Drake’s Scary Hours 2 Is First-Class Luxury Autopilot
The pop-music world is an unpredictable place, but in the past few years, a pattern has begun to emerge on the pop charts. Early in the year, a relatively unknown newcomer will come along and score a massive out-of-nowhere viral smash. This song will top the Billboard Hot 100 for months before something finally comes along to unseat it. Until that song’s reign ends, the best our old-guard pop stars can hope for is a #2 single. Two years ago, the conquering insurgent song was Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” and it had the common decency to wait until spring before launching its 19-week takeover. Last year, though, we were barely halfway through January before Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” began its 11-week campaign of dominance, boxing out Justin Bieber’s whole album rollout in the process.
The pop stars must be nervous. These days, they’re being very careful about when they’ll put music out into the world. No establishment figure wants to get steamrolled by a kid who’s barely old enough to drive. For the past eight weeks, nobody has been able to do shit. In January, 17-year-old Disney star Olivia Rodrigo jumped straight to #1 with the heart-wrecked ballad “Drivers License,” her first proper single. Thanks to the dominance of “Drivers License,” two noisy big-star efforts, Ariana Grande’s “34 + 35” remix and Cardi B’s “Up,” have already stalled out at #2. But now that “Drivers License” has been at #1 for a couple of months, the stars smell blood in the water. The sharks are circling.
On Friday, Lil Baby dropped a new single. So did Chance The Rapper. So did Silk Sonic, the just-unveiled duo of Anderson .Paak and multiple-time pop-chart champion Bruno Mars. Justin Bieber started up yet another album rollout. And the big dog woke up. Drake hath returned. On Friday, with very little advance warning, the most dependably dominant pop star of the past five years released a three-song product called Scary Hours 2. Like so many Drake projects, it’s structured as a low-stakes affair — just some new vibes for a bored world. Like so many Drake projects, it’s poised to be a big deal anyway.
Drake can’t lose. You get used to it. I’ve gotten used to it. Drake’s gotten used to it, too. Last year, when Drake released the undercooked odds-and-ends collection Dark Lane Demo Tapes, I fumed about its rote and joyless clock-punching monotony: “Let’s be clear here: Dark Lane Demo Tapes sucks. It’s a triumph of branding and of absolutely nothing else.” It didn’t matter. Dark Lane Demo Tapes didn’t dominate the album charts all year, the way I was afraid it might, but it was another unqualified success in a career full of them. The album went to #1. So did the single “Toosie Slide.” Later in the year, Drake came out with the Lil Durk collab “Laugh Now Cry Later,” which initially seemed like a slight shrug of a song, an excuse for a cute and cameo-packed music video. But “Laugh Now Cry Later” lingered, and I’m never sorry when I encounter it. Once again, Drake has worn me down.
If you were looking for signs of the inevitable end of Drake’s empire, you could probably convince yourself that you’re seeing them right now. Back in October, Drake dropped an elaborate blockbuster trailer to announce that Certified Lover Boy, his next full-on album-album, would come out in January. It did not. Before Scary Hours 2, the last thing that anyone heard from Drake was “Talk To Me,” a collaboration with the recently-freed LA street-rap hero Drakeo The Ruler. A Drake/Drakeo collab seems like a no-brainer — exactly the sort of underground embrace that’s helped keep Drake relevant for so long. But “Talk To Me” is a sleepy nothing of a record, and it sounds like Drake just tossed an underwhelming album-cut throwaway to someone who might be able to do something with it. From a certain angle, Drake looks a little bit like he’s languishing. But we’ve been here before.
On Scary Hours 2, Drake makes obnoxious rich-guy claims: He’s got one of the world’s only two Off-White Patek Philippe Nautilus watches, he’s got jet skis docked at the Florida Keys, the crown princes of Dubai are like family to him. If you’re someone who likes to get theatrically frustrated with the entire Drake project — and I definitely am sometimes — then lines like that will inevitably trigger your instant-exasperation response. Drake knows this. He’s counting on it. Again and again, he plays around with the annoyance that he provokes in so many. “What’s Next,” the leadoff track from Scary Hours 2, is basically just Drake needling all the people praying and praying on his downfall: “Summer, all I did was rest, OK?/ And New Year’s, all I did was stretch, OK?/ And Valentine’s Day, I had sex, OK?/ We’ll see what’s ’bout to happen next, OK? OK? OK?”
“What’s Next” is solo Drake on triumphant autopilot. In that way, it’s a lot like “God’s Plan,” the monster hit that led off the first Scary Hours in 2018. The “What’s Next” beat is easy enough to ignore. Drake eases into a flow that’s both conversational and purposeful. He’s doing his standard poor-little-rich-guy schtick: “Soon as you give ’em your soul, you blow up and they say you’re sеlling your soul, OK?/ They want my life exposеd/ They wanna know about the highs and lows.” Drake makes self-fulfilling claims about his own overlord status, and he clowns his peers’ reliance on merch-centric chart manipulation: “I’m on the Hot One Hundo, numero uno/ This one ain’t come with a bundle… There’s no need to dress up the numbers.”
Drake states those grandiose claims as boring facts, which is essentially what they are. Drake probably will land another #1 single, if not now then very soon, and he probably won’t have to cook the books to get it. The song itself is pure air. It’s slick and glossy and frictionless, and I can hear it five times in a row without even consciously processing the fact that I’m hearing music at all. This has been the case with plenty of Drake hits in the past. At times, it’s been the case with songs that I’ve come to love. Is that a problem? Is it Drake’s job to make sure I get excited? Probably not! He’s doing fine! Right now, Drake is music’s version of Apple, or the NFL, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Complaining about him feels pointless even when it’s justified. Whether or not you get excited about his music, Drake simply is.
