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Drake recently topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the 13th time with his latest solo album For All The Dogs. The polarizing record accrued 402,000 sales units in the United States during its first week, including 514 million streams. For All The Dogs is Drake’s fourth album in two years — though his first solo rap album since 2021’s Certified Lover Boy. Even with the deluge, his streaming numbers reflect a ravenous appetite amongst rap listeners; he’s become too big to fail. He enjoys a fanbase that spans demographics. And even those jaded by his recent output tune in to see who how spiteful he’ll get.
Journalist-author Sowmya Krishnamurthy spoke for many in her generation during a Breakfast Club interview when she said, “he lost me somewhere after Views. It was almost like that friend from high school that we have nothing in common anymore, and I kind of don’t want to hang out with them.” That’s been the prevailing sentiment among many fans for several Drake albums. The disparity only seems to worsen as the millennials who grew up listening to the perennially petty rapper experience marriage and parenthood while Drake continues griping about situationships.
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But Drake’s brand of toxicity still sells. Last May, he signed a $400 million deal with Universal, ensuring songs like “Slime You Out,” where he raps “This ain’t the littest I could get on you bitches / Send wires on wires on wires like Idris,” will be believable for the rest of his life. Drake depicts relationships borne from patriarchal power dynamics that few outside his tax bracket will ever relate to. Who knows the details of his personal life, but Drake chooses to write about toxic relationships and pettily snipe at his exes because he knows it appeals to younger demographics — especially if he’s smart enough to continue to collaborate with younger, on-the-pulse artists like he did with Lil Yachty and Teezo Touchdown on For All The Dogs. And in between the groan-inducing moments on the record are legitimately impressive tracks like “8 AM In Charlotte” and “Calling For You” that evoke his artistic prime and offer a glimmer of hope that he’ll one day decide to dig this deep again throughout a project.
Drake’s uninspired release comes after the first half of 2023 was defined by confoundment over why rap wasn’t topping Billboard’s Hot 100 and Top 200 album lists. Juicy J recently proposed a “big ass meeting” to discuss declining sales. “I know a lot of people don’t want to hear this, but rap music is down 40%. Check the charts. Check the math,” he said on social media. Many theorized that the hip-hop sky wasn’t falling and that the circumstance was simply a consequence of there being so few releases from rap’s commercial behemoths. That hypothesis may have been proven right after For All The Dogs, which amassed 800 million streams as of the week ending Oct. 19th. Drake’s album followed Travis Scott’s Utopia, which went number one on the Top 200 and sold over 500,000 album units in its first week. Doja Cat’s single, “Paint The Town Red,” officially broke rap’s Hot 100 drought on Sept 11.
This focus on commercial dominance overlooks all the other exciting movements happening in hip-hop. It’s been another exciting year for women in rap such as Ice Spice and Sexyy Red, who’s been buzzing for less than a year and is already headlining a national tour. Veterans like Nas, Black Thought, and Killer Mike released projects that satiated their base. Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA’s Scaring The Hoes and Cash Cobain’s Pretty Girls Love Slizzy melded genres in intriguing ways (with diametrically opposed titles). The so-called rap underground is bustling with albums from Griselda and Backwoodz Studioz, as well as projects from Noname, Alchemist and Earl Sweatshirt, Navy Blue, and countless others. Artists like Yeat, Destroy Lonely, and Ken Carson are torchbearers for a new wave of so-called SoundCloud rap. Veeze, $ilkmoney, Certified Trapper, and Fatboi Sharif are all inimitable artistic mavericks in distinct ways. There are so many exciting things happening in rap outside the sphere of chart-topping contention; it’s almost as if the art is better without being preoccupied with mass appeal.
Meanwhile, Travis Scott excelled as a sonic maestro on Utopia but failed to make an imprint as a rapper, and relied on collaborations such as Beyonce, Bad Bunny, The Weeknd, and Drake to will his way into high streaming totals. Just like Drake, he’s accumulated a feverish fanbase who will buy anything of his and provide him the optic of success regardless of critical malaise. Doja’s “Paint The Town Red” is a solid song, but not the most impressive song on her Scarlet album, nor the first song anyone should play to counterpoint a detractor who feels major-label rap is stagnating. Many have waited over a year for rap to return to the top of the charts. Now that it’s happened, the results could surely be more inspiring.
Drake may continue to offer the same jaded, bitter product for multiple generations of college-aged young men treading a lifestyle of toxic romance, gaudy purchases, and endless hookah smoke. Despite lyrically regressing and alienating a notable sect of his original fans, the OVO factory churns on, amassing titanic streaming numbers that suggest there’s no financial benefit to him to expand his craft. Millions of people patronize McDonald’s despite not knowing what their beef is; it’s the same for Drake. His current recipe helps line his pockets, but consistently underwhelms the listeners who know his full potential. This toxic cycle demonstrates why it’s time to stop fixating on metrics that reward formulaiety.
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