The last time we wrote a list of our favorite Drake songs it was early 2015, when the rapper and meme-factory was set to headline Coachella, elevating himself as one of the three solo hip-hop acts to ever be booked at the top of America’s finest festival.
In the year and change since, Drake has released two albums ("If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late" and "VIEWS") found a new muse in Atlanta icon Future (with whom he released the collaborative mixtape, "What a Time to be Alive," embraced a legendary feud with Meek Mill (with one of his diss tracks being nominated for a Grammy Award), hosted "Saturday Night Live" for a second time and almost certainly played an instrumental role in getting the NBA All-Star Game to come to Toronto earlier this year.
Along the way, Drake has released a whole bunch of great music, some locked away on his records, some uploaded randomly and generously to his Soundcloud account. So we decided to expand our original top 10 list to 20 to compensate for all the content he’s released over the past year and change. There have been some truly iconic Drake songs recently, so where do you think “Hotline Bling,” “One Dance” and “Energy” will fit in the sprawl? Read on to find out.
20. “Summer Sixteen”
The surprise Soundcloud Drake release is one of the best tropes in pop music, because it really seems like Drake doesn’t think for longer than about 15 minutes before writing these lyrics. You wake up one day and are welcomed with a random cut that clearly wasn’t good enough for the album, but still funny enough to deserve the light of day.
That’s why “Summer Sixteen” is great. There’s a certain freedom derived from a lack of expectations, which is why Drake can throw around bars like, “Now I’ve got a house in LA, now I’ve got a bigger pool than Ye, now Ye’s pool is nice, mine’s just bigger is all I’m saying.” It’s wonderful. Some of Drake's best work comes when he’s just having fun.
19. “Make Me Proud” (ft. Nicki Minaj)
Drake’s schoolboy crush on Nicki Minaj is one of the silliest narratives in pop music. He received a cuckolding lapdance in Minaj’s “Anaconda” video, and he compared her to Claire Huxtable in “Only,” but it all started back in 2011, on "Take Care"’s “Make Me Proud.”
Drake was dealing with tabloids claiming he suddenly proposed to Minaj in Vegas (likely), and he came back with the asexual, but still pretty charming “Make Me Proud.” It was essentially a venue for Nicki to leave her mark on that year’s defining rap album (much like she did back in 2010, on Kanye’s “Monster,”) and, generally speaking, Minaj doesn’t have a hard time being memorable.
18. “Too Much”
One of the best things about Drake is his ability to shift from ridiculously memeable floss-raps to broken, unflattering honesty, and often in the same song. If people need convincing, consider this passage buried in this "Nothing Was The Same" deep cut:
“Heard once that in dire times when you need a sign, that’s when they appear / guess since my text message didn’t resonate I’ll just say it here / hate the fact my mom cooped up in her apartment telling herself / that she’s too sick to get dressed up and go do stuff, like that’s true.”
He was talking about Tuscan Leather and how he could beat Serena Williams at tennis a couple tracks ago, and now he’s publicly revealing his familial struggles as a loose public intervention? Of course he is. “Too Much” is Drake’s most visceral song, and it’s the exact sort of thing that’s turned him into one of the most relatable personalities in music.
17. “Too Good”
Drake and Rihanna don’t have to be flirting to have great chemistry. Obviously between their collaborations on “Take Care” and “What’s My Name,” as well as the constant tabloid speculation on the nature of their relationship, these two megastars are best known for their constant, will-they-won’t-they flirting. But that isn’t always the case!
“Too Good” is another great chapter in the Drake/Riri catalog, but it casts both of their voices as jilted victims of unrequited adoration. You wouldn’t exactly call that steamy would you? But regardless, it adds up to a great song and a standout on "VIEWS."
16. “All Me” (ft. 2 Chainz and Big Sean)
The beat is great, a seasick two-step of mahogany (operatic?) vocal samples. 2 Chainz raps like the icing he is, and Drake calls himself the “light-skinned Keith Sweat.” But don’t get it twisted: there is exactly one reason this song cracked the top 10, and that’s the oft-maligned Big Sean.
On a technical level, Sean’s verse is awful. He loses rhythm constantly, he rhymes “old fashioned” with “old fashioned,” and he tries this hilariously bad double-time thing at the end which backfires in perhaps the most glorious way ever released on a major label.
But that’s the beauty of Big Sean. He's not good at rapping, just like how you and I aren’t good at rapping. His verse becomes one of the most resonate things to ever appear on a Drake song. There are plenty of reasons to hate Big Sean, but here's at least one reason to love him.
