Why Drake’s stellar debut ‘Thank Me Later’ was overshadowed by his own success

Aubrey Graham is more of a human meme than an inventive rapper nowadays, but it's worth remembering how revolutionary he was in 2010

Nowadays, all Drake seems to be good for is a great meme. Whether his rad dance moves in ‘Hotline Bling’ are being turned into gifs or he’s causing pandemonium online by posting a pic of his once-secret son, Drake’s pop cultural cachet often overshadows his music. But don’t let the trend-hopper – who even jumped on UK drill with his last mixtape – get memed into irrelevance: it’s well worth remember what an amazing musical force he once was.

Yes: I may have said Drake isn’t cool any more – and I still stand by that claim – but when it comes to his stellar debut, 2010’s ‘Thank Me Later’ – which turns 10 on this very day – is one for the books. Former teen soap star Aubrey Graham broke away from the popular jock persona of Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation and began soundtracking bedroom concerts all over the world (including my own!). Inheriting his sombre singing voice from his soulful father – and his serene rap skills from… who knows? – Drake crafted one of the biggest cultural resets in pop and hip hop culture of all time.

Today we all know Drake as the smooth pioneer of the new-gen pop-rap. Challenging what a real rapper is with his emotional tales of love, though, Drake has always been one foot ahead of the game.

Having been discovered by his idol Lil Wayne, Drake started touring and making music with his the older rapper. In summer of ‘09, he signed to Weezy’s coveted Young Money Records with his long-time associate Nicki Minaj, a label where stars are born. Along with fellow label mates – including CEO Wheezy himself – Drake and co. reinvented lyrical rap with their innovative metaphors and pop references. From his first mixtape, 2006’s ‘Room For Improvement’ to his latest ‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes’, wordplay has been integral to Drake’s rhymes. The Swizz Beatz-assisted 2010 single ‘Fancy’, which appeared on ‘Thank Me Later’, shows just that.

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A sparkly affair, ‘Fancy’ is that hype track you can put on before the club, slapping on your lippy as you let Drake and Atlanta’s T.I. tell you how great you are. Full of one-liners such as “Time heals all and heels hurt to walk in”, the outlandish wordplay just made you fall in love with Drake even more. He stood out from conscious boombappers and gangster rappers like – respectively – Kanye and Black Thought, who were massively popular at the time, and injected fun into rap again.

Yet when we weren’t thinking about how cute Nicki would be with the Degrassi star, Drake was showing off his smooth singing vocals on ‘Find Your Love’, his first song without a rap. ‘Find Your Love’ was that slow-jam to instantly put you in your feelings. Everyone had that one crush who they fantasised over, and everyone could relate. This infatuation is the inspiration behind Drake’s yearning tale (“I better find your lovin’ / I better find your heart”) which is still relatable to this day. ‘Find Your Love’ crawled so that later cult-favourite tracks such as ‘Marvin’s Room’ and the hazy ‘Feel No Way’ could run.

There’s some received wisdom that Drake brought hypersensitivity to mainstream rap with his 2011 masterpiece ‘Take Care’. Yet the hallmarks were already there with ‘Thank Me Later’.

Drake has said that he was “numb” when the making the album, suggesting it was rushed out to capitalise on his burgeoning success. But look at underrated tracks such as the housey ‘Show Me A Good Time’ and the muted ‘Karaoke’, the latter a hopeful gem for when you’re facing the bottom of the bottle. Without these admittedly slightly amateurish-sounding tracks, we wouldn’t have the emotionally raw likes of The Weeknd or the more recent emergence of emo-rappers, from the late Lil Peep to the late Juice WRLD, who gave hope to millions.

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Yet it’s ‘Best I Ever Had’ that offers the highlight of ‘Thank Me Later’. Ripped from Drake’s 2009 mixtape ‘So Far Gone’, it was an early hit that blew the former soap star to rap’s big leagues. The rap classic earned him two Grammy nominations and his highest ever chart position on the Billboard 100 (this lasted until 2016, when his dancehall-inspired ‘One Dance’ stormed to the top of the charts). With its cinematic beat and lovelorn lyrics, ‘Best I Ever Had’ was, for many, a gateway song to their idol. It’s also one of the best breakthrough raps track ever.

Spitting with simple, easy-to-follow stories laced with metaphors that were larger than life, ‘Thank Me Later’ was really a killer debut. He hasn’t had enough recognition for his undeniable rearrangement of rap from early on. If you didn’t thank him then, Drake definitely deserves overdue plaudits for this timeless rap classic, which is often forgotten when you’re posting that ‘Hotline Bling’ meme.

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