Drake’s guest verses are still viewed as a rite of passage in hip-hop, but they can’t always deliver the lasting impact that other rappers hope for.
OVO Sound artist PartyNextDoor and Drake (hip-hopvibe.com)
In a recent interview with Beats 1, Chicago rapper Noname made a tongue-in-cheek request to hip-hop’s biggest star:
“Drake if you’re listening right now can I please get a feature? I am a struggling artist from Chicago I really need some money Drake. Please help me. Summer Walker is cool, but rock with me. I’ve been out here since day one, 2010, getting it.”
Aye, gotta shoot your shot, right??
Noname’s not alone though. For the better part of a decade, the Toronto rapper has been viewed as a walking economic stimulus package whose powerful guest verses have elevated the careers of French Montana, Future, YG, and others. Even the city of Toronto and the Toronto Raptors have credited the 32-year-old rapper with their economic progress. But for every success story, there are less successful beneficiaries like PartyNextDoor, Majid Jordan, and iLoveMakonnen. Those acts all received multiple features as the first artists signed to Drake’s OVO Sound record label, but the ‘stimulus’ did not bring them sustained success.
While Drake’s verses have given many rappers an extra boost, those artists banking on a guest verse from the 6 God to bail them out will likely be disappointed in the outcome.
Versace, Versace, Versace, Versace…
It’s easy to see how the Drake stimulus package became a thing. Hip-hop’s fundamental marketing tactic is to associate young artists with established names. Guest verses were seen as cross-promotional tactics to put young artists on. Record labels offer a similar benefit by marketing the legacy of their biggest stars. Today, Def Jam’s newly-signed artists still feel honored to be at the same label that signed Kanye West.
But there’s a big difference between a marketing tactic and a stimulus package. Tactics, like Drake’s guest verses, have a distinct shelf life. They are most effective when tied in with a broader marketing strategy and are backed by a strong product. Meanwhile, a stimulus package should provide a sustainable boost and foundation for an artist who would struggle without said support.
To highlight the difference, let’s head back to 2013 when your boy Drake delivered one of his best guest verses on the remix of Migos’ “Versace.” The Atlanta rap group is considered one of the earliest recipients of the coveted stimulus package. But you know who benefitted most from Drake’s Versace verse? Drake.
Most radio stations and DJs cut the song before Quavo’s verse even started. The Migos made the Billboard charts thanks to Drake, but they didn’t have the body of work to benefit from the immediate exposure. “Versace” was their debut mainstream hit. The song’s success led to follow-up tracks like “Hannah Montana” and “Fight Night,” but the Migos deserve the credit for making those songs work.
Last summer, Drake went on tour with the Migos and had one of the most bankable hip-hop tours ever. But that success did not translate to the Migos’ album sales. Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff’s recent solo projects all had subpar commercial success. Despite the ‘stimulus package,’ the trio’s biggest career boost still came from the shoutout that “Bad and Boujee” got from Donald Glover at the 2017 Golden Globes.
Drake’s co-sign has had a different impact on each artist
Future and Travis Scott are two of the biggest success stories from the Drake effect. Their collaborations were perfectly timed with each rapper’s rise to stardom. At Future’s peak, he and Drake released a joint mixtape and went on tour together. On Future’s DS2 album, Drake was the only guest appearance.
For Travis Scott, Astroworld was several years in the making. “Sicko Mode,” featuring Drake, accounted for 71% of Astroworld’s streams. Drake deserves credit for boosting the song’s popularity, which secured La Flame’s spot on the Super Bowl halftime show.
These collaborations helped Drake too since he’s tied to the mainstream success that both rappers received. It’s a stark difference to someone like French Montana, who’s been leeching off of Drake’s features for years now. The Moroccan rapper has gotten way more from Drake than Drake will ever get in return.
Here’s a 2 x 2 chart that shows how Drake’s collaborations have benefitted both Drake and other artists. There have been varying degrees of success:
Remember when Drake told us ‘we [OVO Sound] already got spring 2015 poppin’? The only OVO artist poppin’ that year was Drake!
A real stimulus package
Ironically, one of hip-hop’s most prominent stimulus packages was received by Drake’s foe—Pusha T. In 2009, Clipse released their third album, Til The Casket Drops, which did not sell well and was poorly reviewed. Soon after, Push and his brother No Malice pursued their own solo careers.
In 2010, Kanye started working on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He called up Pusha T to help make the album. Push flew out to Hawaii and intended to stay for just three days to record some tracks. But he stayed for an entire month. When he came back from the trip, he was signed to G.O.O.D. Music, got featured on two of the album’s songs, and was Ye’s sidekick on the album’s promo run. A few years later, Pusha T became the record label’s president.
Who comes back from Hawaii with gainful employment and on a trajectory for the company’s top leadership role? Now THAT is a stimulus package! It’s low key the type of job creation story that would have made the Obama administration proud.
Pusha T’s stimulus came full circle last summer when Drake famously invoiced the Virginia Beach rapper for ‘promotional assistance and career reviving’ after delivering a diss track. But beef, like a guest verse, is a marketing tactic—especially today. The winners and losers rarely have a sustained any impact. It’s a reality that Pusha T has acknowledged since getting the best of Drake.
How to best benefit from the Drake guest verse
Any artist collaborating with Drake should note that the “Mob Ties” rapper will always hop on the latest trend. It fuels his brand. And rising rappers will always be on trend more than anyone else. Drake has afforded himself the luxury of moving on to the next thing after these collaborations, but other artists can struggle with how best to follow-up on the sudden boost that comes from Drake’s presence.
This is the type of challenge that Dreamville Records shields its artists from. As I mentioned in last week’s Member Update, J. Cole’s label intentionally shields artists from the early pressures to becoming a breakout star. While the label’s strategy is strictly executed to a fault, it protects artists from worrying about how to follow up a successful cosign from a popular rapper.
It’s easy to imagine Cole and Dreamville’s president Ibrahim Hamad telling their young artists not to worry about collaborating with Drake until they can go platinum with no features.
Megan Thee Stallion recently announced that two male artists requested to jump on a remix for her hit song “Big Ole Freak.” The Houston rapper’s fanbase was very concerned that one of those rappers was Drake. Fans expressed their displeasure and want to block her from the feature-vulture himself. It might be partially due to the song’s content. “Big Ole Freak” is an anthem that men have no business being on. But it may reflect the pulse of an audience that’s grown tired of Drake’s schtick.
Megan might still benefit from a Drake co-sign at some point, but not now. She’s having her moment and fans prefer to see her establish a solid career game plan. By then, a guest verse from hip-hop’s biggest name could have the same impact it did on Travis Scott and Future.
When the verse comes, it won’t be a true ‘stimulus package,’ but it will be more impactful than a forced remix that would help Drake more than anyone else.