“Relatability” has long been a word deployed to both acknowledge and undercut the relationship between fans and the musicians they love. When Drake’s début commercial mixtape, “So Far Gone,” was released, in February, 2009, he was arguably at peak relatability, and it was still easy to believe in the Toronto rapper’s Everyman shtick. In the opening verses, we get it all: a glossy-eyed Drake looking out over his future, collecting text messages from old flames—the cockiness leavened with humility. His aspirations made him admirable; his insecurities made him accessible. The conflict between those two elements made him seem real.

At the time, Drake’s up-and-coming status was high, and there was a palpable hunger underlining the tracks in “So Far Gone” that has never really returned. Back then, Drake really was the underdog that he still pretends to be, and he based entire songs—the opening track, “Lust for Life,” and the eventual single “Successful”—around that premise. But, from the start, the most striking thing about Drake was the Shakespearean romances that shaped his music. Whether rapping in warm monotones or singing sweet nothings, he spoke of women as if he actually liked them or, rather, as if they wielded a very real power over him. Women, whether exes or interests, weren’t sources of nasty disdain and suppressed hatred but rather deeply felt pain and unrequited affections. Drake was a rapper who had adopted the romantic posture of an R. & B. singer, but with a commitment to being extraordinarily regular. A decade later, he’s still working this stance—dedicating half of his double album, “Scorpion,” from last year, to exorcising his love demons. Throughout “So Far Gone,” which became his tenth Top Ten album upon its re-release, last month, we see Drake honing these muscles time and time again, fashioning himself into a suave suitor and a nonchalant womanizer, sometimes in the course of a single track. Yet every boastful victory lap is shadowed by the success he loves just as much as his women.

Songs such as the steamy “A Night Off,” which features the singer Lloyd, and “Best I Ever Had” are pillow talk come to life. For the college-age listeners who then seemed to make up the majority of his fan base—the same adults who now lament the bygone days of the blog era—these felt like rhymes from reality. Lines like the ever-popular “Sweatpants, hair tied, chillin’ with no makeup on / that’s when you’re the prettiest, I hope that you don’t take it wrong” stand out as admirable in a sea of pop-music lyrics that equate glamour with a woman’s beauty and, by extension, her worth. Drake knew what women wanted to hear and what men often didn’t know how to say.

Drake’s quasi-feminism surfaced recently on his remix of Summer Walker’s breakout track, “Girls Need Love.” The song, in its original state, is a simmering longing for sexual interaction that hinges on a woman’s satisfaction. “Girls can’t never say they want it / Girls can’t never say how,” goes the hazy bridge, poking back at the default position of sex as a vehicle for male gratification. Drake appears, tough-guy persona intact, to echo the sentiment. “Guys get their way all the time / Besides, pleasure not meant for one side / You should just do what’s best for your mind.” In another rapper’s hands, the gesture would seem like cringeworthy pandering, but here it’s just another step of his steady grasping for women’s affections.

In 2009, “So Far Gone” painted Drake as a superficial friend of women, even as they appeared as foils to his ambition. “Nice for What,” the chart-topping single on “Scorpion,” from 2018, felt like his full-circle moment, the culmination of years of lost-and-found romance, of playing games and getting played. Up until this point, Drake was always at the center of the story: projecting his standards and his desires, trying to mold himself into the kind of man who could be worthy of a love story for the ages. But, on “Nice for What,” he collapsed the fourth wall and faced the objects of his affections and finally told them that they don’t need to hold space for him nor anyone else. And it only took him the better part of a decade to realize.

Sourse: newyorker.com

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