Let’s be honest, Drake in the last few years has become quite the polarizing figure in hip-hop. As he continues to soar in worldwide fame and delve deeper into his dancehall tunes, hip-hop heads have become more and more disillusioned with the work he produces. After the mediocrity of Views (2016) and More Life (2017), any new Drake music feels bound to only feed the ever-growing feeling that his 2010-2015 prolific run is dead. Despite that the one thing that Drake continues to do well, is incorporate new sounds into (North) American hip-hop that become more commonplace amongst the genre. Drake’s increasing interest in putting UK-based rappers as well as UK Drill and Grime styles in his music could become the next big trend in American hip-hop, especially considering the success of Big Shaq’s comedy rap, “Man’s Not Hot.” Nonetheless, Drake’s latest singles only subvert the expectations of both mainstream and hardcore fans alike.
Drake’s first release in 2018, Scary Hours, is a two song single, reminiscent of the days when singles would come with an A-side and B-side. Needless to say, it’s quite a surprise based on his last two releases. The first song, “God’s Plan,” feels like a Views-era Drake song. He sings with autotune and uses that rapid Migos flow over the chorus. This style contrasts in the second verse, as the music cuts out, moves up an octave and reincarnates old Drake. The track, produced by longtime collaborator Noah “40” Shebib, contains a nice sweeping keyboard melody and a subtle, yet thick bass line. 40 does a great job improving a relatively boring beat with the perfect amount of interplay between the high-hats and bass to give the song more of a traditional structure.
The B-side single, “Diplomatic Immunity,” produced by Boi-1da and Noah Brongers, is a classic throwback to old Drake built upon a Wu-Tang Clan sample. Drake comes out with the elongated flow that made him famous, spending four minutes spitting bars about how he’s become larger than life and a force that can’t be brought down. The song lacks the traditional song structure and doesn’t force Drake to sing over a chorus. This old-school Drake style is a refreshing sound for longtime listeners who might have been worried that he had completely turned to Pop-Dancehall tunes. Boi-1da and Noah Brongers produced a fantastic beat with great timbre, separating the high parts of the drum track away from the bass. When the beat breaks down in the drum/bass solo and vocal sampling, it’s a welcome sound in the Drake catalogue.
Scary Hours is bizarre. These two songs don’t serve the new Pop-Dancehall Drake. Neither of these songs contain the beat or chorus to become club bangers. God’s Plan will get some Top-40 radio play, but that will be a reflection of Drake’s status as an artist and less of a reflection of his ability to make a catchy tune. What Drake manages to accomplish on these two tracks is tell his fans who were unsure about his last two releases that the “new Drake” is still the “old Drake,” and he will still drop bars, sing, and subvert expectations. Hopefully 2018 brings another Drake album, not a mixtape, and proves he’s still a great rapper, while still holding the title of a pop star.