Drake is leaving behind an amazing hip-hop legacy.
Drake is one of music’s biggest names, casting a seemingly ever-growing shadow over not just hip-hop as a genre but also the mainstream pop culture scene. Everything he touches has turned to gold for the better part of a decade, even if it's just with the slight of his hand-- the weight of the rapper’s co-sign remains an alluring part of his appeal.
Haters and/or jealous parties (you know who you are) may contend that Drake’s influence as a curator of undiscovered talent is overblown, but I say they’re wrong. Just think of the music industry heavyweights from Canada alone that have gone on to enjoy tremendously successful careers after their Drizzy co-sign. The Weeknd, PartyNextDoor, dvsn, Majid Jordan, Murda Beatz – the list goes on and on. In terms of putting the Great White North on the map as a hotbed for hip-hop and R&B talent, no one has made a bigger contribution than Mr. Graham.
Then you have the likes of Kodak Black, Migos, Jhene Aiko and A$AP Rocky who benefitted greatly from the Six God’s support early on in their careers. Sure, all those artists may have been generating a decent amount of underground or local heat prior to Drake’s involvement, but there’s a much slimmer chance that any of them would have attained the kind of fame we associate with their names without that kind of assist.
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A perfect illustration of this dynamic, and one that oft goes overlooked, can be found in A$AP Rocky’s career arc. If we wind the clocks back to 2011, you’ll find him as the owner of “Peso,” a debut single that gained some traction on the East Coast after Hot 97 picked up for airplay. Shortly thereafter, his Live.Love.A$AP mixtape dropped, receiving critical acclaim and, more importantly, nabbing him a spot alongside a pre-superstar Kendrick Lamar as the opening act on Drake’s Club Paradise tour.
The endorsement from Drizzy not only put Rocky’s music in front of a much bigger audience but it also opened mainstream music doors he probably would’ve have been able to walk through otherwise. From his Pitchfork Music Festival spot in 2012 to an appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s former late-night show in August of that year, A$AP Rocky was the proud owner of a meteoric rise to fame. All this buzz was building to a star-making climax: the release of his RCA debut, Long.Live.A$AP.
Charting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, A$AP’s new album boasted the hit single “F*ckin’ Problem.” The featured artist and producer on that record? None other than Drake (appearing alongside 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar on what reads like a whos-who of hip-hop royalty now) and Noah “40” Shebib respectively. Yes, there are other tracks worth playing at max volume on that album, but “Problems” was the anchor that parked Rocky in the middle of hip-hop’s mainstream at that moment – and it’s no coincidence that the Drake brand approval played a huge role in that.
The most recent co-sign from the Drizzy camp is one for L.A. rapper BlueFace. Despite getting booed off stage when he appeared at a Lil Uzi concert, the young artist has gone from relative obscurity to working with producers like Boi-1da and receiving public support from Drake’s former tour mate, Kendrick Lamar. There’s no telling where exactly BlueFace’s career will go from here or what level of consistent mainstream hip-hop visibility he’ll enjoy, but the power of the Six God’s approval means a lot of walls that once prevented his music from being heard by those high up on the rap food chain have been torn down.
What does all this mean in the context of Drake’s career and ultimate legacy as a music icon? If anything, it puts the Toronto native in similar standing to legends like Quincy Jones, Dr. Dre and Pharrell Williams. Like those men, Drizzy is not only able to elevate an artist’s career pretty much overnight but he also actively seeks out and rewards talent that deserves a bigger platform.
I’d even argue he’s one of the main reasons why hip-hop has become the de-facto pop music genre of choice as we inch closer to the 2020s. By refining many raw flashes of brilliance into something that can be marketed to and easily consumed by a mainstream audience, Drake is bringing the sounds of the next generation to the masses with startling efficiency. Perhaps most remarkable of all this is, unlike his own solo offerings from 2018, artists with the Drizzy or OVO co-sign immediately level up in the music business without necessarily having to sacrifice what makes their vibe original or interesting.
It’s not just a perk of winning the admiration of one of music’s most unstoppable forces – it’s part of what makes Drake’s continued success all the more mesmerizing. When he’s not releasing a new album or dropping a new verse on another rapper’s track, he’s enabling undiscovered artists in an invaluable sort of way, a way that will begin to set them up with a career, should they choose to take it seriously. That contribution to rap’s lexicon of star power is as unsung as it is powerful.
In fact, in 20 or 30 years from now, it’s a quality that may outlast Drake’s discography in terms of its relevance to the genre’s significance to pop culture. In other words, his songs and lyrics may not leave as permanent a trail in hip-hop history as his curation of talent has over the years. He’s not yet 40 and still has a lot of tread left on his career’s tires, which means that multiple new waves of rap stars will find themselves under the industry’s brightest spotlight – all thanks to a former teen drama actor from Canada who’s gone on to world domination, at least from a pop music point of view.