It's time to play that Drake song.
November 18th, as a date, has been cemented into the collective mindset of hip-hop. It serves as our yearly Drake reminder. Sort of like a Drake alarm clock. When November 18th arrives, we recognize at once that December is around the corner; cool weather will soon prevail. We also recognize that Drake song. We take a moment to revisit it, to recall where we were when we first heard So Far Gone, perhaps to reflect on our own personal achievements, our growth or lack thereof. In the same way Drake’s “November 18th” served as a sort of benchmark in his early career, an evaluation of time-passed and an ushering in of a soon-to-be new era with Young Money, we as fans can treat the song as a our personal benchmarks, year-in, year-out.
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Drake’s AM/PM song series, consisting of records titled with both a time and a place, has resulted in some of his most highly-favoured loose cuts to date. These songs typically showcase an empowered yet vulnerable Drake, and they arrive either before or after an important career move, such as an album release. These songs not only clearly demarcate a time and a place-- where and when Drizzy recorded them-- they also reference some sort of notch within the artist’s career as a whole. While the series would evolve into a place where Drake would address subtle beef, flex his latest increase in wealth, or generally muse on life, the first instalment in these open journal entries was something a bit less direct, but still monumental as far as its place within the history of Drake's career.
As the story goes, J. Prince’s son, Jas Prince, flew Drake into Houston on this fateful day in 2008. It was this same day that Drake finally connected with his soon-to-be mentor, Lil Wayne. “November 18th,” as the date would soon be immortalized in song, was a result of this visit, despite no outright reference to it. Instead, the record is more a reflection of the city itself; a day in the Houston lifestyle.
Drake and Jas Prince, 2010 - David Becker/WireImage/Getty Images
The song was reportedly recorded post-break-up, which occurred prior to Drake heading down to Houston-- the break-up in question acts as the preceding song to “November 18th” within the context of So Far Gone, “Let’s Call It Off.” “November 18th” later leads us into “Ignant Shit” with Lil Wayne-- the outcome of their initial meeting and formally hinting at the deal to come. While “November 18th” offers us a quick snapshot into a singular moment in time within Drake’s early rise, it’s also interesting to zoom out from there and look at the song within the tracklist of So Far Gone. This offers the listener further context within a broader story Drake is telling; So Far Gone is multiple journal entries, not only spanning the singular day of November 18th, but weeks. Ultimately, the break-up, Houston, Lil Wayne are inextricably tangled-- if one had not happened, it’s possible the other would not have occurred either, and similarly so for the tracklist of So Far Gone. Somehow, "November 18th" is more than just a record with a date titled after it, it's a delicate reminder of life's constant onwards march, and the domino pattern that can occur within our individual life events, should we let it. The collection of songs that make up So Far Gone are not only building blocks for Drake's artistry, they allowed the listener to see his career unfold, in a sense.
Where songs that followed within the AM/PM series in earnest, such as “4 PM in Calabasas” and the most recent entry, “March 14,” are a bit of a drag, with slow-moving purposeful beats that incorporate a slight boom-bap element, “November 18th” is a shocking chopped and screwed sound-- at least, it seemed shocking at the time. A Toronto-born rapper, over this heavy, lean-drenched beat? The song neatly offers a slice into what made the mixtape so brilliant at the time of its release, what drew us to it. All the elements are there.
Drake kicking off Houston Appreciation Weekend, 2014- Bob Levey/Getty Images
The record, produced by DJ Screw, samples a DJ Screw song (which itself samples Biggie) thus adding to its veracity under the Southern music umbrella. It’s approachable, where true chopped-and-screwed music might have been too intimidating to an unsuspecting, pop-leaning listener. “November 18th” simply runs with the idea of H-town inspiration, and enough melodic undertones to persuade a wide range of hip-hop and r’n’b fans. The production is sleek and cold, appropriately matching the weather on the date in question, and Drake mirrors this style in his approach to the vocals. The Canadian artist doesn’t land harshly on top of the beat, instead, he lightly glides over it, all the while flexing his singing chops and his heart-on-his-sleeve style -- at a time when we were not yet used to either. The song then converges in this strange chopped-and-screwed-r’n’b space, a clear ode to some of Drake’s biggest influences and the sounds that would come to dictate his career. Ultimately, it’s these exact sounds that would create Drizzy’s own unique strain of influence for the next generation of rappers to follow in his footsteps.