This week, news broke that Drake’s new three-track EP, Scary Hours 2, made history by taking all three top spots on Billboard Hot 100 in its debut week. The songs appear on the charts in the same order as their sequence: “What’s Next,” the Lil Baby-featured “Wants and Needs,” and lastly, “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” with Rick Ross.
All 12 minutes and 34 seconds are different variations of Drake: the celebratory hitmaker, the taunting rap titan, and the status update lyricist. These defining qualities intersect across the trifecta. Each one is a victory lap for radio stations, public parties, and industry playlists by turning visions into verses, life into lyrics, success into songs without omitting the who, what, or where.
These intimate details have made a diary out of his discography. It’s as he stated on “Lemon Pepper Freestyle”: “Ushered a generation in, these are where my confessions live.” The Drake generation. Who knew that’s where the world was headed in 2010, with the release of his debut album, Thank Me Later? It was year one of a run that would extend over the next 11, reimagining a developing artist who sang and rapped into a deity of the digital era.
A tweet that read, “Drake is unstoppable,” brought to mind how every rap superstar has a moment where they seem invincible. DMX in ’98 after dropping two No. 1 albums in the same year. Eminem in 2000 with the diamond-selling Marshall Mathers LP. Kanye West in 2010 when he released his magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. You could say Lil Wayne during Tha Carter III takeover or Outkast when Speakerboxxx/The Love Below conquered pop culture. In every example, the artists experienced apotheosis, going from running with the pack to peerless.
The transformation for Drake started as early as Take Care, his 2011 sophomore album, and by the 2015 surprise mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, there was no question about his status. Even the title reads as a notion that he can’t be stopped. “All 17 songs on the mixtape are charting on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs,” read news reports six years ago, a feat that felt monumental at the time. This was a digital-only release with no prior promotion and the world stopped for it. Not only was the project massive, but successful, selling 535,000 units all from streams and digital downloads.
“I wanna prove that I’m number one over all these niggas, bein’ number two is just being the first to lose,” Drake raps on the final track, the same song where he says, “Longevity, wonder how long they’ll check for me, prolly forever if I stay in my zone.” The entire project exerts this feeling of conquest and domination, which started the whispers about the eventual fall.
No one gets this high without gravity pulling them back down. Since IYRTITL, any perceived misstep came with whispers that Drake’s declining. Losing his touch.
Most recently, Charlamagne tha God expressed his belief that the “Drake era” was over last December. After more than a decade, he felt a shift had occurred. His take wasn’t completely unsound. The “Toosie Slide” may have gone No. 1, but it didn’t feel massive. At least not in the way a Drake single should. The same can be said about “Laugh Now Cry Later.” A good song, but not a world-shaking haymaker. Let’s not forget, Dark Lane Demo Tapes, his 2020 mixtape of leaks and loosies, debuted at No. 2 on Billboard Hot 200, his first project not to top the chart.
Going back further, in 2019, a disappointed crowd at Tyler, the Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw festival booed when Drake, not Frank Ocean, was revealed as the special guest. All these little moments could be seen as a giant shrinking. A sign of the times changing. There was a creeping doubt about whether or not he was “unstoppable” anymore.
The success of Scary Hours 2 is such an achievement because of how it continues to defy every forecast that he couldn’t last. Instead, he looks sturdier than ever at a time where every other superstar has pushed their albums back because of this pandemic, and retreated to the distance. Drake had to push his album back, too, but it’s Drake, so he’s figured out ways to stay an ever-present figure in our lives. The mixtape, the one-off singles, the features, collabs with Khaled, and now this three-pack, timed perfectly to when things are starting to open back up in major cities. His consistency and adaptability is unrivaled.
No other rapper has maintained as a hit factory, a streaming machine, and a stimulus package in human form like Drake has. Knowing where he came from, that proverbial bottom of Datpiff downloads and blog posts, is what makes him an anomaly. Social media still felt new when he arrived. Streaming services were in their early development. The industry saw a shift happening, but no one artist felt like they were on the pulse of this changing terrain, not before Aubrey Graham.
By making vulnerability, not starvation, the genre of his psalms, he became the voice of captions for Twitter fingers and IG posts. That supremacy migrated to Spotify and SoundCloud, memes, and Apple Music. It all happened seamlessly, and now he’s in a new decade maintaining that supremacy. Appearing all-powerful with another record broken, another inescapable hit, another verse that moves the teetering fans back in formation after countless predictions of a downfall.
“Weezy had handed it off, I still got no fumbles, I’m on the hot one hundo, numero uno, this one ain’t come with a bundle,” is the brag on the Supah Mario-produced “What’s Next” that stands out as a way of recognizing how the success of this single came without merch. He’s still releasing songs like it’s 2015, no crutch to hold his numbers up, echoing the “and I’m the only nigga still known for the music” line from “5 Am in Toronto.” There’s power in that statement when you’re able to move 970K equivalent units sold on a three-song EP.
At 34, Drake is no longer that kid on “The Resistance” in his Jordan year, living a dream, unsure how long the money, women, and lifestyle will last. He’s a grown man, attending parent-teacher conferences like normal fathers, but rapping about it in a way that only he could.
“Wives get googly-eyed, regardless of what they husbands do to provide, askin’ if I know Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj. Of course.” Diabolical lyricism, but on-brand. Most artists lose their sense of self the higher they climb, the older they get, but not him. That consistency in both craft and character is what placed the Candian rapper as the sun that rap revolves around.
It’s not thrilling to everyone, but the majority still tune in to each song, mixtape, and album, because they want to see Drake shoot. They want that rush when the shots go in. They feel like it’s their victory when he wins. They’re ready to celebrate as if they won. Scary Hours 2 checked all the boxes to be a provocative release.
That’s the effect Jay-Z has on people. Even at 50, fans show up to see if homerun Hov hits another one. That’s what keeps people engaged. Can a hitmaker keep hitting? Does the streak ever end? That’s where Drake is now, but still climbing higher, reaching plateaus on Mount Olympus the other Gods didn’t know existed. They’ll be testing him for steroids if his next album, Certified Lover Boy, lives up to the hype. Maybe then we can all agree how right he was to name his third studio album Nothing Was the Same.