Views From The Blueprint: Why Drake’s Next Album Could Put Him On Par With Jay Z
When Drake boasted "Oh, it's your time now, yeah, that's what everybody say/I used to wanna be on Roc-A-Fella, then I turned into Jay" on his early-2016 warning-shot, "Summer Sixteen," the seemingly off-hand quote generated a few oohs and ahhs from the peanut gallery, but many listeners gravitated to more low-hanging fruit, like jabs at rivals Meek Mill and newcomer Tory Lanez. But for a number of rap fans, the line was deciphered as a contender watching the throne, snatching the crown and proclaiming himself king.
Some fans agreed with Drake's provocative self-appraisal, while others denounced it with vigor, scoffing at the notion that he would put his name on par with one of the greatest MCs to ever pick up a mic. But if you were to contextualize his moves over the past year and the trajectory of his career as a whole, it'd be clear that the aforementioned bar is closer to being fact than fiction and that Views From the 6 has the potential to make an impact on Drake's legacy equal to the effect that Jay Z's classic 2001 LP, The Blueprint, had on his.
In 2015, blockbuster albums were released, new stars emerged, and the competitive-streak in more than a few artists reared its head, all of which created moments that could very well be considered iconic in the years to come. And in the center of it all was Drake, rap's preeminent purveyor of all things cool and trendy. Kicking off the year by releasing his fourth studio-album, If You're Reading This It's Too Late, then recording a joint-album with newly-christened superstar Future, titled What A Time To Be Alive, Drake cementing his status as the most bankable artist in rap today.
But within those same 365 days, there were also a few instances in which people appeared to be less than fond of Drake and his ascent to the top of the game, most notably Philly native and MMG under-boss Meek Mill. Meek, who has collaborated with Drake on tracks like "Amen" and "R.I.C.O.," a single from his 2015 album, Dreams Worth More Than Money, took to social media and accused Drake of having his verse on "R.I.C.O." written by another rapper, pegging his former associate as an all-around fraud.
The outburst took the rap world by surprise, with many anxiously awaiting a response from Drake, who didn't make fans wait very long, unleashing a song titled "Charged Up" during his OVO Sound Radio show on Beats1. The record saw Drake taking a page out of the Jay Z playbook and subliminally picking apart the opposition with veiled slights while refraining from addressing them by name. But little did fans know, "Charged Up" was just the calm before the storm and that the follow-up diss, "Back To Back," would be the main event.
Although not as scathing as Jay Z's 2001 diss, "Takeover," which Hov used to get at enemies such as Prodigy and Nas, "Back To Back" was eerily similar in terms of execution, save for the chronological order in which each record was released. While Jay previewed a portion of "Takeover" live at the 2001 Summer Jam concert, but didn't liberate the full-version the song until The Blueprint dropped, Drake decided to service his fans with a streaming-link for "Back To Back" himself before performing the song at his annual music festival, OVO Fest later that week. The various memes poking fun at Meek Mill on display on a jumbo-screen while Drake performed also borrowed from Jay Z's bag of tricks and was reminiscent of the legends exposure of Prodigy's past as a childhood dancer.
Another comparison that can be gleaned between the two battles is how it elevated their respective careers. Although it would ultimately be determined that Nas was the victor in the war of words between him and Jay Z, the latter capitalized more in the short term, dangling the prospect of a diss track in front of rap fans thirsty to hear him go at Nas, resulting in more than 420,000 copies sold in its first week of release. Drake, while already a superstar, saw a career boost as well, earning himself a Grammy nomination for "Back To Back" and increasing his stock among music fans and corporate brands worldwide.
His assertiveness under duress did wonders for his street cred as well, with many who had previously clowned him for his cashmere image praising his performance in the battle and knocking the perceived bully that is Meek Mill down a notch. Meek Mill still has an opportunity to repeat history and score an unexpected knockout like Nas did with "Ether," but at this moment in time, it's clearly Drake who benefited the most from the battle in terms of popular opinion.
His triumph over Meek Mill may have given Drake the gall to compare himself to Jay Z in the manner in which he did, but he's been following the Brooklyn rap god's footsteps dating back to his emergence on the mainstream radar. Drake's mixtape, So Far Gone, is considered by many to be the crown jewel of his discography, kind of in the vein of how Reasonable Doubt is viewed in the discography of Shawn Corey Carter. The subject matter may have been on opposite ends of the spectrum, but the sentiments were nearly one in the same ---- Jay coping with the ills of the hustling game and dreams of transcending the drug-game living the high-life, while Drake lamented the toll his dealings with shady women and fair-weather had taken on him and his aspirations to be young and successful.
Thank Me Later, Drake's debut album, was a commercial success and had its share of highlights, but saw him regress musically, much like Jay did on In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Both albums saw the respective artists learning how to craft quality albums without sacrificing the magic of the previous offerings, which they would perfect on their next offerings. Jay Z's Vol 2... Hard Knock Life and Drake's Take Care were the most successful recordings of each artist's career and it was during the recording of these albums that they perfected their respective formulas for success. Jay focused on catchy hooks and more simplistic rhymes, while Drake took full advantage of his songwriting ability and his knack for drawing from muses like The Weeknd to make the most sonically lush music of his career.
Vol 3... Life and Times of S. Carter and Nothing Was the Same were LPs that saw Jay Z and Drake both settle into their role position at the top of the game, serving up a healthy heap of slick talk and brash commentary while flexing their status as the one that navigated the treachery of the rap industry, made it to the top of the totem pole and lived to tell the tale. With the rap world in the palm of both artists hands, each felt the need to handle a little unfinished business before completing their hostile takeover, and would do so on their next albums.
