Although he didn’t even release “Views From The 6,” Drake had the game in a chokehold this year.
If anything foretold the type of year Drake would have in 2015, it was the release and ensuing impact of Summer 2014’s “0 To 100.” Dropped off unannounced on OVO’s Soundcloud while most of the rap world’s eyes were on Summer Jam, the popular loosie eventually hit the radio, went platinum and scored two Grammy nominations, redefining the bounds of a non-commercial non-single. This year, he’s gone even further, successfully adding pricetags to mixtapes, almost hitting #1 with another Soundcloud-only release, getting another Grammy nod for a diss track (as well as that mixtape), and making a radio show a national event in a way this country hasn’t seen since FDR’s fireside chats. Even if he’s notorious for his musical trend-chasing, Drake represents the cutting edge of internet stardom, constantly changing the way we receive and perceive his music and personal brand with his savvy business moves. Even if he didn’t release the album he’s been teasing for over a year, Drake had 2015 on lock.
With promises made on “0 To 100” to have “Spring 2015 poppin’,” Drizzy’s first salvo of the year was the surprise release of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, which dropped close to midnight on February 12th. It broke Spotify records, saw every one of its tracks chart, became the first 2015 album to sell a million copies, and was nominated for the “Best Rap Album” Grammy. Those are all remarkable achievements for an album, but for a “mixtape,” its success was off the charts. Sure, we could debate about what constitutes the difference between the two formats, but the rest of hip-hop didn’t seem to question the move, with everyone from Young Thug to Erykah Badu releasing projects that were mixtapes in name alone.
As spring rolled on, Drake headlined Coachella and gave Fetty Wap his stamp of approval, making his presence more unavoidable by the week. Two collabs with respected “real rappers,” The Game and Meek Mill, kept him legit in the eyes of hip hop, that is, until a scandal broke out that had serious potential to derail his career. In any preceding era, the outing of a ghostwriter may have been a big deal for anyone not named Dre or Sean, but for the internet age’s savviest tastemaker, the already somewhat obvious facts only created an opportunity for Drake to one-up a less successful artist. (As a bonus, Meek had recently started dating Nicki Minaj, who Drake has alternately called his “sister” and received lap dances from in music videos.) The ensuing auditory combat was first perceived as a battle between old-guard, lyrics-first types and the curatorial, Tumblr-based set of youngsters, but as time wore on and two diss tracks went unmatched, it became clear that we were merely witnessing a struggle between one man with deft control of his public presence, and one who couldn’t be more out of his depth in that arena. “You gettin’ bodied by a singin’ n*gga” is one of the coldest disses in rap history, once and for all reversing the age-old hierarchy of lyricism that put rappers before singers, which was already eroding by the second. An online-championing meme-heavy performance of “Back To Back” at OVO Fest sunk the final nail into Meek Mill’s coffin, and Drake proceeded onward, not only totally unscathed, but seemingly stronger in the wake of a beef with a traditionally “hard” MC.
Around this time, OVO introduced its Beats 1 radio show, which quickly became the platform’s most breathlessly-anticipated weekly event (save for the Compton week of Dr. Dre‘s show), with premieres, guest sets and remixes becoming regular occurances. It was here that Drake chose to debut, among a few other tracks, his most successful single to date, “Hotline Bling.” Released concurrently to Soundcloud, the tracks premiered on the air were posed as quick throwaways, but had the potential to break out into more conventional methods of distribution, based on their reception. “Hotline Bling” was loosed to radio a little over a month after its initial release, and the ensuing remixes and thoroughly meme-able video cemented its dominance.
September’s What A Time To Be Alive with Future felt more like a victory lap than an additional artistic statement, with Drake tacking himself onto his runner up’s incredible 12 months just as much as (if not more than) Fewtch looked to lash himself to a commercial juggernaut. But again, he refused to take an L, with the collab “tape” (again, costing more than free 99) going number one, dwarfing Mac Miller’s GO:OD AM opening numbers. Even as Drizzy’s weakest move of the year, it still commanded the lion’s share of attention in the weeks leading up to and following its release, and his permanence as a trending topic only persisted.
Drake’s lain dormant for several weeks now, which feels like an eon in his page-refresh command of our timelines, but rest assured that he’ll rear his head again sooner rather than later, stronger than ever. Whether you’ve been 100% on board with everything he did in 2015 or not, he’s basically led a master class on securing a generation’s attention for 12 months without a bonafide album to speak of. It’s getting harder to predict what’ll pop off in our constantly-shifting, short-attention-span-driven culture, so why not observe what’s performing well and monetize that, or else just monetize it all? Drake’s usually a sure bet to sell whatever he puts his name on, but this year he showed that he knows when to hold ’em (“Hotline Bling,” “Back To Back”) and when to fold ’em (“Charged Up,” “Right Hand”). The rest of hip-hop should be bracing for Views From The 6, because if this is what Drake’s capable of outside of “album mode,” who knows what havoc he’ll wreak in full-tilt release season.