The Raptors Won. Where Does Drake Go From Here?
There’s Drake again. In your feed wearing a risque watch at the NBA Finals, belting Canada’s national anthem, clowning Klay Thompsonfor wearing Quiksilver board shorts and Luka Sabbat for not watching sports. Throughout this year’s playoffs, many of the Canadian rapper’s moves became a meme. Drake’s manager and frequent courtside companion, Adel “Future the Prince” Nur, received more airtime than most of the Toronto Raptors bench.
On Friday, the day after the Raptors won their first championship, Drake released two songs in celebration, “Omertà” and “Money in the Grave,” under the heading The Best in the World Pack. They’re his first new songs of 2019 as the lead artist, and his entry into the summer-music landscape, historically a fertile season for him. A few weeks removed from the semi-controversy over whether his Raptors fandom interfered with the game, Drake is back in a familiar position: a 32-year-old with a litany of hits behind him, and two more most likely on their way.
At some point this is the way Drake’s public problems began to play out. They started as wrinkles, even crises, until they were flattened by ubiquity and success. The 2018 “you are hiding a child” run-in with Pusha T threatened to undermine his standing in hip-hop’s upper tier. But in the year or so since the release of “The Story of Adidon,” that blow-up had been minimised into a punch line; the Milwaukee Bucks’ co-owner’s daughter Mallory Edens wore a Pusha T-shirt during that team’s semi-final series against the Raptors.
The number of eyeballs that switched over to the #InMyFeelings challenge in that intervening period no doubt helped. On “Omertà,” Drake describes himself as “the petty king, the overseer of many things.” “I wish that I was playing in a sport where we were getting rings,” he then raps. “I wouldn’t have space on either hand for anything.” It’s a strategy he’s used before – not so much a denial as a “so what”?
If it felt throughout the NBA playoffs that Drake had produced his own sort of narrative universe, it’s been that way for a decade now. Earlier this year Drake’s 2009 mixtape, So Far Gone, was released to streaming services in full for the first time. While he had released a handful of tracks and two other mixtapes before it, the project introduced Drake, then still largely known as a former child actor, as a rapper to the listening public. As its title suggests, So Far Gone’s driving aim was to take stock of the cost of fame and success and the obstacles en route to them. Such topics are still a central piece of the Drake repertoire. Beyond a shot at Benihana and expressions of fealty toward the luxury brands Brioni and Loro Piana on “Omertà,” there’s still the ambient conflict between Drake and his enemies – those who might get in the way of his triumph.
Essential to the Drake story as his foils and villains are, they haven’t derailed the getting-rings portion of his career. Of course there are other aims an artist can have: “I just want to be remembered as somebody who was himself,” he told The Fader in 2015, in one of his last major interviews before ascending to post-press celebrity heaven. “Not a product.” Even in our current era of Drake, when attending to the brand is a huge part of the brand, it feels safe to venture that his support of the Raptors, outdoor fan watch parties included, is heartfelt.
But the Raptors won too; what’s left to argue with? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Raptors in Game 6 was grounds for a couple of songs. Warriors in Game 7 probably would’ve been too.