Despite breaking more and more streaming records, Drake‘s last couple of projects have been divisive among both fans and critics. But perhaps the rapper has simply set the bar too high for himself with his run so far. Here’s a look at his very best albums and mixtapes to date, ranked from worst to pure melancholic hip-hop brilliance…
12‘Room for Improvement’ (2006)
Releasing your debut mixtape on Valentine’s Day? Drake was peak-Drake from the very beginning. “I’m not perfect, and I bet neither are you,” the future star announced on the spoken-word ‘Intro’ to the appropriately titled ‘Room For Improvement’, as if to warn listeners of what’s to come. Proclaiming himself to be the “new Fresh Prince” and clearly inspired by Kanye’s ‘The College Dropout’ as well as Cam’ron, the tape was a little wet-behind-the-ears but showed oodles of talent that was still raw and apparent only in glimpses, its creator prone to imitation.
11‘Comeback Season’ (2007)
Second mixtape ‘Comeback Season’ found Drake really starting to establish his unique voice as an artist. Its title is ironic, the beginning of the rapper’s grand self-mythologising. ‘Comeback Season’ showed flashes of the quotable Insta-caption rap (from ‘Underdog’: “This here’s my uncle’s car, I drop it and the top is gone”) that Drake would later become the undisputed champion of, but only eased listeners in to his dual-talents of being a rapper-singer – Aubrey takes the crooning lead on only one track, the regrettably named ‘Bitch Is Crazy’.
10‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes’ (2020)
By this point, Drake is unquestionably the biggest rapper – if not artist overall – in the entire game. If you look at the streaming stats alone, 2018’s ‘Scorpion’ was a commercial smash – despite being a flop with the critics. But the picture has been bigger than that, and there have started to be some cracks forming in Drake’s seemingly unbreakable crown. 2020, then, has seen Drake to defy the doubters as he’s consistently done in the past. But he did little to help his case with throwaway mixtape ‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes’, a pointless collection of loosies, leaks and the odd TikTok bait that is unlikely to live long in the memory.
Overblown, overstuffed and short on proper bangers, ‘Scorpion’ saw Drake rest on his laurels, seemingly overly convinced by his own Midas touch. The 25-track two-parter (split between a rap-heavy Side A and a R&B-leaning Side B) may have been a familiar and comforting listen, but it largely featured the regurgitation of old hooks and flows, applications of the same tried-and-tested methods and meditations on all the usual kind of themes, with little growth or experimentation.
As you’d hope on an album that stretches to 90 minutes, though, there were a few glimpses of Drake’s undoubted brilliance – see the tropical-emo jam of ‘Summer Games’, the emotive and immediate ‘Emotionless’ and ‘Nice For What’, the rapper’s biggest scorcher of an anthem since ‘One Dance’.
8‘What A Time To Be Alive’ (2015)
Written and recorded in just six days, Drake’s 2015 collaborative mixtape with Future, ‘What A Time To Be Alive’, provided a perfect showcase for his Atlanta accomplice’s autotuned raps and croons, and displayed great chemistry between the pair. However, it was mostly a case of Future stealing the spotlight, with Drake in the unusual position of being upstaged or, at times, acting more like a side man to Future’s irresistible hooks. ’30 For 30 Freestyle’, though, does feature the extremely Drakey lyric: “I just came from dinner where I ate some well-done seared scallops that were to die for / But I got bigger fish to fry” .
7‘Thank Me Later’ (2010)
After his early succession of mixtapes, Drake cemented his place as a rapper worth taking seriously with this debut album – one very capable of creating radio smashes too. ‘Thank Me Later’ still owed a lot to Kanye West (this time the 2008 auto-tune fest ‘808s & Heartbreak’) but it was his lamenting on lost love (‘Fireworks’), fame (‘The Resistance’) and various other insecurities that soon became his trademark. Even if Ghostface Killah did label him “the softest rapper in the game’.
6‘So Far Gone’ (2009)
As we saw with ‘Room For Improvement’, the first lines of Drake’s records are often telling. “I’m trying to do it all tonight,” he says on ‘So Far Gone’’s opening track ‘Lust For Life’. Sure enough, this is probably the first project that many people heard of his. It’s where we fell in love with Drake and most fans will rank the project high on nostalgia alone. If ‘Room For Improvement’ and ‘Comeback Season’ saw Drake jumping on en vogue mid-noughties styles, his third mixtape showcased a sound very much his own: downtempo beats and hazy production, with both hooks and bars in abundance. “The young spitter that everybody in rap fear,” he labelled himself as on ‘Successful’ – and he wasn’t wrong.
5‘More Life’ (2017)
The 2017 “playlist album” (his words) ‘More Life’ saw Drake take a step back and show he has a pretty great ear as a tastemaker. A vivid kaleidoscope of sounds switching between straight-up trap (‘Free Smoke’), Afrobeat (‘Madiba Riddim’), Afro-house (‘Get It Together’) and grime (the Giggs-assisted ‘KMT’), ‘More Life’ played like a musical gap year, serving up the most sonically diverse collection of Drake’s entire career.
Critically slated at the time of its release, ‘Views’ stands stronger in retrospect. Sure, it was the beginning of Drake over-saturation and the rapper filling his albums to the brim to maximise streaming revenues – but there also were plenty of killer tracks that stand tall among Drake’s very best. With a string of five massive singles – ‘Hotline Bling’, ‘One Dance’, ‘Pop Style’, ‘Controlla’ and ‘Too Good’ – this was the peak of Drake’s chart dominance and dancefloor filling. If only he had an editor, though…
3‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ (2015)
Released without warning, 2015’s ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ mixtape found Drake urgent and relentless, putting R&B on hold for a 17 bar-filled tracks. Despite the controversy it sparked over its ghostwritten elements, the record proved that Drake, at his best, is among the strongest MCs in the game. Thrillingly, it saw the rapper take shots at everyone from his peers to porn stars who snubbed him and, on ‘You & The 6’, even his mum.
2‘Take Care’ (2011)
An album full of immersive production and languid lounge-R&B, this record features 18 tracks that boasts guest spots from Rihanna (the title track), Nicki Minaj (‘Make Me Proud’), Kendrick Lamar (‘Buried Alive Interlude’) and The Weeknd (‘Crew Love’). Drake managed to make his self-doubt, melancholia and disappointment seem universal. ‘Take Care’ is a maudlin masterpiece that inspired a generation of ‘sad-rap’.
1‘Nothing Was The Same’ (2013)
Following his leap to top-tier stardom, Drake’s newfound confidence brought an aggressive tone to a third album high on rap, ice-cold R&B and mostly lacking in guest slots – although Jay-Z did sneak onto ‘Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2’. ‘Nothing Was The Same’ features some of Drake’s strongest hits (‘Started From The Bottom’, ‘Worst Behavior’), but it was on his Hov collab, with Drake completely outshining his elder counterpart, that proved him to be the real star of the moment. No fillers here – just Drizzy’s graduation from ‘the boy’ to The Man.