I do kind of get excited at “Wants And Needs,” the second track on Scary Hours 2, though I don’t know how much credit Drake should get for that. Three years ago, in a classic Drake move, Drake jumped on “Yes Indeed,” a song from the fast-rising Atlanta rapper Lil Baby. The song became a hit, and it helped elevate Baby’s star while once again juicing Drake’s reputation for attaching himself to new figures just as those figures reach their tipping points. (Great song.) A few months later, Drake popped up again on the Baby/Gunna collab “Never Recover.” (Great song.) Since then, Lil Baby has become arguably the world’s hottest rap star, possibly even challenging Drake’s supremacy. But thanks to Drake’s early embrace and “Yes Indeed,” the dynamic between Drake and Baby is always going to be a big-brother/little-brother thing.
“Wants And Needs” is the first time that Drake and Baby have rapped together as equals, and Baby just goes nuts on the song — way more than he does on his own new single “Real As It Gets.” But “Wants And Needs” never feels competitive. Lil Baby knows what it means to be on a Drake song, and he’s fired up to show what he can do, even though everybody already knows what he can do. Compared to Baby, Drake sounds staid, but he also sounds effortless. On the song, Drake puts forward the idea that Views is “a classic,” a real citation-needed flex. He tosses out light, playful jabs at Rihanna and Kanye West. His hook is an easy little earworm. “Wants And Needs” honestly feels like one of those songs where Drake brings in a guest rapper because he doesn’t feel like coming up with another verse, but Baby’s involvement turns it into an event. I’m guessing “Wants And Needs” will emerge as the big hit from Scary Hours 2, the one that gets the video and sets the table for the next dominance move. That’ll be fine. It’s a pretty good song.
“Lemon Pepper Freestyle” might be the moment where Scary Hours 2 skates past pretty good and gets into the territory of really good. Drake and Rick Ross have been showing up on songs together for well over a decade at this point, and they’ve got a nice on-record chemistry even if they’re not actually getting together to record these things. A team of four producers loops up “Pressure,” a 2009 song from the Danish retro-R&B duo Quadron, and the magisterial 45-year-old Ross exudes gruff authority all over that familiar helium-soul bed, sneering that he’s practicing “social distance from these snitch n***as.” Drake, always comfortable rapping with Ross, then goes off on a verse that lasts about 500 bars and takes up most of the track’s six-minute running time. He talks a whole lot of shit.
“Lemon Pepper Freestyle” is the sort of song that should end a Drake album. He manages to swagger all over the track while pretending to get emotional and vulnerable. The fake humility is a beautiful thing. The song is the moment where Drake fully embraces his middle-aged dad-rap future: “Yeah, teacher-parent meetings, wives get googly-eyed/ Regardless of what they husbands do to provide/ Askin’ if I know Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj.” A pregnant pause, and then, shruggingly matter-of-fact: “Of course.” Drake also sounds great kicking sand in the faces of his would-be rivals: “You n***as’ faces lookin’ like you drink sour milk/ And your albums like some motherfucking fire drills/ It’s like this shit feels real, but it’s never real.” And I love it when Drake zooms out, depicting the vast panorama of his life by imagining its ending: “Air Canada Centre, n***a, when I die/ Y’all gon’ have to fly in and do your fake cry.” Even that doesn’t sound like an overstatement. Drake has reached the point where he can’t exaggerate. All possible flexes sound plausible.
Rap careers don’t last forever. Undefeated titans fade away quietly, rapping on Jay Electronica albums and selling their streaming services to tech billionaires. That’s probably how Drake will end up. He won’t humiliate himself with the thrashing desperation that someone like 50 Cent showed when his own imperial phase was ending. But Drake is 34 years old, and he knows that people are waiting for him to crash and burn. On “What’s Next,” Drake says, “Haven’t fallen off yet,” and the “yet” there does a lot of work. But another one of his tossed-off lines lands even heavier: “People need some content.” Drake is not wrong. We’re all bored. We’re out here reading WandaVision explainers. I just wrote a whole column based on three medium-to-good Drake songs. It would be nice, though, if the world’s biggest rapper didn’t think of his music as “content.” It would be nice if he regarded it as something more.
1. G Herbo – “Really Like That”
Herbo is not playing with you clowns. This song is a masterful snarl, a virtuosic display of coiled aggression. Once in my life, I would love to deliver the phrase “hell yeah” with the gloating confidence that Herbo brings to one offhand line on this song.
2. Sada Baby – “Half Man Half Ape”
Sada Baby releases so much music that even his outright bangers can start to sound routine. Every once in a while, though, he splashes messy emotion all over a track, and it sticks to your soul. In terms of subject matter, “Half Man Half Ape” is right in Sada Baby’s pocket. But the delivery approaches Wilson Pickett levels of passionate rasp, and that’s where the beauty is.
3. Valee – “HIMMYimmy”
Why does this sound like doo-wop? Why is this pretty? I will never understand how Valee’s music works, but it works.
4. ShooterGang Fleecy – “Big Flex” (Feat. ShooterGang Kony)
A song that features the line “I just pissed on your bitch” on its chorus should not be this catchy. The catchiness itself feels disrespectful.
5. Yaw Tog – “Sore (Remix)” (Feat. Stormzy & Kwesi Arthur)
Were you aware that there was a thriving drill scene in Ghana? I was not, at least until Stormzy came through to virtuosically, exuberantly stomp all over this one. I didn’t know, but now I know, and I’m glad I do. The world is a wondrous place.