As we wait for his new album, here’s a look back at his amazing run so far
After all his years on top of the world, Drake still combines the yin and yang of hip-hop—a true musical visionary. What a story: a child actor from Toronto named Aubrey Graham stars Degrassi: The Next Generation, except his rap career takes him to the Young Money crew with his mentor Lil Wayne. Drake’s a blockbuster pop heart-throb who doubles as a rap warrior, having more feelings per bar than anyone else in the game, flashing his emo vulnerability and his thug bravado at the same time. (Should we even mention his dancing?)
Drake is king of the more-is-more streaming economy, refusing to either get a grip on his love life or edit his damn albums. He’s the deepest Canadian Jewish sage to get poetic about the booty since Leonard Cohen. As we wait for his new album, here’s a definitive countdown of his entire discography, ranked. Hold on, we’re going home.
‘Room For Improvement’
His debut mixtape, with a title so ridiculously self-deprecating you had to wonder if he was kidding or just trying to lower your expectations. True, he still had a lot of improving to do—for one thing, he was still figuring out how to rap. But “Video Girl” is the early pop hit that could’ve been, while “Try Harder” is a foretaste of his mature style. “Sometimes I feel like Lohan and Hilary Duff are the only ones with enough / To feel what I’m about to say in this song”—damn. Any MC with the nerve to begin a song like that was clearly a true original.
Only Drake would play the comeback card on his second mixtape. On Comeback Season, he jumps from rap belligerence to self-parodic pop floss, like in “Asthma Team,” when he yells, “Stop acting like teen girls are my only market.” Comeback Season is his most backpack album, openly influenced by undergrounders like Slum Village. He duets with Phonte from Little Brother on “Think Good Thoughts,” over a very Drake sample—Anita Baker’s Eighties champagne jam “Sweet Love.”
A collabo with 21 Savage, in the wake of their excellent Number One hit “Jimmy Cooks.” But that Atlanta-via-Toronto energy doesn’t carry over to the album. Her Loss just feels forced and labored, with 21 stuck in a supporting role. There are a few choice moments, like “Treacherous Twins” and “Rich Flex.” But not as playful as the Drake/Future mixtape What a Time to Be Alive—or Honesty, Nevermind, just a few months earlier.
‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes’
With the music industry in lockdown, Drizzy filled the void with a grab bag of sketches, experiments, and SoundCloud leaks. Dark Lane Demo Tapes isn’t meant to be compared with his finished albums—Certified Lover Boy was still a year away. But it still shows off Drake’s one-of-a-kind musical brilliance. It peaks high with “Pain 1993,” his baby-talk duet with Playboi Carti. “Demons” gives it up to Brooklyn drill with Fivio Foreign and Sosa Geek, while “War” does the same for U.K. drill with AXL Beats. He hits Atlanta with Young Thug, Future, and Southside in “D4L.” And “Toosie Slide” is just Drake proving he can whip up a TikTok dance craze any time he feels like it.
‘Thank Me Later’
The official debut of a new pop phenomenon, though not yet the assured “artist as professional mess” he was about to become. Thank Me Later was a showcase for hits like “Best I Ever Had.” It sounded decent on the radio—in the dreary Top 40 of 2009, anything that wasn’t the Black Eyed Peas came as a relief. But Drake goes deeper in cuts like “Karaoke,” “The Resistance” and “Shut It Down.” And it’s still bracing to hear him team up with Lil Wayne—you might expect that Lil-Weezy-Ana would be as far from Drake’s Toronto as you could get, but they sound like they’re coming from the same place.
A mixed double album, but weirdly underwhelming considering how many hits he parked on it. By the time he dropped Views, “Hotline Bling” was already a classic, yet nobody could ignore that it demolished the other 19 songs surrounding it. These days, Views sounds more like a dry run for the global pop scope of More Life and Scorpion. There’s no stepping to “Hotline Bling,” though—the sound of Drake worn out from too much clubbing, hiding out at home with his scratchy Seventies Miami soul vinyl, missing that girl who’s wearing less and going out more.
What A Time To Be Alive
His collabo with Future is a superb quickie—loose and disposable in the best way. They spent just six days in the studio banging this one out. But it sounds like they also budgeted in some extra time for late nights at the strip club, lying face-down in a puddle of booze and pills and regret and shame. Drake was on a roll—he’d just made the purist moves of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, then dusted Meek Mill in one of the century’s great rap battles. Future was just coming off DS2. So both stars were feeling even cockier than usual, and it shows. Especially when he flexes in “30 For 30 Freestyle” and “Jumpman,” which inspired a memorable dance interpretation from Taylor Swift.
‘Certified Lover Boy’
The closest Drake has ever come to a straight-up full-on comedy album. So Certified Lover Boy has always been divisive. But it really just depends on your appetite for Drakean farce in borscht-belt cringe mode, starting with the album cover. “Girls Like Girls,” “Fucking Fans,” the Right Said Fred homage “Way 2 Sexy”—oy gevalt. When he chipmunks the Beatles’ “Michelle” into “Champagne Poetry,” it’s a great Macca-worthy moment of hi-hi-hi frivolity. (“It’s the pretty boys vs. the petty boys,” so true.) No joke is too obvious for Certified Lover Boy—but that’s why some of us cherish it. It’s a shame Rodney Dangerfield didn’t live long enough to do a feature.
