I personally have been a Drake fan since I was 18, way before I started my blog. This is back in the MySpace days when he released his first mixtape ‘Room For Improvement.’ Ten years later and Drake is arguably the biggest rapper in the game. I say arguably since in my opinion, Big Sean can give Drake a run for his money and Kendrick Lamar is king, but that’s another story. Moving on.
The ultimate question is how did this happen? Surely there have been plenty of rappers that have come and gone in the past ten years, how has Drake lasted at the top for so long?
One line on his ‘Views’ album answers this question. By his words “I made a career off reminiscing,” Drake credits his success to his story telling abilities. While Drake may think his success is due to these stories, I think otherwise.
First, to understand Drake’s rise to fame and how to get a feature from him you have to understand business. I’ll explain.
Business revolves around choosing an industry, finding a demand for a product or service, and providing that product or service better than the competition. Sounds pretty simple right? Wrong! The music industry is one of the most complex industries in the world. It’s so complex for indie artists I wrote a guide that can be downloaded here. As complex as it is, the first component to getting your Drake feature is a simple one, your music.
1. Make Great Music
As generic as it sounds, creating great music is the first determining factor in getting your feature. As the digital age continues to make it easier for artists to release music, more and more people are doing just that. Every day, hundreds of thousands of new releases are added to streaming services like Spotify, SoundCloud and more.
This makes it harder for artists to promote their material. Why? Because two weeks after the release, fans, friends, and family don’t even remember it due to the influx of other songs released by other artists.
But Drake did it! Yes he did and continues to do so by doing a few specific things that I’ll point out shortly.
Your music is art. Art that is accompanied by great production, great songwriting, and a great vocal performance, but something else is missing. What’s that word that starts with an M? No not money, I wish it were that but those days aren’t what they used to be. The word I’m talking about is marketing.
As a music producer, songwriter, and as an artist, your number one focus should be building your fan base. From your early stages to the peak of your career, building your fan base is the lifeline of your business. You build this fan base by first creating and releasing great content. Let’s talk about content for one second, bare with me.
Content isn’t just what you sell. Content is any and everything you give to your fans as a source of entertainment. Content can be music, videos, blogs, interviews, merchandise, live shows, and plenty more. Whatever it is, the purpose of it is to keep your fans engaged so that they don’t grow tired of you and stop giving you support. See where I’m going with this?
Marketing yourself and building your fan base puts you in a position of leverage. The more fans you have and the more content you release, the more people are liable to tell others about your music and share your content. In the business world, the top companies spend millions of dollars on marketing, knowing that word of mouth is the strongest form of marketing there is. These companies do this just to keep their products in your face and subconsciously in the back of your mind. So why does this fan base matter for a Drake feature?
The music industry revolves around numbers, specifically dollars and cents. Each listener is a potential customer for companies like record labels and publishers. As your fan base grows, so does your potential to receive financial support from these fans.
Once you begin to do receive financial support at a substantial level, other artists and companies will see this and think to themselves, “Hey I want some of that money.” They see that your fans are genuine supporters and acknowledge the fact that if they were in a position to reach your fans, they too can get new fans that will financially support them as well.
2. Stop Sounding Like Everyone Else
The only time you should make music that even remotely resembles the sound of someone else’s is when you’re targeting listeners that like that type of music. Even when doing this, your sound should still be your sound. The music industry is full of copycat artists that sound like thousands of other artists that sound like thousands of other artists. This has been the case since the beginning. Why the hell would you want to sound like someone else?
When I first heard about Future back in 2012, he had a song “Same Damn Time.” I wasn’t a huge fan of the song but it did do well, not well enough to inspire copycats. Fast-forward to today and Future is at the height of his career. Honestly, how could he not be after releasing ‘Dirty Sprite 2’ and the undeniable song “March Madness?”
With this success, Future has spawned an offspring of baby Futures, and no I’m not talking about his child with Ciara. I’m talking about every rapper that has come out since that sounds like Future. Almost every new rapper raps over a trap beat in a mumbled voice drowned in autotune, talking about drugs, guns and taking someone’s b****. Don’t even get me started on Desiigner and his broads in Atlanta.
The point I’m getting at is you have to be unique and bring something new to your listeners that they can respect you for and give support, the more relatable the better. As you establish your sound and continuously release content, you’ll begin to carve out your niche and eventually will become a person of influence. Once you become that person of influence, you’ll be on the radar of an artist like Drake. Producer Mike Will Made It is a prime example of doing such thing and he has multiple Drake features.
