Words by Alex Goodwin
Ten years ago on this date, February 13, 2009 I was a curious seventh-grader trying to find his place amongst the world.
I had varied interests as a child, but one interest that remained constant was my love of music. So much so, that every morning after a 10-minute ride to school on the bus I’d sit on the bleachers in the gym with my friends, and we’d jam the latest music we’d come across the previous night on file sharing sites (RIP Limewire and MP3Rocket) before heading off to first period.
For some reason that particular morning I wasn’t in the mood to be bothered, let alone listen to music. But my one of my best friends Josh Robinson insisted I take the headphones and listen to a few songs from a mixtape that had just come out hours before. I finally relented, and he passed me the headphones and pressed play on his MP3 player. Over a basic drum pattern and ominous background vocals, the hook said “I want the money/ money and the cars/ cars, and the clothes/ the hoes/ I suppose, I just want to be successful.
Then I heard a voice start rapping and declare the game needed change and he was the “motherf***ing cashier.” Two heartfelt verses and a Lil Wayne feature later, and I was hooked. I took the headphones off and asked Josh “Who is that?”
He replied, “Wheelchair Jimmy from Degrassi, but his rap name is Drake, he’s going to be the hottest rapper in the game. Just watch.”
I was stunned. “This can’t be wheelchair Jimmy, or Drake as he wants to be called now and there’s no way some dude from Canada is going to be the hottest rapper out,” I thought, but the first song Josh played me was so outstanding I knew I had to hear more.
As soon as I got home from basketball practice, I made a beeline to my parent’s desktop computer and downloaded what I later found out was called So Far Gone. Much to my enjoyment the former “Wheelchair Jimmy,” or “Drake” as he now wanted to be called didn’t have just one song. He had 17 great songs that would help narrate essential moments in the past decade of my life. On February 13 not only did my life change, hip hop and music as we knew it did as well.
At the time I fell in love with So Far Gone for its uniqueness musically in the hip hop landscape. Before moody, sparse production became the sonic paradigm, the soundbed 40 created for Drake to confide his deepest feelings and insecurities was unlike I had ever heard from before. I hadn’t heard someone rap with swaggering braggadocio reminiscent of Jay Z or Lil Wayne, but in the next breath display an amount of emotional vulnerability and dare I say lack of dignity comparable to Carl Thomas, Mario Winans, and other late 90s crooners. Musically it was refreshing to listen to an MC show some emotional vulnerability and ask questions most men wonder about but never let those thoughts manifest into words.
In 2009 as I couldn’t relate to Drake’s trials, but as a 23-year-old now I FEEL So Far Gone more than anything. From aimlessly wandering into adulthood unsure about who or what you are, but knowing without a shadow of a doubt you want success, whatever that means.
To riding slow through in my hometown of Houston in the wee hours of the morning listening to “November 18th” after more than a few drinks to enhance my mood , to just vibing out to the lyrical exercise that is “Uptown”; which features a soulful organ-driven production that sounds like something pulled straight from your grandmothers old southern baptist church. His musings on relationships resonate more than anything.
From wondering after ending the night in her bed on the first date, “does she do this all the time or is my game just that cold?” Trying to save someone you that you love from themselves to no avail, words like ” I can’t even find, the perfect brush so I can paint what’s going through my mind” connect on a level that I wish that they didn’t. For this generation, Drake has made the soundtrack to nearly every occasion. From sliding in a new girls DMs, a late night party with your crew, celebrating life successes, or in some cases for a few of my friends call their ex and tell her that her new man is a square, just like with Frank’s hot sauce “you can put that Sh*t on anything, Drake has made a song for just about every situation.
Personal attachments aside, objectively speaking So Far Gone also changed the musical landscape entirely. After the 6 God receiving Grammy nominations and widespread critical and commercial acclaim the “mixtape” as we knew it had changed forever.