15. “Over My Dead Body”
“Over My Dead Body" is gorgeous. Four chords that inspire the same warm feeling in all organic matter, a lovely piano stroke and a cast-off vocal melody. It’s what propped up "Take Care"’s pleasure centers.
And Drake raps with the weights off, like he’s winsome, enjoying the beautiful music just like us. “Over My Dead Body” often gets forgotten in the robust history of hip-hop album openers, but think about it: does another opening song better establish the tone and context of an entire album?
Drake doesn’t need to make this kind of song anymore. When he does, it comes out like the ludicrous self-parody “Worst Behavior.” “Over” is backpacky — it’s the kind of song J. Cole would write. He opens with that immortal “LAST NAME EVER, FIRST NAME GREATEST,” which might be the biggest overcompensation in modern hip-hop history. However, “Over” is undeniable, especially when it comes to the aggressively insecure Drake we all love.
This was the hit that propelled him over the “Best I Ever Had Gimmick,” and the thing that forced skeptics to finally give him his due. It might come off a little try-hard now; picking the most auspicious beat he could possibly find and dressing like Michael Jackson in that already-slightly-embarrassing video, but no other origin story could be more perfect for Drake.
13. “One Dance”
“One Dance” captures Drake at his most millennially obnoxious — “as soon as you see the text reply me” — but it’s also maybe the purest, Drakiest sentiment the man has ever produced. A sad sack club banger over soft-lit piano chords, some danceable drums, and a ton of tears-in-Hennessy solipsizing. There was a fair amount of backlash against "VIEWS" and the monotone bleakness of Drake's character, but there's never been a more honest, on-brand moment than “One Dance.”
12. “From Time” (ft. Jhene Aiko)
My dad loves this song and my dad is a 54-year old British man whose favorite bands are The Who, The Clash, New Order and Pink Floyd. It’s safe to say he falls well outside of Drake’s demographic. But that Drake can bring new people in might be his greatest asset.
“From Time” is the kind of song that used to get Drake called soft, back when we were scared to admit the Degrassi kid was writing better hooks than everyone else. Jhene Aiko may not go on to have a long career, but her sleepy lilt is enough for the history books. Drake has been here before, and he’ll continue to tap that languid, nocturnal slow jam for the rest of his life.
11. ‘Know Yourself”
“I was running through the 6 with my woes” is, without a doubt, the least hip-hop line to ever occupy a hip-hop song. Woes? We’re running around with our troubles, and sorrows, and sadnesses… in Canada. This is not what Grandmaster Flash had in mind, but that doesn’t matter, because the second the world heard this quip “Know Yourself” became an instant classic.
It’s the most Drake thing ever, right? Kinda weird, kinda funny and surprisingly vulnerable in a way that’s both relatable and easy to make fun of. We appreciate his candor, even if it’s still sorta making us chuckle.
10. “Lord Knows” (ft. Rick Ross)
It’s no secret Drake favors microscopic beats. His longtime collaborator and friend Noah “40” Shebib is a master of small strokes, and personally responsible for the open space on "Take Care" and "Nothing Was The Same." But sometimes you need to blow the doors down, sometimes you need to recruit Just Blaze.
Just Blaze’s “Lord Knows” instrumental might be the bawdiest thing he’s ever put to tape. Choirs, reprises, more choirs, some angelic stringsand a concrete drumbeat that somehow penetrates the cacophony. Meanwhile, Drake prattles on about gold, cars, women, etc., in perhaps his most appealingly self-obsessed verse to date.
But the real star is Rick Ross, who was on another freaking planet in 2011. He grunts his way through in peak kingpin form and calls his car a “murder-cedes.” Wow.
9. “Jumpman” (ft. Future)
“Jumpman jumpman jumpman,” it’s just kinda fun to say. That’s the point of the song. There’s no deeper meaning, no metaphors, no violence, no threats, it’s a tribute to the phonetic pleasures of that rhythmic, hypnotic “jumpman-jumpman-jumpman-jumpman, jumpman-jumpman-jumpman-jumpman.” The entirety of Drake’s album-long collaboration with Future, "What A Time To Be Alive," is flossy and superficial, but “Jumpman” takes it to the stratosphere. Jay Z has the famous flex “even the sound of my laugh is a hit!” Even the sound of Drake shouting a corporate logo is a hit!
8. “Back To Back”
This is Drake at the peak of his powers. Fresh off the rampant success of "If You’re Reading This" and in the midst of peak intersectional respect, honestly Meek Mill was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In case you were under a rock, Mill made the mistake of accusing Drake of hiring ghostwriters (which is totally legitimate, Drake absolutely works with other writers) and that begat one of the first major rap beefs in forever. Drake stepped up to the plate with the whole world behind him and ripped the hapless Philly rapper apart. Mill retorted with an objectively awful freestyle, and his fate was sealed.
