It’s time to talk about Drake on Drill after having had over a week for things to settle in the aftermath of his collab with Headie One.
Before getting into it I feel like I have to start by stating that I’m a Drake fan. But saying that I also feel a bit funny when he jumps on genres like Drill, Afrobeats, Dancehall etcetera. It’s not that I don’t think he does his research or that he’s trying to appropriate the genres, it’s more that it usually feels like in those moments he just wants to flex that he can pretty much do anything. If he was to deliver every time I would have no qualms with it, but with Drill his efforts have been mixed.
The first time Drake took a stab at Drill was in 2018 almost exactly 2 years ago, so that’s before Pop Smoke had even burst onto the scene and blown up UK Drill production across the pond. Drake had clearly been listening and has previously mentioned listening to names like Loski and Headie One. But in July of 2018 he jumped on established UK platform Link Up TV for their trademark Behind Barz show. This was around the same time the latest season of Top Boy was dropping, which he executive produced, and the freestyle ended up being added to the shows accompanying soundtrack. He jumped on a Drill beat and, well it just wasn’t good.
It was an admirable first attempt but mediocrity from Drake at this stage in his career is akin to him doing badly. So with a good effort but poor execution, the Behind Barz attempt didn’t have most people sold that he could do Drill, and it seemed like a one off thing to try to culturally tie in his presence on the Top Boy soundtrack in a way that made sense. Then on Christmas Eve of 2019 ‘War’ dropped.
Over production by AXL Beats, responsible for Fivio Foreign‘s biggest track to date ‘Big Drip’, Drake came for Drill again. On ‘War’ somehow Drake ended up doing even worse on the track, and it was largely panned. Many felt Headie One would have done a better job on the production and it was raised across social media as well as in the comments of the video. On top of that, some felt he had even used Headie‘s flow at points making the argument as to whether Headie would have done better even stronger. The track was also criticised for the accent used on the track with some feeling he was trying to lean into the ‘roadman’ stereotype.
Despite this, there was definitely hints of potential, especially in regards to flows, on ‘War’ so it wasn’t a total failure, more of a misfire. Then in 2020, he reached out to Headie One directly to do a track and what came from that is ‘Only You Freestyle’. Again as before there have been critics on social media, only this time there was only really one thing people were criticising him for – and the critics were wrong about it. The big criticism is for the final segment of Drake‘s verse where he has a very notable flow switch that is very alike a Grime flow.
His transition to the flow has him switch over to his delivery sitting over the hi-hats where the rest of the verse fits in with the 808s. But that initial moment where he switches gives the appearance that he was going offbeat, and that’s what everybody was quick to jump on. However they were wrong, he wasn’t offbeat, and even if he was – rapping offbeat is a style and skill in itself. Blueface blew up because of his intentionally offbeat flow, but we all know that Drake gets a different level of scrutiny and hate than the average.
So besides this one critique, everybody pretty much agreed that ‘Only You Freestyle’ was a great song. It racked in big numbers overnight and landed on YouTube’s trending list. So then the question that arose was who had the better verse, it’s Rap after all the competitive nature is always just below the surface even on features. Now I can only speak from my perspective and I’d have to say that for me Drake is the one that pushes the boat out on the track. Headie has a good verse but it feels like it was regular day at the office Headie rather than Headie the boundary pusher and innovator.
With Drake outperforming one of the UK’s premier Drill talents it’s time to re-evaluate his frolicking with Drill. It at last looks like he is comfortable with the sound and how his own sound matches up with that. He’s not trying to conform by leaning too far into the culture that made the sound which was seemingly the problem on the earlier records and it pays off. The confidence this time was clear to see as we even got Drake flexing some multilingualism with Arabic and Patois mixed into his verses. His penchant for conquering sounds seems to be back and there are even some cheeky shots thrown out by him so he’s definitely feeling himself.
This is unlikely to be the last time we hear the Canadian hit maker on Drill, and at last it feels like that’s a good thing.
You can stream ‘Only You Freestyle’ on Spotify here.