An MC’s greatness is measured in classic albums, unforgettable verses and all-around skill. No rapper is making anyone’s top-five list without that trio of traits. But there’s a different criteria for measuring the caliber of a pop star, which might be a more appropriate label for Drake. “Cultural phenomenon” could also work.
Each year seems to be bigger than the one before it for the Toronto-born artist, who turns 32 years old this month and performs twice at MGM Grand Garden Arena this weekend as part of his Aubrey & The Three Migos Live tour. His fifth proper studio album—Scorpion, released in June—received mixed reviews despite its overwhelming success; Pitchfork scored it 6.9 while noting that it’s “studded with gems.” All 25 tracks registered on Billboard’s Hot 100 in July, topping Drake’s own record of placing 22 songs on the charts from 2017 mixtape More Life.
Scorpion has not and will not secure Drake’s legacy as a legendary MC, but its format illustrates the musical duality that created the pop star/cultural phenomenon. Rapping on one side, singing on the other, he continues to give the people everything they want, throwing in yet another viral dance challenge thanks to “In My Feelings” and a little-known internet comedian named Shiggy.
Billboard placed Drake at No. 21 on its recent list of the all-time greatest Hot 100 artists. No single rapper has been more successful—six No. 1 singles, 31 top-10 hits and eight consecutive No. 1 albums. Perhaps legendary MC Lauryn Hill is the role model, the only other artist beloved for effortlessly splitting the difference between hip-hop and R&B and seamlessly alternating between those genres’ two vocal styles. Drake noticeably samples her classic “Ex-Factor” to build a catchy Scorpion standout, “Nice for What.”
Of those six No. 1 hits, two belong to Rihanna (“What’s My Name” from 2010 and “Work” from 2016) with Drake dropping complementary rhymes. He’s recorded so many successful ballads (“Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “Find Your Love” come to mind) and dance-centric hits like 2015’s “Hotline Bling” and 2011 Rihanna collabo “Take Care,” it sometimes seems as if he’s tipping the balance toward smoother sounds that appeal to a broader audience. But three of the other four No. 1 tracks have come in 2018 (“God’s Plan,” “In My Feelings” and “Nice for What”) using a better blend of his talents as a sort of stylistic level.
Whether or not he’s making your all-time rap top five, you have to acknowledge that it’s difficult to compare Drake to any other MC, because of his versatility and widespread impact. It feels like most rappers who have come after his breakthrough have attempted to sample or straight-up mimic his style, yet none has achieved half his success. And that brings up a different musical debate: Who are your top five most influential MCs of all time?
DRAKE with Migos. October 5-6, 7 p.m., $110-$230. MGM Grand Garden Arena, 702-531-3826.