There have been better diss songs, there have been more vicious diss songs, but I don’t think there’s ever been a more joyful diss song. Every line drips with this ultra-infectious glee, it makes you feel like you’re part of the war, and naturally, that turned a Soundcloud kiss-off into a national bombshell. Oh yeah, Drake also was nominated for a Grammy for it.
Do you think Drake tries to go viral? Or is that just something that happens when you’re this famous and this imitated? “0-100” was released as a throwaway one-off single in the middle of 2014, and a few moments later it was number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100. Fame helps, sure, but Drake has a pretty unique hold on the English language, which is why we’re still saying, “man, that went zero to 100” to this day. Drake’s hooks are good enough to make it into the dictionary. That’s pretty strong.
Even on his weaker albums, Drake manages to create at least one perfect song, usually located smack dab in the middle of an overlong sprawl. “Controlla” fits that bill for "VIEWS," a wounded elegy for some old, damaged, still-relevant heartbreak. Yeah, you’re talking about roughly 50 percent of the Drake discography with that description, but it’s especially applicable here. The best part is in the chorus where Drake simply says “Jodeci 'Cry For You,’" referencing the classic 1993 R&B tearjerker in the most matter-of-fact language possible. Drake’s the kinda guy who will make you a mixtape during a song, and that’s what makes him magical.
5. “Hold On, We’re Going Home”
This song is proof that Drake is occasionally at his best when he’s singing, not rapping. The thoroughbred hit from 2013’s Nothing Was The Same," it’ll float lighter than air in every CVS across the country for generations to come. Rightfully so: it's a beautiful, emotional, soothing song.
There’s a faint melancholy reverberating in the corners, too, inviting us to sing it out and bury ourselves inside its warmth. That’s why everyone from Blood Orange to the Arctic Monkeys recorded covers. It’s just you and Drake and that lonely melody, thinking about someone, something, some feeling, never quite settling down and being totally okay with that.
“Energy” comes with maybe the greatest single-line Drake koan ever written. “Ex-girl she the female version of me.” It’s been over a year, and still nobody really knows what that means. Is it a taunt? A joke? A flex? We’re not sure, but it’s all part of what makes us love him. “Energy,” like many Drake songs, seems to exist only appeal to directly to young middle-class egos on crowded dancefloors across America. Yeah, it’s frustrating that Drake is a totem for a certain type of over-comfortable masculinity, but it’s far too much fun to deny. “Energy” is the greatest song from "If You’re Reading This,” and it’s not particularly close.
3. “Worst Behavior”
I wish we had video evidence of what it was like in the studio when Drake first laid down “Worst Behavior.” Was he laughing? Is he serious? The video is pretty self-aware. There’s no way he means it right? Maybe he just realized it was really fun to shout “WORST.”
There’s still so much mystery around “Worst Behavior.” It seems to exist outside of time and space. Nobody knows what it’s about, why they never loved us, what constitutes “worst behavior" and so on.
What we do know is that despite peaking at a paltry 89 on the Billboard 100, it tears the house down every time it gets played. Two years later, it’s still thrilling. “YOU OWE ME!” Yeah, I don't know why, but you’re probably right.
2. “Marvin's Room”
Drake’s biggest strength is that he isn’t afraid of beautiful music. There are plenty of people capable of making something like “Marvins Room" — Kanye certainly comes to mind — but when he made his all-encompassing breakup album, "808s & Heartbreak," he hid behind autotune and stoic synths.
Drake never needed much more than his voice to be vulnerable. His producer, 40, is at his Pure Moods best, bringing a smoldering, manoleum instrumental that seems to take up the room. Drake pines harder than he's ever pined, wrapping in actual clipped-out sections of a messy voicemail left by the former betrothed.
This is Drake at his Drakiest, which stopped being an insult a long time ago. “Marvins Room” was too spartan to ever crack the top 20, but there’s no doubt it’s the boldest thing the Canadian has ever recorded. Sad, sweet, a little bit funny, a leap of faith that launched Drake straight to the top.
1. "Hotline Bling"
Like a lot of Drake songs, “Hotline Bling” came out of nowhere. One day the world woke up, checked the internet and life was never the same.
“Hotline Bling” is the definitive Drake song. It’s the sort of incandescent hit that’s destined to transcend its author. A perfect, neon-pink slab of wistful nostalgia, tinged with lingering regrets and warm memories. This is the story of all of us. Every single human being loves, loses touch and wonders. People that used to be crucial in our lives, discovering what life is like after us. It’s an incredibly Drake thing to write about, but nobody has ever articulated that precise bittersweet feeling better.