After rounding out his Roc-A-Fella Records roster with promising talent like Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek, and Amil, Jay Z planned to release a compilation highlighting his cast of lyrical goons, but opted to tag his name on the album and give its profile the proper boost, resulting in The Dynasty: Roc La Familia . Drake, on the other hand, had outgrown the need to be associated with Cash Money Records and Young Money and decided to extricate himself by completing his contractual obligations with his album, If You're Reading This It's Too Late, a collection of what he pegged as B-Side material. Both albums helped Hov and Drake achieve their intended goals, setting them up for defining moments in their career.
Which brings us back to why Views From the 6 could be a make or break album for Drake's legacy and affect how he will ultimately be remembered long after he's done dominating the Billboard charts. Coming into the year 2001, if you asked a fan who was rap's top dog, the answer would've varied. At the time, the top contenders would've included names like DMX, Eminem, and Nas, along with Jay Z. But heading into 2002, if the same question was posed, there's a safe bet that Jay Z's name would've dominated the conversation, the main reason for that shift being The Blueprint.
While Jay Z had accomplished every accolade a rapper could think, the one knock on him is that for all of his hit records, all of the deadly verses, all of the trends set, the people had yet to truly get to know the man born Shawn Carter. We all knew about Jay Z, the champagne popping, ice-rocking, hustler extraordinaire, and while the persona was entertaining, the soul-wrenching testimonials, brutal honesty, and poignant commentary of the aforementioned MC's all made the god MC seem shallow and dense by comparison.
Much of the same could be said for Drake, who is a corporation's wet-dream and a poster-boy for everything trendy and new-gen, but has yet to truly reveal who he is aside from regurgitating his struggles of middle-class growing-pains, troubles with women, and striving to make it in the industry as a child-actor turned rap artist. He is undoubtedly one of the most popular artists in all of music and could release a platinum album in his sleep, but hasn't truly captured the hearts of the rap community in ways that contemporaries like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Chance The Rapper, and Kanye West have. Drake embodies us at our highest, in the club, liquor flowing, surrounded by women, celebrating with friends and feeling like a million bucks. Drake also embodies those intimate conversations with casual friends where you soul-search and search for the meaning of life over a blunt or a brew.
But what he doesn't embody is the raw emotion you get when you're sitting in a room, all alone, left with only your most honest thoughts to keep you company. Gone is the posturing and the false bravado, kinda like how Jay Z presented himself on "Never Change," a cut from The Blueprint that saw Hov tell it how it is instead of he we wanted it to be. The misogynistic Jay Z that blessed the public with "Big Pimpin'" is also present on The Blueprint, albeit on the much tamer offering "Girls, Girls, Girls," he also gave us a glimpse of his vulnerability on "Song Cry," which was in stark contrast to the stoic persona that's been his calling-card throughout the years. Another portrait of his childhood, "Mama Loves Me," was a stripped-down track on which Jigga recollects pivotal figures from his days as a youth in Marcy; letting down his guard and shedding light on the events that made the man with whom we'd become so familiar.
The Blueprint also marked the period where Jay would not only boast about his record sales and platinum success, but his growing portfolio as a businessman. With a loaded roster of rap and r&b talent, one of the hottest clothing lines in urban fashion, stakes in liquor brands, and him and his partners eyes on Tinseltown, Jay basked in the glory of his business acumen on "U Don't Know," an epic Just Blaze-produced cut from The Blueprint which saw him bragging "That's another difference that's between me and them/I smarten up, open the market up/One million, two million, three million, four/In eighteen months, eighty million more/Now add that number up with the one I said before/You are now looking at one smart black boy."
Drake also seems to be more focused on enterprising and building his own brand as of late with a flurry of business ventures, like his new restaurant Fring's, located in Toronto, his $19 Million deal with Apple to DJ on their Beats1 platform, not to mention alliances with the likes of Nike, and an investment in a tech start-up named Omni. Implementing his roster of OVO artists, which includes PartyNextDoor, P. Reign, Madrid Jordan, OB Obrien, and Roy Woods, among others, also seems to be high on Drake's list of priorities, as was introducing the world to State Property was for Jay, which took place in the wake of the release of The Blueprint. It'd be plausible to think that Jay Z randomly name-dropping every member of his Roc stable on "Takeover" was a mere coincident, but we have a hunch that the homage paid was more of a calculated way to get the masses familiar with his faction from Philly he'd sic on the rap game over the course of the following year.
On the eve of Views From the 6's release, it's still anyone's guess as to what we can expect. While "Summer Sixteen" was typical Drake fare, buzz tracks like "One Dance" and "Pop Style" hint at him eyeing a more global approach with this album and aiming to become an even bigger star rather than strengthening his standing as an elite hip-hop artist with the power to move the heart as well as he moves the crowd. But there are many pressing decisions that will determine whether this will be the undisputed rap classic that Drake fans (and detractors) have been waiting for. Will he unleash a monstrous diss track that obliterates the naysayers and competition that is on-par with other great rebuttals?
Will he opt for more traditional rapping to cement his status as an elite lyricist and minimize the harmonies knowing that the integrity of his pen is on the line? And probably most important of all, if manages to finally deliver an album that is among the more memorable albums of all-time, will the revelations surrounding his creative process alter how the fans and critics receive it? What we do know is that Views From the 6 has the potential to do for Drake what it did for Hov and all of the makings of a potential shifting of the guard, with Drake finally fitting into the shoes left behind by the greatest rapper alive.