features he’s been handing out over the last year. It’s one of the few new verses from him that sound menacing, which is wild considering he recorded it while vacationing with Jack Harlow in Turks and Caicos. It almost feels like he drops verses like this just to remind his critics that he can still rap. Of course, it’s ironic that he delivers revelations like these in a guest verse rather than his own song (which promptly inspired Harlow to strengthen his own bars for the final version of the track). 

With a lot of new information to dive into and some great wordplay and lyricism, here’s a breakdown of Drake’s verse on “Churchill Downs.”

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Lyrics: “Cold hearts and heated floors/ no parental guidance, I just see divorce/ Therapy sessions, I’m in the waiting room reading Forbes/ Abandonment issues I’m getting treated for”

Right out of the gate, Drake gives us information about his current headspace. He’s been transparent about his tumultuous childhood before (most notably on songs like “Look What You’ve Done”), but it’s been a minute since we’ve heard how he’s been coping with those issues. Here, he hints that his parents’ divorce is still affecting him, to the point that he’s being treated for abandonment issues in therapy. 

Therapy is important, and something that could be rapped about more in the mainstream canon, so hearing the biggest rapper being open about his own mental health journey is refreshing. Then he follows these bars by revealing that he’s still grappling with the concept of forgiveness, something he’s trying to teach to his son. There’s also a slick metaphor buried in this bar, as Drake raps about reading Forbes in his therapist’s waiting room, reflecting his obsession with success that often takes priority over his own mental health. He gave us a glimpse of that in the intro to CLB (“career is going great, but now the rest of me fading slowly), but he takes it a step further here.

Lyrics: “My urges for revenge are uncontrollable, I know we’re getting older though/ But I gotta get a nigga back for that, it’s non-negotiable/ It’s not even debatable/ I’m gettin’ so rich, my music’s not even relatable”

Will the war ever end? In recent interviews, Pusha-T said that he has no interest in reconciling things with Drake, and that he’s moved on from the situation now that he has a son of his own. He also avoided any shots at Drake on his new album It’s Almost Dry. Drake, understandably, might not feel the same way. According to this verse anyway, it seems he wants revenge, while also acknowledging that those urges are childish and petty.

The more thought-provoking line, though, is found at the tail end of this four-bar stretch. Drake has been listening to the timeline and proves that with an interesting moment of introspection. One of the critiques of Certified Lover Boy was that Drake sounded detached from the real world. “I’m getting so rich, my music’s not even relatable” doesn’t sound like a boast in this context. Drake once prided himself on being an affluent rapper with the emotional woes of the everyday man, and it sounds like the criticism stung a little. Now with a “LeBron-sized” multi-faceted deal with Universal Music Group and a home so massive he calls it “The Embassy,” it’s easy to lose touch with reality, and he openly addresses that fact.

Lyrics: “Praying on my downfall don’t make you religious, man/ All I hear is plug talk coming from middlemen/ All I hear is tall tales coming from little men”

“Praying on my downfall don’t make you religious, man” will undoubtedly be all over the timeline as people send shots at their imaginary opps. Then, Drake seemingly throws a jab at Push when he raps about “plug talk coming from middlemen.” This narrative was his weapon of choice during the height of their feud. However, Pusha-T told The Breakfast Club that he heard this verse when it leaked and didn’t pay this line any mind because it sounded old. “Like, the flows sound old,” he explained in the interview. “And then it’s like, even what is the considered, like, the shots. … It’s like, bro, after what I’ve done… Like ‘the middleman’ talk and all that type of talk. That’s not scathing for me. I’m here to burn down everything.”

Lyrics: “Lucky me, people that don’t fuck with me/ Are linkin’ up with people that don’t fuck with me to fuck with me/ This shit is getting ugly”

On the surface, this sounds like another paranoid bar from a man who has worried about his cleaning staff plotting extortion on him. But if you pull back the curtain, it could be alluding to Drake’s recent “reconciliation” with former frenemy Kanye West, a man who is very close friends with people who don’t necessarily “fuck with him.” When J Prince forced the two rap giants to bury the hatchet, many wondered if, by transitive property, that meant Drake and Pusha-T were cool now, too. Based on Pusha-T’s album press run, that’s clearly not the case, which makes the rest of the bars in this verse even more interesting. 

In the following three bars, Drake raps, “And every situation is transactional/ And everything they saying is irrational/ And every way they moving is promotional.” Drake’s inclusion in Kanye’s Free Larry Hoover Benefit Concert felt very surface-level than anything, and likely designed to draw a larger crowd with his name on the lineup. These could be the “promotional” moves that Drake is referencing. Drake’s rapping “praying on my downfall don’t make you religious, man” in a later bar might also be a subtle jab at West. It’s hard to say for sure, but it could make sense, given that the middleman bar likely aimed at Pusha-T follows it.

On “Churchill Downs,” Drake is reminding us that he can still rap. He’s released a handful of guest features since Certified Lover Boy dropped, but none of them had the substance that this verse does. Drake is at an interesting intersection in his career right now. He’s been on top of the game for basically a decade, and there were moments on CLB that hinted he might coast to the finish line by releasing a bunch of music laced with syrupy, playlist-friendly melodies. To really stay on top, though, he’d need to tap into the hunger that helped him reach the pinnacle in the first place. This verse makes me believe the latter. He gets very personal on a song that’s not even his own, reminding me of his pre-CLB feature on “Headie One Freestyle” and his sleeper loosie “Omerta.” There were criticisms that CLB lacked the bars and substance that people were looking for from Drake, which might have fueled this sudden lyrical flexing. 

At this point in his career, with so many records broken and milestones achieved, Drake really doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. But he seems self-motivated, which is why I think he went so hard on this verse, getting back to those menacing pockets that are reminiscent of the best moments on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. It’s interesting that he’s fully immersed in fatherhood but hasn’t shed his “petty king” qualities. “To be honest, y’all financial situation is my biggest motivation/ And how you should take that statement is based on what you making” sounds eerily similar to “I plan to buy your most personal belongings when they’re up for auction” from “Omerta.” Some things never change, but if this new verse shows us anything, it’s that Drake might be preparing to deliver more focused, revelatory bars in the future.

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