Drake's Only Competition Is Himself

The Toronto rap star is the first solo artist to replace himself atop the Billboard Hot 100 list since Justin Bieber in 2016.

Image via Getty/Chris Polk/BBMA2017

On Monday, Drakereplaced himself atop the Billboard Hot 100 when “Nice for What” yanked the No. 1 spot from “God’s Plan,” which had been holding down the slot since it debuted back in February. That’s a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Justin Bieber did it back in 2016 when “Love Yourself” took over for “Sorry.” Drake’s the thirteenth artist to achieve back-to-back chart-toppers, and the first to have both songs debut at number one consecutively. It’s likely Drake will keep the reigning spot for at least a few more weeks.

With “Nice for What” and “God’s Plan” at No. 1 and 2 respectively, and a much-hyped feature on Blocboy JB’s “Look Alive,” Drake has three songs locked in the top 10, or 30 percent of the highly coveted upper echelon of the singles list. If you hadn’t noticed, Drizzy Season is upon us.

Drake’s particular brand of popularity is unmatched. There’s nobody quite like him in his group of peers. His appeal lies in his effusive desire and ability to shape-shift—something he’s criticized for, but a trait that ultimately propels his career forward. His flexible vocals combined with his appreciation for regional hip-hop subgenres often translates into a surefire hit. The singles he’s dropped so far this year speak to his willingness to launch a diverse offensive attack.

“Look Alive” is a dark yet buoyant street anthem featuring a lead artist from Memphis. “God’s Plan” sounds like Drake at peak Drake, compassion and flexing all mixed up and poured over an easily digestible beat. And “Nice for What” is a direct tribute to New Orleans bounce music, coupled with a Lauryn Hill “Ex-Factor” sample. The songs don’t sound anything alike, but they’re all being streamed and shared in high fashion, and they’re all wildly successful.


Drake knows by now how to not step over the line of oversaturation. The trickling out of his loosies is a well-strategized, conscious decision. We’re in an era where surprise drops of 20-plus song albums is the norm. Drake knows that, in order to stand out right now, less is more. He’s being intentional about the timing of his release because he knows you need to stretch out a hit in 2018. By spreading his singles out—in particular, “Nice for What” dropping two months after “God’s Plan,” just as the latter was in danger of losing steam in the top spot—Drake is ensuring each one balloons as big as possible.

Drake is purposeful, even when it sounds like he’s being flippant. For example, at the beginning of “Nice for What,” just after the Lauryn Hill sample gets bounced, he describes the track as “Something for y’all to cut up to.” You know, just a lil’ something something, nothing major. No need to freak out, he’s saying, it’s just a gift to have a good time to.

That offhand comment—combined with the interruptive energy of the track—reflects the approach Drake seems to be taking with his music. He’s all fun and experimentation right now. It might seem out of character, but he’s been inching his way toward flexible artistry for years. His 2015 surprise album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late played like a mixtape, and last year’s More Life was formally presented as a playlist and functions as a means for Drake to venture in several directions without the constraints of a traditional album. He hasn’t put a true album out since the long and lackluster Views, and he hasn’t looked in that direction until now. He’s doing everything he possibly can to avoid falling in line with the system that incubated him and create a new kind of album rollout.

Despite how much like loosies they feel, Drake’s two No. 1 singles don’t exist in a vacuum; on Monday, he announced his upcoming album, Scorpion, will be dropping in June of this year. It’s quite a lead time, especially when you remember that this all started in February. If he hopes to continue dominating the Hot 100, Drake will need to drop at least one more single (and fire video) to keep fans satisfied while waiting for the album. It’s 2018 and attention spans are short, even for an artist like The Boy.

Drake is a superstar rapper who refuses to act like one. He’s rolling the dice and snapping like Fabo after every toss, knowing full well the game is set up for him to win—he’s been putting in work long enough to know that much. At this point, it seems like just a matter of how the next victory presents itself.

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