Not convinced just yet? Let’s take a look at Drake’s last few years.
As I mentioned before, I’ve been a Drake fan for a long time and I’ve paid close attention to the moves that he has made. Granted he his a very talented artist, I don’t credit his “reminiscing” as the key to his career, I credit his ability to take someone else’s influence and make it his own.
Now, some of you hardcore Drake fans may be a little upset with me about this but I honestly don’t care. Glad we’ve gotten that out the way. Let’s look at the timeline of the most popular records Drake has been featured on and how he climbed his way to the top.
2007 – Trey Songz releases his single Wonder Woman. In the video a young Drake makes a cameo. This was the first major look for Drake, solidifying his relationship with Trey Songz. The two would continue to working together, releasing songs like Successful and Replacement Girl.
2009 – Influenced by Trey, rapping Drake begins to sing on his records and releases Best I Ever Had as the single for So Far Gone and signs to Young Money. He and Lil Wayne team up and make a slew of great records but with a similar flow on many.
2010 – Drake uses the Supa Dupa flow on Forever featuring Kanye West, Eminem and Lil Wayne. From there the flow becomes popular for many years.
2014 – YG released his third single “Who Do You Love?” from his debut album ‘My Krazy Life.’ Drake, who is featured on the song, has a verse that is almost line for line identical to the first verse from Rappin’ 4-Tay’s single “Playaz Club.”
2014 – ILOVEMAKONNEN releases “Club Going Up On A Tuesday,” Drake signs ILOVEMAKONNEN and rereleases the song but with an added Drake verse.
2015 – D.R.A.M. releases his debut single “Cha Cha,” a hip-hop record with a Latin influence. Later that year Drake drops “Hotline Bling,” which sounds like the same beat to Cha Cha, and is back at the top of the charts. That can only mean one thing!
2015 – Drake capitalizes on Futures momentum and teams up with him to release their collaborative album ‘What A Time to Be Alive.’
2016 – Rihanna and Drake team up again for her single “Work,” a Caribbean pop record written by Drake's artist PartyNextDoor. Drake follows up with his on Caribbean record “One Dance” and lands his first No. 1 record.
As you can see, for nearly a decade Drake has remained relevant by being talented and pigging backing off the success of others. It’s no surprise that he used writers like Quentin Miller to collaborate with. His mentors, Lil Wayne and Jay-Z, both faced similar accusations of “stealing” flows in their career. Rather true or false, taking someone’s influence and using it as your own is common in business practices.
3. Gotta Have Tough Skin
Yes, it’s true if not obvious, that having tough skin is a must when you’re an aspiring songwriter, producer, or artist. I really need to come up with a word for those three types of musicians. I’ll use “Creative.” As a creative, you are constantly in a position of vulnerability. Every piece of music you create is subject to be criticized, exploited and copied by others. This is far from new information. Some of the world's biggest companies have been doing this for decades.
Ever heard of Apple Inc? You’re probably reading this article on an Apple device. What about FingerWorks? Didn’t think so. FingerWorks pioneered touch screen technology in 1998 and was acquired by Apple in 2005.
Here’s another one for you cell phone addicts that can’t go a day without social media. What once were two different worlds, Instagram and Snapchat, have now become one. Before, users would post a picture or video on Instagram and then hop over to their Snapchat to update their story. With Instagram’s latest update, users can now do the same exact thing without having to switch platforms. See how it works?
No original idea stays original forever. There will always be someone that comes along, finds out about a current idea, and evolves it into an idea of their own. This is why copyright laws and patents are so dense and million dollar lawsuit and settlements happen daily.
As a creative, this is all part of the game. Sure it sucks when it happens, it’s happened to me on levels you wouldn’t believe but what can you do? Sometimes you have to look at the cup half full and consider the fact that your work was so good that someone had to copy it. Or you can sue if you have enough money and be known in the industry as the person who sued their way in. To each his own.
To sum it all up, getting Drake to hop on your music is a challenge but so is life and so is the music industry. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it means you have to be smart about it. Consistently release great content, building your fan base, establishing yourself as a person of influence, and be original. Not only will this land you a Drake feature, or anyone else for that matter, it will put you in a position to build your business as a creative and sustain a successful career. Like the old saying goes, “Build it, and they will come.”
If you got this far in the article, I’m going to assume you enjoyed reading it. Chances are you know other creative artists that will also enjoy it. Be a good friend and share it with them. Who knows? They might be your missing link to a Drake feature. Thank me later.