A sprawling 22-song “playlist”—or is it an album? A mixtape? A way of life? Drake makes his big global yacht-pop hip-hop statement on More Life, with his dad on the cover looking very Ron Burgundy with his pipe and mustache. More Life was way ahead of its time—it sounds better every year. It’s an expansive trip full of tropical grooves—the Jamaican dancehall of “Blem,” the South African house of “Get It Together.” “Passionfruit” is an Eighties club throb with his sulkiest wordplay (“Passionate from miles away / Passive with the things you say/Passin’ up on my old ways”) But his mom steals the show with her voicemail: “You know, hon, I’m a bit concerned about this negative tone that I’m hearing in your voice these days.”
A compilation that bags up the loosies Drake left behind from 2010 to 2016, with some of his A-level tunes. “Paris Morton Music” was a game-changer for him in 2010, flaunting his posh ennui, boasting, “I talk slicker than a pimp from Augusta.” The much-beloved “Jodeci Freestyle” is his 2013 SoundCloud duet with J. Cole, paying respect to the giants of Nineties R&B. (There’s another great Jodeci homage in “How Bout Now.”) “Girls Love Beyoncé” bows to the queen over a loop of “Say My Name.” Rapping about Bey makes him meditate on why he can’t be a better man, a real proto-Lemonade mood. A touching confession: “I need someone I leave through the front door with.”
Drake is a great pop artist because he’s a great pop fan, always thirsting for new beats, new sounds, new styles. Honestly, Nevermind is his most wide-ranging album yet, executive-produced by South African house legend Black Coffee. He mixes up Baltimore and Jersey club, Ghana and Atlanta, lo-fi house and high anxiety. “Massive” is a rave banger with producer Gordo, while “Texts Go Green” is a classic two-step diary of Drake misery. (“I can’t even remember when we lost each other / Was it last year? This year? Some other?” Try to focus, dude.) “I moved on so long ago,” says the guy who’s never moved on from a thing in his life. Honestly, Nevermind cuts loose with a real internationalist flair.
‘So Far Gone’
The mixtape that put him on the map as an MC, not to mention his long-running production wingman Noah “40” Shebib. “Houstatlantavegas” is a song that helped define the Drake enigma—introspective, miserable, yet also petty and bratty and self-sabotaging. In other words, a totally accurate introduction to the Drake that the world would come to know and love.
A surprise double album, revealing more than anyone really needed to know about the passion and pain of Aubrey G. The titles tell you where he’s coming from: “In My Feelings,” “I’m Upset,” “Jaded,” “Emotionless.” As usual with Drake, people complained it was way too much, but with this guy, way too much is the point. “God’s Plan” topped the Hot 100 for 11 weeks, then got bumped by “Nice For What,” which stayed at the top for 8 weeks. Drake replaced himself at #1 with “In My Feelings,” which was #1 for 10 weeks. So many great moments: “Summer Games” is Eighties new wave synth-pop, while “Nice For What” mixes New Orleans bounce with a vintage Lauryn Hill soul hook. And when he takes Pusha T’s bait and agonizes over fatherhood, Drake converts an L into a W (or at least a T) as only he can.
‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’
The last thing anyone expected in the early months of 2015: Drake drops a straight-up rap mixtape, playing to his rap base with rage rants like “10 Bands” and “Energy.” (Even though he billed If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late as a raw mix tape for the streets, it blew up into a smash anyway—the only million-seller of 2015.) He airs his grievances left and right. He complains about his groupies: “I got bitches asking me about the code for the wi-fi.” He complains about a groupie’s dad not sending him a thank-you note for the Christmas gift. He even complains about driving his girl to her bar exam through the snow. Getting upset about the fact that there’s snow in Toronto? Now that’s peak Drake.
‘Nothing Was the Same’
His defining album, pushing every mood to extremes. Emotionally, he goes from 0 to 100 real quick. Drake hit new heights with the R&B smash “Hold On, We’re Coming Home,” a Quiet Storm slow jam with Majid Jordan.“Started From The Bottom” and “Tuscan Leather” slam home (“all these Nineties fantasies on my mind”), while “Wu-tang Forever” goes for romance. “Worst Behavior” is his thuggest moment ever, right down to the comically Canadian title. Who else could get away with “Bar mitzvah money like my last name Mordecai”? Nothing Was The Same remains his most anomalously concise album—from the last moment in history when Drake had any commercial incentive to hold back.
Drake’s big creative breakthrough, from November 2011, established him as the MC who can swerve from the street to the club to the after-hours drunk-dialing disaster without losing any of himself along the way. In “Headlines” and “The Motto,” he takes care of hip-hop braggadocio. (“Clubbing hard, fucking women, there ain’t much to do”—right.) But after the party’s over, he opens up with “Marvin’s Room,” the ultimate late-night confession of loneliness. It also has the ultimate Drakean lament: “I’ve had sex four times this week, I’ll explain / I’m having a hard time adjusting to fame.” His guests include Birdman, Kendrick, Nicki Minaj and Drake’s grandmother. The title duet with Rihanna radiates erotic tension. Within a few years, Drake was making his fashionably late diva entrance to the VMAs to make a speech about his unfulfilled crush on Ri, while she just rolled her eyes. In “Take Care,” you can hear all that coming.