Though rappers like Young Jeezy and T.I. built their buzz from original music on Trap or Die and In Da Streetz respectively, by and large mixtapes were a mechanism for artists to hold their fans over until the release of their next album by spitting bars over the hottest songs at the time (see Lil Wayne’s Dedication and Da Drought Series or any other Lil Wayne mixtape pre 2011).
MCs began releasing completely original music on mixtapes, outfitted with mixed and mastered audio and features from a who’s who in the industry. Without Drake’s So Far Gone classic mixtapes such as Rich Forever from Rick Ross, Acid Rap or Coloring Book from Chance the Rapper, T.R.U. Realigion from 2 Chainz, 56 Nights from Future and Friday Night Lights from J.Cole wouldn’t have had the commercial acceptance and audience they so richly deserved.
Even R&B was affected as Trey Songz, and others released mixtapes to gauge fan reception on new sounds, and one could make the argument that the In My Zone mixtape series along with the collaborative Fan of a Fan mixtape revived Chris Brown’s career in 2010.
So Far Gone also changed the accessibility of mixtapes as we knew it as well. Pre-So Far Gone mixtapes existed exclusively on websites Limewire, MP3Rocket, Spinrilla, Datpiff, hotnewhiphop or livemixtapes, and others that only the die-hards like myelf and my buddy Josh Robinson checked for in middle school and high school. Fast forward a decade, and you don’t have to go deep into the virus infested web of peer to peer file sharing websites you can hear mixtapes on spotify, TIDAL apple music or any other streaming service.
Say What’s Real
Musically, Drake found his creative niche with a hybridized form of rapping and singing. Though the style had been used previously beginning with Nate Dogg, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, R. Kelly, T-Pain, Z-Ro and others, Drake took the baton and has mainstreamed the style for better and for worse.
In 2009 Jay Z admonished rappers to “get back to rap, y’all T-Paining too much” but if you turn on the radio at this very moment, you would know that Hov’s advice wasn’t heeded, as the difference between rapping and singing are virtually indistinguishable. Because it’s resulted in singers trying to rap, and even worse rappers trying their hand at crooning. Without So Far Gone it’s fair to ask if there would be a Bryson Tiller,Tory Lanez, Ty Dolla Sign, 6Lack, or K. Camp.
Also, So Far Gone signaled the death of gangsta rap being commercially viable. Though gangsta rap was already on life support after Kanye West’s Graduation outsold 50 Cent’s Curtis in a head-to-head sales battle, So Far Gone effectively pulled the plug. Mr. Graham helped usher in a new crop of rappers who’s primary topics weren’t cooking crack, taking penitentiary chances, and having a Glock within arm’s reach at all times, or in the case of Young Jeezy they weren’t worried about being named “trapper of the year four times in a row.”
Instead, this new era of MCs wax poetic about toxic relationships, skipping their 8 am college class, and generally display an amount of self-awareness about themselves and their emotions not previously heard in mainstream hip hop. So in some ways, Aubrey Graham has helped humanize rap music again, as our favorite artists aren’t gun toting anti-heroes a la T.I. or DMX, but go through regular life experiences that most listeners can relate to.
Ten years later, I am happy to admit my boy Josh Robinson was correct. Drake was dope, engaging and So Far Gone was unlike anything I had heard before and propelled the former Wheelchair Jimmy into the mainstream. Despite public spats with Meek Mill and Chris Brown and questions on if he was hiding his kid from the world or hiding the world from his kid, Drake has become arguably this generations flagship artist, broken streaming records, and has fans everywhere from Birmingham, Alabama to Birmingham, England.
Whatever your opinion on Drake notwithstanding, like he foresaw on “Successful” the game has changed, and Aubrey Graham has undoubtedly been the cashier.
Alex is a 23-year-old from Houston, Texas pursuing a doctoral degree in political science at the University of North Texas. In his spare time, he hosts a sports radio show and blasts T.I. at insane levels at stoplights. Whenever he has to make a tough decision he asks himself “What Would Pimp C Do?” Check him out on twitter @alexgoodwintsm.