The greatness of Aubrey Graham

Harmony Gerber/Getty Images

Harmony Gerber/Getty Images

Whether someone aspires to be a rapper or just falls into it, if they're relevant enough, people will ask if they're among the greatest of all-time. Fans of any genre do it. Guaranteed there were mad debates at Stagecoach about who's greater - Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks or Tim McGraw?

Debates about the best rock bands ever, the best guitarist, the EDM DJs, whatever... happen all the time. So it’s only natural that people ask the same question about arguably the most commercially-successful rapper of this decade - Drake.

Your answer can be determined on so many variables; age, location, when you were exposed to hip hop, what does the genre means to you, how you define a great rapper?  All that makes for fun debate because there really is no right answer. So when it comes to Aubrey Drake Graham, let’s focus on the raw facts of his career from this decade.

Before that, why is Drake the target? Well, he’s arguably the biggest name in hip hop right now. Any other rapper with his resume (and one probably came to mind as you read that) receives chatter about their all-time greatness, but you don’t hear that about Drake. It seems his global success doesn’t merit at a least a conversation among the greats.

Drake has four official studio albums - Thank Me Later, Take Care, Nothing Was The Same and Views - and all but Thank Me Later went 4x Platinum. A Grammy award is the most overrated award in terms of determining a music artist’s success, but he owns three of those as well.

Sometimes he doesn’t even need an album to be successful. He has enough singles he makes throwaway albums for fun (If You're Reading This... and More Life for ex.) His features are the most memorable part of the song like his immortalization of Kobe’s marital status on Stay Schemin. He’s spent a decade perfecting his sound and creating his own lane in music.

He’s the kind of rapper that would get laughed at and completely ignored 15-20 years ago. He’s not rapping about his life in the ‘hood or social issues; he raps about…..his feelings, which is taboo in hip hop (or at least, it was.)  Masculinity in hip hop used to be your calling card. Being a rapper meant that you were tough, “hard”, a man’s man and you never, ever talked about your emotional feelings; hell, you didn’t admit that those feelings even existed. Now, expressing that your feelings is more accepted in the genre; not universally but still. Drake isn’t the first rapper to go this route but as far as being widely successful with it, he is a pioneer in that regard. 

The sound of hip hop has evolved over time but a lot of fans have not.  A lot of hip hop fans are stuck one sound or in one era and not being able to accept how the sound of the world’s youngest genre can still change and not stick to what they like and how they perceive it. So due to that, the criteria for what constitutes a rapper being one of the best, either of all time or of their generation, stays stagnant.  There isn’t a heavy emphasis placed on lyricism anymore or how an album is constructed in today’s hip hop scene.  Singles and social media presence have taken their place and the rules have been rewritten.

Maybe it’s time we change the criteria for what makes a rapper an all-time great and start discussing if Aubrey Drake Graham fits anywhere in there. Is Drake one of the best rappers ever even if he may not have a clear-cut classic album and the lyricism that hip hop elitists love? Man, I have no idea. I’m just asking the questions here.