Label: Young Money, Cash Money, Universal Motown
Producers: Lil Wayne, Cortez Bryant, Gee Roberson, Boi-1da, DJ Khalil, Noah "40" Shebib, Needlz, Arthur McArthur, Oliver El-Khabib
Features: Trey Songz, Lil Wayne, Peter Bjorn & John, Lloyd, Lykke Li, Santigold, Bun B, Omarion
"I'm trying to do it all tonight," are the first words on So Far Gone—the mixtape that made Drake a star—but it's far more likely that the collection of songs takes place over a series of nights. There are too many memories revisited, too many conversations and doubts turned over for just one night.
But the production from Noah "40" Shebib—as much a part of Drake's persona as cozy sweaters and sensitive lyrics—makes it gel. His beats conjure streetlights gliding across the bodies of cars driving down highways after dark. Everything moves slow. There's always time for another discussion about making it ("Successful") or that girl you give 99% of your thoughts to ("Houstalantavegas"). There's also time for moving away from the talkative bunch at the party, feeling lonely, and then feeling mad ("Say What's Real").
These are the sorts of things that made Drake Drake. So Far Gone contains the blueprint for Drake featuring Drake on songs like "Sooner Than Later," for blacking out in the booth and rapping the way everyone tells him he can't on "Say What's Real," for incorporating the myriad sounds of pop and electro on "Let's Call It Off" and "Little Bit."
Drake becomes an important voice in hip-hop when he's complicating ideas of masculinity in rap, when he's making room for more experiences. When he sings "I forgot to call you on your birthday," immediately after boasting, one song earlier, "Other niggas' situations, they are all depressing," you see that both are performances. Drake is an actor, and the way he performs braggadocio right alongside vulnerability is his greatest gift to hip-hop. Eventually distinctions between hard and soft won't matter at all, and we'll know who to thank. —Ross Scarano