Before Drake was a global superstar, mock-turtleneck trendsetter and the subject of endless think-pieces about the future of hip-hop, he was just an Canadian upstart MC and Lil Wayne’s brightest Young Money protégé, who rewrote the hip-hop playbook with his breakthrough mixtape, So Far Gone in 2009 and was ready for to make his major label debut.
On 15 June 2010, Thank Me Later dropped and went platinum that same month. As with every Drake release, he manages to up his game each time, both technically and stylistically. Picking up where Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak left off, Drake was now carrying the rap-R&B torch and just starting to find his footing as a vocalist.
While his star-studded release pointed to the big league stratosphere he would soon dominate, it also showed us the same Toronto MC who struggled with fame, authenticity and girl problems. As Thank Me Later approaches its 7th anniversary, we look back on how it created the blueprint for young Aubrey’s future.
He Proves Vulnerability Can Be An Asset
There’s no room for humble-bragging in hip-hop, but Drake managed to channel both his confidence and insecurities of being a 20-something rapper on Thank Me Later and all his subsequent releases. What other MCs can quote Cat Stevens on ‘Karaoke’ and guilt trips about not calling his grandma on ‘The Resistance’? It’s this vulnerability and truthfulness that set him apart for any major label rapper at that time and gained him a loyal audience. Drizzy would become increasingly confessional with each release, starting with Take Care the following year.
He’s A Singer That Raps, Not A Rapper That Sings
Since the release of SFG, Drake would be judged both by his rapping and singing skills. He wouldn’t be covering Usher’s ‘Climax’ anytime soon, but with Thank Me Later, he further closed the gap between rap and R&B, matching bar for bar with Lil Wayne on ‘Miss Me’ and following up The-Dream with his own bedroom-ready hooks on ‘Shut It Down’.
His carved out his own vocal style of conversational singing and hired a vocal coach post-mixtape to take it to the next level. His vocal range on Karaoke’ paved the way for future hits like ‘Hold On We're Going Home’. While Kanye’s 808s was considered a one-off novelty, Drake proved it could be a winning formula and further established himself as the hip-hop's preeminent rapper-singer.
He Recognizes Female Fans
Hip-hop’s relationship to women can be easily summed up in one word…problematic. Sure we’ll all sing along when a Biggie song comes on, but in mid-aughts it was time for the genre to grow up a little. Unlike most other rappers, Drake not only understands the female psyche, but he writes for a female audience too. As Issa Rae’s character in her show, Insecure, puts it, “He just gets us”.
Side-stepping the usual “ladies night’ tracks, Drake gives women their own anthem with ‘Fancy’ and even gets the not-so-historically-progressive TI to join in. Even his breakup songs feel more sincere than antagonistic. Can rappers be emo? Drake certainly makes the case for it.
Other Artists Respect Him
Just one look at Thank Me Later’s liner notes and you can tell Drake gave Emily Post a run for her money when it came to thanking everyone from his mentor Lil Wayne to the UK indie band, the xx, to even his knee surgeon. But the appreciation goes both ways, as Young Money got everyone on board for Drake’s big debut, with features from Kanye, Jay Z, Alicia Keys, Jeezy, Nicki Minaj, The-Dream, Lil Wayne and TI.
His collaborations go across the aisle as well, tapping indie pop darlings Francis and the Lights to produce ‘Fireworks’ and taking them on tour with him. He later quoted one of their songs, ‘Get in the Car’ on his track ‘Madonna’ from his 2015 mixtape, If You're Reading This It's Too Late.
He Pays Attention To Detail
Drake makes his commitment to logging studio time well known when he sings, “Cause while all of my closest friends out partyin', I'm just here makin' all the music that they party to”, on ‘Light Up’. But Thank Me Later proves that the studio time paid off. Working with producers Boi-1da (part of the OVO) and Noah "40" Shebib to create the album’s moody foundation and hitting up Kanye and Swizz Beatz for some choice cuts,
Drake’s connection to his producers would only grow stronger in the years to come. Not all rap songs are built to last, but Thank Me Later still features some timeless bangers like ‘Fancy’ and ‘Up All Night’ featuring Minaj, that still get crowds hopped up today.