Bigger than the Beatles and still a 'mama's boy': Deconstructing Drake's success

Drake's new album Scorpion is the first album ever to reach a billion streams in one week. No wonder he boasts about his chart-topping status.

The Toronto rapper smashes records with an enigmatic image and streaming-friendly songs

Drake's latest album, Scorpion, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart this week. It's his seventh project to hit No. 1. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

"House on both coasts, but I live on the charts."

On Survival, the opening track of his new album Scorpion, Drake boasts about his chart-topping status. But his numbers speak for themselves.

Released on June 29, Scorpion soon smashed a litany of records. Among them: it became the first album ever to reach a billion streams in one week; and all 25 tracks from Scorpion appeared on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, with a stunning seven songs in the Top 10.

Which means Toronto's Drizzy has now dethroned Liverpool's Fab Four. The Beatles previously held the record for most simultaneous singles in the Top 10 when five of their songs charted back in 1964.

So how did he do it? 

Drake the music-morphing chameleon

Rapper Odario Williams, a CBC Radio host who performs with the group Grand Analog, says the secret to Drake's success is how he's widened the definition of what hip-hop can be.

From crooner to rapper, the many sides of Drake are on full display with Scorpion ,which begins with hip-hop-flavoured tracks and then segues into the so-called 6 God's smoother side.

CBC's Eli Glasner chats with Grand Analog's Odario Williams about what sets Drake apart 7:02

That ability to musically morph is another aspect of Drake's appeal, according to Williams.

"There's something about him that you can't necessarily pin down." 

What also sets Drake apart is how little he says in public. 

They always ask, 'Why let the story run if it's false?' You know a wise man once said  nothin ' at all.- Emotionless by Drake

That sense of restraint was put to the test during the recent war of words between Drake and rapper Pusha T. The beef made headlines after Pusha T released a song suggesting Drake was hiding a son. Drake kept quiet. 

Williams thinks it was all part of the plan.

"I definitely think this album was set up to be the answer to all your questions. 'What? He's got a son?' Well, if you wanna know, you gotta listen to the album. It was brilliant."

Drake the 'mama's boy'

Kiss my mom on the forehead, then kiss your ass goodbye. As luck would have it, I've settled into my role as the good guy. - 8 Out of Ten by Drake

When Drake first burst onto the scene with 2009's So Far Gone, not everyone was ready to take the kid best known as Jimmy from the TV series Degrassi seriously.

Toronto radio host Jemeni was there when the actor was trying to break into music. She would see him at auditions and in the radio station. Even then, she says, Drake stood out. 

"He was very earnest, very sweet. He knew he was going to make it."

Drake gives his mother Sandi Graham a kiss on the red carpet at the 2011 Juno Awards in Toronto. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Jemeni gives Drake's mom the credit for his sweet side: Sandi Graham raised her boy, Aubrey Drake Graham, alone after she and his father split up when he was five.   

"She's always been a part of his life, as far as I've known him," Jemeni said. "There's a difference about someone who's an admitted mama's boy — and that's not in a bad way. [When you're raised by] a single mom who's been through things and also an educator, you're raising a different type of kid."

Radio host Jemeni of Toronto's G98.7 credits Drake's mother with encouraging his 'sweet' side. (CBC)

For evidence of the kind of vulnerability Drake inspires, look no further than the #InMyFeelings viral dance trend created by Instagram comic Shiggy.

From prison inmates to comedian Kevin Hart, Drake's plaintive slow jam inspired fans to share videos as they bounced along.

The way Drake embraces his sensitive side is said to be what appeals to female fans. But Jemeni says it's bigger than that.

"There are so many men with this idea of the frail male ego, that they're not allowed to be vulnerable. If you've seen the Shiggy challenge — there are guys in prison singing this song at the top of their lungs. I think it's the vulnerability, and there's not a lot of other artists in hip-hop who really express that."

Drake the savvy streaming star

If you need me, you can't call me. I stay busy making money.- Elevate by Drake

Drizzy has never been shy about his ambitions, but his success has been helped along by the way we listen to music today.

With the decline of physical music sales, streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify are now the industry's biggest revenue source.

And when it comes to streaming, Drake is the flag-bearer, says David Bakula, senior vice-president of analytics at Nielsen Music. 

"He's setting the pace for the hip-hop world," Bakula said. "This tremendous chart number? Seventy-five per cent of that volume came from streams."

He says serving up a double album was a smart move.

"When you go 25 songs deep, that's 25 songs for people to discover, to come in and unwrap these goodies. He's absolutely savvy."

About the Author

Eli Glasner

Entertainment reporter and film critic

Eli Glasner is a national entertainment reporter and film critic for CBC News. Each Friday he reviews films on CBC News Network as well as appearing on CBC radio programs coast to coast. Covering culture has taken him from the northern tip of Moosonee, Ont. to the Oscars red carpet.


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