On Friday the 3rd of November, Drake, the pre-eminent rap/RnB star of today returns to Auckland to perform his second New Zealand show in three years (tickets here). When Drake takes to the Spark Arena stage, he’ll be returning with hit after hit, and a wide-ranging aesthetic informed by his passion for (and interest in) not just global rap music, but global music culture in general. When he dropped his So Far Gone mixtape in 2009, Drake was rapping over soft rock and indie pop loops. A couple of years later, he was helping The Weeknd revitalise and darken the modern RnB landscape while giving Future a look that would help him turn his dominance in Atlanta into global stardom.
As the years have passed, Drake has kept continuing this trick, he’s loaned his name and vibe to West Coast rap, southern rap, UK Grime, modern Nigerian afrobeats, and had his producer’s sample UK Funky, South African House, and even dubstep records. Obviously, it’s a two-way street. He attaches himself to their underground cool, they get mainstream looks, and hopefully, everyone keeps it moving in a positive direction. Given the excitement about his impending return to our shores, we thought we’d take a quick look back at some of the artists Drake has stamped with his seal of approval. When you start adding it all up, Drizzy might just be one of the hottest A&Rs in the game, or at the very least, part of a rare breed of musical hit-makers who still keep their ears open and focused towards what is bubbling up in the international underground.
🖌️ Illustration by Malia_Designs
When The Weeknd’s first songs hit youtube in late 2010, they arrived with a vibe that ushered in a new era of narcotic grayscale R&B music. As intoxicating as ‘What You Need,’ ‘Loft Music,’ and ‘The Morning,’ were, The Weeknd’s swift ascent was aided by blog posts and tweets from Drake and OVO. It’s hard to remember now, but at the time, no one was really checking Drake or OVO as sources of new music. As Drake continued to promote The Weeknd and brought him in as a songwriter on Take Care, bloggers started looking at the OVO blog a little different.
Drake’s love of southern rap culture is well documented. In fact, he’s spent time in the south and collaborated with southern rappers for most of his career. In 2011, he heard a song from a then little known Atlanta rapper named Future and had to remix it. That song was ‘Tony Montana.’ At that point, Drake had already been putting it down with Young Money for a few years. Future followed up with his Pluto album, and a run of classic singles. The two continued to collaborate on and off, eventually recording the What A Time To Be Alive mixtape together in 2015.
If you follow rap news regularly, you’ll know the tensions between Drake and Kendrick Lamar have been well-documented for years now. However, when he was prepping up Take Care in 2011, Drake had Kendrick Lamar record a rap interlude and positioned it as a centerpiece on his album. In the process, Kendrick had the opportunity to show and prove in front of Drake’s entire audience and picked up a few new fans along the way. The following year, Drake featured on ‘Poetic Justice,’ off Kendrick’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City album. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City solidified Kendrick’s spot, but the Drake looks didn’t hurt either.
Atlanta’s Migos is a classic example of an act who picked up a Drake co-sign and ran with it. After he remixed their local street hit ‘Versace’ in 2013, Migos’ triplet-timed flows, ornate trap beats, and equally flamboyant attitudes and style quickly went national and international. They didn’t waste any time either, hitting out their ‘Hannah Montana’ single and Y.R.N mixtape. With a “no days off” attitude and their feet on the pedal, Migos kept rolling out the hits and live shows. Three years later, they went #1 in the US with ‘Bad & Boujee’ (feat Lil Uzi Vert). Circa 2017, Migos spot is well and truly secure.
Like most of the artists within the wider OVO constellation, many of us first heard about Toronto’s PartyNextDoor through Drake tweets and OVO blog entries. In 2013, OVO let us know they were rocking with Party when they premiered his song ‘Make A Mil’ via the OVO blog. Soon enough, he was contributing backing vocals to tracks on Nothing Was The Same, releasing his own mixtapes, and producing tracks for If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late. Drake’s support helped Party quickly cultivate a cult reputation; it also positioned him as a songwriter for Usher, Rihanna, and DJ Khaled. Party feels just a single or two away.
ILoveMakonnen had been bouncing in and out of the Atlanta scene for a few years, and was already connected with producers like Mike Will Made It, Metro Boomin, and Sonny Digital, but after Drake remixed ‘Tuesday; in 2014, he had his first real pop culture moment. Drake heard the idiosyncratic RnB cut through mutual friends, fucked with the vision, and knocked out his remix real quick. Although ILoveMakonnen hasn’t had the success many hoped he would, he still scored some solid looks and continues operating as a cult music figure to this day. This year he collaborated with Rae Sremmurd on ‘Love,’ and Lil B on ‘Global.’
Much like southern rap, Drake’s love of UK grime and road rap is well documented. Drake has been referencing UK artists like Sneakbo and Skepta since the early 2000s and is a devoted lover of UK TV program Top Boy (so much that he recently bought the rights to the show). However, South London teen rapper Dave was one of their first to really receive that heavy Drake co-sign when Drizzy remixed his song ‘Wanna Know’ in 2016. The remix had Dave trending worldwide, and beyond just ‘Wanna Know,’ he saw a major jump in plays across his youtube videos, giving the kid from Streatham a genuine shot.
Paterson, New Jersey’s Fetty Wap is a different type of RnB/rap star and given his unique sense of melody, and original swagger, he was probably always going to have a phenomenal run in 2014 and 2015. His single ‘Trap Queen’ set him up as someone special, but after Drake remixed ‘My Way’ in 2015, the US commercial radio landscape really opened up for Fetty, and his international rise kicked into a whole new gear. Fetty dominated the rest of 2015. Comparatively speaking, he’s been chilling the last couple of years. With his talents, however, Fetty could be back at a moment’s notice.
In 2007, Peckham, London MC Giggs recorded his ‘Talking Da Hardest,’ freestyle over an old Dr. Dre instrumental. ‘Taking Da Hardest,’ blew up on the UK street rap circuit, and as his debut album and singles rolled out, Giggs developed a reputation as one of the most uncompromising rappers in his country, and even picked up a BET Award in 2008. Over the following years, Giggs career was a stop-start affair. However, after his unique sound caught Drake’s ear, Giggs ended up on two songs on the More Life playlist this year. He’s always been talented and impactful, but Giggs gritty drawl is operating at new levels right now.
A decade ago, Skepta was a UK Grime pioneer, one of the key forces behind shaping the sound’s first wave. Six years ago, he was busy helping take the double-time grime rap style into the charts through collaborations with electro-pop producers like NDubz. Since the release of ‘That’s Not Me’ (feat JME) in 2014, Skepta has been busy finding a way to bring Grime towards the UK and US mainstream on the genre’s own terms. ‘Shutdown’ was proof this was possible, and he’s been aided along the way by Drake. They teamed up with Wizkid for a remix of afrobeats cut ‘Ojuelegeba,’ and Skepta had his own interlude on the More Life playlist. Recently, he’s shared stages with Drizzy on both sides of the Atlantic. Skepta and UK grime’s train is on schedule, and in North America, Drake’s support has been crucial.
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