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Can Hip-Hop Afford a Drake Break?

today10/06/2023

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On Friday (Oct. 6), Drake’s long-awaited eighth solo studio album, For All The Dogs, dropped after seemingly endless delays — including a last-second pushback to 6:00 a.m. to receive buzzer-beater features from J. Cole and SZA. Along with gift-wrapping his 23-track set, Drake revealed to fans on his SiriusXM series Table For One that after this album, he would take a hiatus from recording music, citing health reasons. 

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After a Herculean run, which includes a staggering 14 albums since his 2009 entrance with So Far Gone, Drake not only borrowed Hov’s blueprint for holding the rap game hostage every summer, but he personified it. The Golden Age of Aubrey consisted of scintillating features, club-ready bangers, and trigger-happy volleys aimed at whoever had the unmitigated gall to test the 6 God. Now, a much-deserved break is necessary for one of the genre’s most prolific artists. Not only can Drake focus on his physical and mental state after a grueling nationwide tour, but he can come back with fresher experiences to brighten up his catalog after his back-breaking efforts over the last decade and a half. 

Now, if Drake does take a breather, where does this leave hip-hop? Will anyone dare contest him for the throne? With Drizzy out of commission, more artists can step up to the plate and challenge for the enviable position. The culture should rely on something other than a Drake album to save the year instead of treating his annual release like hip-hop’s Super Bowl. And though this year has been the least impressive showing from the genre commercially in quite some time, Travis Scott, Gunna, and Rod Wave still shined with their new releases. 

After a lengthy layoff amid anticipation and turmoil from his Astroworld Festival debacle, Scott executed a riveting album that again tinkered with listeners’ imaginations. His futuristic palette was on full display with Utopia reinforcing the hope that La Flame can continue to thrive as an unassailable force in music. Not only did the star-laden album debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last August with close to 500,000 units, but Utopia remained at the summit for another three more. 

The story of Gunna in 2023 might be one for the books. Upon being released from jail last December after taking an Alford Plea in the YSL case, questions arose about how his music career would continue. Fans believed that the allegations that he had snitched on YSL head Young Thug would beset the rapper’s legacy, as his peers mostly steered clear of showing him any public support. In June, he quashed doubts about his continued star power as he doled out his fourth studio album, A Gift and a Curse. Riding solo, Gunna swatted detractors on tracks like “Back at It” while pushing out arguably the song of the summer with “Fukumean.” After 15 weeks on the Hot 100, the RIAA platinum-certified hit remains inside the chart’s top 10, sitting at No. 9 this week. His biggest win came last month when he sold out New York’s Barclay Center Arena and delivered a rousing and well-received 90-minute set, signaling his prowess as a top-billing performer and mainstay in the genre. 

And we can’t forget Rod Wave, who has become hip-hop’s silent assassin over the last few years. Adept at soul-stirring vibes, Wave can puncture the hearts of even the darkest souls, which is why he is quickly growing into one of hip-hop’s most noteworthy artists. And though his emotional savvy and heart-on-sleeve demeanor borrows from the Book of Drake, Rod’s soulful voice is one of one, proving why hip-hop will have legs for years to come. His last three releases including this September’s Nostalgia, have all debuted at No. 1 with over 100,000 units, and the second week of Nostalgia boxed out Olivia Rodrigo from the top spot last week.  

Those three artists, along with the usual suspects such as 21 Savage, Lil Baby, Lil Durk, Uzi Vert, and more, have the stamina and excitement to continue pushing the genre forward even in the top dog’s absence. Burgeoning rookies like Teezo Touchdown and Yeat — featured on Drake’s FALD album — are only getting started and have room to grow into perennial hitmakers. Meanwhile, the ladies – from veterans like Nicki Minaj, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion to still-rising stars like Latto, Ice Spice and Sexxy Red — are continuing to take over, fueling the parties with their salacious raps. 

So, will hip-hop be fine without Drake for the next year or two? Sure, as long as the artists can continue to grow commercially and  creatively, and do it collectively, since there’s room for everybody to make an impact going forward.

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