Hey, Drake: If you're reading this, I'm sorry.
Two months ago, I posited that hip-hop's undisputed mainstream champion should forgo the traditional album cycle and stick to dropping one-off singles every few months in order to keep up with the genre's latest trends and maintain his vice grip on the charts. It worked with "God's Plan," which spent a baffling 11 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, only to be dethroned by his own ridiculously catchy "Nice for What." Drake has only scored three No. 1's as a lead artist ("One Dance" spent 10 weeks on top in 2016), and his two most recent chart-toppers will ostensibly appear on his upcoming album, Scorpion, which drops in June.
If Scorpion lives up to the undeniable catchiness and success of "God's Plan" and "Nice for What," I'm fully prepared to eat my words. The album is still two months away, but its promotional campaign is already shaping up to be more successful than the rollout for Drake's last full-length album, 2016's Views. That's because, for perhaps the first time in his career, Drake is using his near-superhuman stature to build up others through his music, rather than dwell on his own woes.
In hindsight, listeners should have known Views wouldn't live up to its hype - and Drake is largely to blame. The Toronto native spent two-and-a-half years crafting his proper follow-up 2013's Nothing Was the Same, and nearly as much time framing it as his career-defining opus. In hindsight, Drake would fall victim to his own ego and impossibly big talk.
Views went Platinum in its first week, but critically it landed with a thud, exhausting listeners with 80 minutes of dour, claustrophobic raps about the trappings of stardom. "The paranoia can start to turn into arrogance," Drake rapped on the album's title track; it's not clear if he saw the irony. The visuals accompanying Views supported the album's chilly bitterness, from its instantly meme-able album cover featuring Drake photoshopped onto Toronto's CN Tower to the laughably self-serious Instagram portrait of the rapper, draped in a fur coat, standing in front of his mansion in the dead of winter.
Views solidified Drake's status as the biggest mainstream rapper alive, but it also exposed the limits of his gloomy, distrustful navel gazing. At a certain point, fans simply stop wanting to hear artists bemoan their romantic failures or the friends they lost on the path to becoming multimillionaires. (Taylor Swift suffered a similar fate with 2017's Reputation.) With Views, Drake promised an impossibly brilliant album, and he paid the price when the finished product was, ultimately, just fine.
Thankfully, the 6 God seems to have learned from his mistakes this time around. He's enjoyed an exhilarating run through the first third of 2018, beginning with the surprise release of his Scary Hours EP (again, two-song single), featuring the omnipresent "God's Plan" and "Diplomatic Immunity," which peaked at a respectable No. 7 on the Hot 100. He hopped on BlocBoy JB's "Look Alive" and brought the track to No. 5, and it's not difficult to imagine "Nice for What" ruling the chart for a long time.
Drake's chart dominance at the beginning of 2018 is impressive, but even more impressive is how he's achieved it. He dropped "God's Plan" out of the blue in January, and he informally announced "Nice for What" at a concert a day before unleashing it on the world. The "God's Plan" video features the rapper gleefully traipsing around Miami, giving away the shoot's million-dollar budget to unsuspecting pedestrians.
Meanwhile, he enlisted a crew of powerful, talented women - including Rashida Jones, Olivia Wilde and Letitia Wright - for the "Nice for What" video, which supports the song's message of female empowerment. Rather than objectify women or expose them for breaking his heart, Drake used his latest smash single to praise women's work ethic, encourage them to live their lives to the fullest and remind them that they don't owe the men around them a damn thing.
With his latest singles, it seems Drake has discovered a truth that often goes ignored in the music industry: that respecting women and acting charitably toward others will actually make you more popular.
It doesn't matter if Drake's benevolence amounts to little more than a brilliantly executed PR move. His willingness to use his platform to prop up people less privileged than himself comes as a breath of fresh air after a string of increasingly self-centered releases. These gestures make Drake seem more relatable, more praiseworthy and, ultimately, more fun. Fans want to feel good about rooting for their favorite artists, especially when they can imagine themselves on the receiving end of their charity and cheerleading.
Drake surely understands this, as he's continually demonstrated impeccable business savvy and brand awareness. Now it's up to him to continue harnessing this positive, "nice guy" momentum for the remainder of his Scorpion rollout. By promising a whole new persona - and a slew of infectious pop-rap hits - on his new outing, Drake can all but guarantee his continued commercial and critical success. "You gotta be nice for what?" he asks on his latest single. But he's already answered his own question.