Did Drake release an “official” album in 2015? Nope. That didn’t stop the Toronto rapper from absolutely dominating the year with must-hear music, heated rivalries, eye-popping videos and rumored romances. Before he inevitably rules 2016, check out the 10 times Aubrey Drake Graham defined this year.
Big Sean’s single “Blessings,” featuring Kanye West and Drake, highlighted his Dark Sky Paradise album and shot waaaaaay up the Hot 100 to score a Top 40 peak. Drake performed his hook on the track at festivals throughout the summer, and after a ton of standout guest verses in 2014, he ushered in the new year the right way.
On Feb. 13, Drake gave fans an unexpected Valentine’s present with his fourth studio album, deemed a “mixtape” but still a commercial release. It was also a fast-selling commercial release: for months, If You’re Reading This boasted the biggest U.S. sales debut of the year, with nearly a half-million sold in its first frame. Oh, and the brooding collection of songs was one of the best-reviewed albums of the year, with offbeat radio hits like “Energy” and “Know Yourself” to boot.
Drake’s Coachella headlining set was admittedly a bit underwhelming, but at least it included the did-you-hear-that moment of Madonna arriving as a special guest, performing for a few minutes, and eventually sucking face with Drizzy. It was a stunt, sure, but a stunt that got our attention, and demonstrated Drake’s influence—after all, not everyone can conjure the Queen of Pop for a festival set.
For a few weeks, the hip hop world was captivated by Meek Mill’s verbal jabs at Drake, and Drizzy’s sonic retaliations. After Mill called out Drake on Twitter for not writing his own rhymes, Drake decided to let his music do the talking, dropping one solid diss track (“Charged Up”) and then a scorching one (“Back To Back”). By the time Mill responded with “Wanna Know,” the fight was already over. Drake celebrated by clowning his former cohort during a triumphant OVO Fest performance in Toronto.
Although they’ve insisted that they were just friends, Drake and tennis superstar Serena Williams became one of the most gabbed-about celebrity pairings when the couple was caught kissing in July. Drake then showed up at the U.S. Open to support Williams… but the semifinals loss caused the sports world to blame Drizzy for the major upset. Even with a #blamedrake hashtag, he was the center of attention as a spectator.
After teasing a full-length collaboration, Drake and Future unleashed What A Time To Be Alive, an 11-song project that quickly became both rapper’s second No. 1 of the year (Future’s Dirty Sprite 2 claimed the top spot in July). Later, “Jumpman” became a surprise radio hit, solidifying Drake and Future (and producer Metro Boomin’, too) as the modern-day kings of hip hop ubiquity.
Although “Hotline Bling” was originally released as a remix of sorts to D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha,” the re-working has taken on a life of its own, and in October the track reached the No. 2 spot on the Hot 100 chart, tying Drake’s previous solo best of “Best I Ever Had.” With a music video designed to be meme’d into oblivion, “Hotline Bling” morphed into Drake’s new signature single, and remains a Top 10 jam two months later.
Adding insult to injury for Meek Mill? “Back To Back,” which peaked at No. 21 on the Hot 100 chart, just got nominated for the best rap performance GRAMMY award. When will Drake’s reign of terror cease? Perhaps in February, if he wins the trophy and thanks Meek for making it happen. (Note: the “Back To Back” nod comes one year after “0 To 100,” essentially a Soundcloud toss-off, earned a GRAMMY nod, too.)
Drake’s next official album has been teased more or less throughout 2015, even as projects like If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and What A Time To Be Alive. Although Drizzy has been prolific, he has said that his next full-length is dropping imminently and will be more cohesive than this year’s pair of releases. How do you keep a huge fan base engaged? By dropping crowd-pleasing projects while promising something even more stellar on the way.