It shouldn't be that controversial to say that Drake is past his prime. Visiting Miami next week for a two-date run at the Kaseya Center with coheadliner 21 Savage, the rapper's It's All a Blur Tour sees him looking back on his long, by pop music standards, career in the same vein as Taylor Swift and Madonna. But maybe he's looking back because the present finds him at a familiar place for stars in the late stages of their career, at a commercial peak and a creative nadir.
Let's analyze the former first. Drake is arguably one of the most famous people in the world; he's certainly the most famous musician to ever originate from Canada. His last four commercial albums — Scorpion (2018), Certified Lover Boy (2021), Honestly, Nevermind (2022), and the 21 Savage collaborative record Her Loss (2022) — all topped the album charts in the U.S. and Canada. He's had four songs reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 since 2020; he holds so many chart records that Billboard published a breakdown of the ones he has and hasn't broken. At this point in his long career, he could record himself scrubbing sleet and dog droppings off his boot, and it would break the top 20. He's also the top-earning artist on Spotify, meaning he's one of the few acts making money from the infamously stingy streaming platform.
But has that commercial success translated critically? Aside from hits "Best I Ever Had" and features for fellow hitmakers like Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, in the early 2010s, Aubrey Graham really made his reputation as a rapper based on two distinct albums. Take Care (2011) and Nothing Was The Same (2013) broadened the scope of commercial hip-hop for a generation, pushing away from hard-edged braggadocio and toward introspective, complex lyricism. Tracks like "Marvin's Room" and "Wu-Tang Forever" bristle with details about distanced friends, romantic tribulations, and ambivalence toward, rather than celebration of, fame and fortune. Views (2016) and the commercial mixtape More Life saw him expand his sound and reach by giving way to a global crop of collaborators and scenes, from grime and UK funky to Jamaican dancehall. "One Dance" gave Afrobeats a leg to stand on and made WizKid a star outside Africa. "Get It Together" boosted R&B vocalist Jorja Smith to instant fame, while "No Long Talk" introduced London road rapper Giggs to a broader audience.
I personally soured on Drake after his 2018 double album Scorpion. At the time, it was highly anticipated as a followup to Views, and certainly, it contains a few massive hits ("In My Feelings," "God's Plan," "Nice For What"), but today, the record is likely best known for being released in the wake of the infamous open-and-shut feud between Drake and Pusha T. The beef culminated in Pusha's explosive diss track "The Story of Adidon," which brought to public attention the rumor that Drake had secretly fathered a son, Adonis, with French model and former porn actress Sophie Brussaux ("You are hiding a child, let that boy come home," Pusha declared). Drake responded to the accusation on Scorpion track "Emotionless," saying, "I wasn't hiding my kid from the world/I was hiding the world from my kid," and aside from the singles, it's probably the only note of interest on the record. When I listened to Scorpion upon its release, I found it so long and boring that I fell asleep at my desk thanks to Drake's solipsistic lyrics and the somber, reverb-heavy production. Even the tawdry intrigue around "Adidon" couldn't save such a boring record.
Post-Scorpion, Drake remains one of the biggest rappers in the world — his feature on "Sicko Mode," Travis Scott's massive Astroworld hit, dropped the same summer — but his output has retained the bloated record's mediocrity. Certified Lover Boy and Her Loss both earned mediocre reviews, and while Honestly, Nevermind's turn toward house gained more praise, taken alongside Beyoncé's Renaissance, it seems more trend-hopping than trendsetting. It doesn't help that his persona has atrophied with age. Drake has always been corny, and early on, this made him into an endearing underdog figure amid the machismo of traditional hip-hop. But corny is being replaced by cringe — he's 36 years old and still putting on the scorned lover act.
On his latest single, "Slime You Out," he complains about difficult women in his characteristic croon like a divorced dad moaning about his bitch ex-wife: "You lucky that I don't take back what was given/I could have you on payment plan 'til you're hundred and fifty." He badly wants to be a Canadian Casanova, but he's just not convincing. Questionable aesthetic choices like the abominable Damien Hirst cover art — and title, for that matter — for Certified Lover Boy, depicting a series of pregnant woman emoji, don't make him more endearing. In fact, they speak to a profound anxiety over his public image, and coupled with persistent rumors of him pursuing teenage starlets, these choices make him seem predatory at worst and lacking any self-awareness at best.
Drake could stop making music tomorrow and still be swimming in money for the rest of his life, but as long as he can keep expanding that pile of cash, no matter how dull and predictable the music gets, he will. Maybe he doesn't care about his artistic reputation or hopes we'll remember him at his best. Time will tell. His legacy as a commercial behemoth is assured, certainly, but as an artist? Honestly, never mind.
Drake and 21 Savage. 8 p.m. Thursday, September 28, and Friday, September 29, at Kaseya Center, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; kaseyacenter.com. Sold out.