Whether it’s giving away his entire video budget in the name of philanthropy, platforming powerful women, or recreating his bar mitzvah, Drizzy has always been about career-defining visuals
When you look at Drake’s impact on the artistry of his peers over the years, it’s clear that he sets more trends than he follows. From popularising dad dancing to making his followers adopt new slang (“yolo”!), Drake has consistently shaped pop culture as we know it today. Over the course of his decorated career, the multifaceted Canadian rap star has certainly ascended from ‘The Boy’ we got to know as Wheelchair Jimmy on hit teen drama Degrassi to the Certified Lover Boy who has mastered the art of creating larger-than-life moments, both inside and outside the studio.
Just like in his music, we’ve witnessed a maturation in the way Drake captures the attention of his fans through his visuals. Whether he’s recreating theatrical magic via cheeky skits, or tapping into his cinematic bag, Drake has always been instrumental in bringing his viral visions to life.
As well as being conversation-starters, Drake’s visuals set the tone for his peers in the long run. With an entire career built around being the moment, Drake’s forward-thinking approach to entertainment and commitment to out-of-the-box video treatments ensures he doesn’t just understand the assignment, but passes with flying colours. Music videos have become an underrated art form, but artists like Drake have evolved with the times and become better and better at making them just as – if not bigger than – their actual song. Love him or hate him, Drake’s videos will always be a reflection that he stays at the top of his game.
Here are ten times that his visuals helped him own the moment as the artist of the decade.
The Take Care era is truly when we witnessed Drake come into his own star power with a lot more confidence than his earlier days. As the first single from his sophomore album, “Headlines” holds a special place in his career because it marks the point where Drake began to translate his compelling lyricism into equally-captivating and flashy visuals: from the screen flash effects hitting with the snares to the luxe settings. It’s also where we witnessed the depth of his pride in his Toronto roots, constantly putting his hometown on full display. Though he’s clearly the standout of the video, the Toronto scenery plays a strong supporting role. With “Headlines”, Drake was no longer just trying to act like an icon on the rise, he was becoming one – all on his own merit.
“HYFR (HELL YA FUCKING RIGHT)”
Drake is indeed the master of introspection. When it comes to soul-searching, he’s been able to share some of his more personal moments in life, but of course, with his signature braggadocious charm. The “HYFR” visual recreated Drake’s re-bar mitzvah, only with a much bigger budget, adult party atmosphere, and special appearances from some of his favorite music contemporaries – including Lil Wayne, Birdman, Trey Songz, and DJ Khaled.
The time-jump video was an unmistakable statement about his Black Jewish identity, mainly for the naysayers that used that trait against him as an up-and-coming rapper. The modern, celebratory, and ballerific video represents more than a reenactment of one of Drake’s most treasured childhood experiences. It also signified the collision of his religion with the perks of his newfound fame at a time where he was feeling his most comfortable in his career. He proudly claimed one of the most unconventional parts of his life and turned it on its head to show why he always dares to be different.
“STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM”
Drake is the last person we thought would be able to pull off the modern-day “rags to riches” story, thanks to his famously comfortable upbringing. Yet somehow, he made it work and transformed it into a go-to phrase for today’s generation all thanks to his visual-storytelling skills. Though it’s hard to believe the Grammy-winning rapper came from the struggle, “Started From The Bottom”’s ostentatious visual was an all-out production of heavy concepts that managed to give the rich and famous artist a chance to relate to the average person hustling for something greater.
From his all-white, blinged-out Bentley blizzard to getting promoted to night manager of his local pharmacy to toasting to his rap success in the tropics, Drake went to great lengths to create a visual that would be talked about long past a moment in time (and his efforts to produce impactful visuals could be seen again with the billboard roll-out of Certified Lover Boy). Not only did the video become a staple amongst the Nothing Was The Same era, it also became an unforgettable and iconic meme – one of many that his videos would produce.
Now well into his career, Drake is beginning to piece together visual concepts that quite literally match the vibes of his songs. For “Hotline Bling” – yet another track reminiscing about one of Drake’s old flames – it was only natural that he incorporated the idea of having vixen-like call girls at the start of the music video. However, that quickly faded to the background for the rest of the video that used the blank, colourful-stylised set as the perfect backdrop to give Drake’s dorky dance moves a chance to steal the spotlight and showcase his humour. This time around, his video was less about having an extravagant set and more about creating an instantly-memorable motif that could take on a life of its own. And it did that in more ways than one once the internet got a hold of it and turned it into prime meme-bait.
Like most celebrities who achieve peak success, Drake used his musical platform to turn his charitable actions into a stunt that could live on beyond his music. As the start of the video points out, “God’s Plan” had a budget of nearly $1 million ($996,631.90 to be exact) that Drake decided to give away down in Miami. Between giving out free groceries, offering a stack of cash to a single mum, and awarding a $50,000 University of Miami scholarship to a now-graduated alumnus’s college education, Drake’s philanthropic spirit earned him a new reputation after the video dropped. Though he still put on a show as he usually does, it’s hard to hate on a guy that uses his riches to do something positive for others. Morally, Drake won people over, and “God’s Plan” made the “6 God” look a lot more human.
“NICE FOR WHAT”
Drake putting women first might be his most genius move yet (though it arrived much later than it should’ve). When “Nice For What” dropped, it was as if time was at a standstill, because for the first time in his career, Drake released a music video that tastefully paid homage to women. Instead of treating them like sexual objects, he gathered some of the most influential, powerful, and talented women from the entertainment industry to take center stage in his musical ode to independent women everywhere. From high-profile celebs like Issa Rae, Tracee Ellis Ross, Tiffany Haddish, Misty Copeland, and Yara Shahidi, the Karena Evans-directed star-studded visual complemented the Lauryn Hill-sampled track (citing the 1998 “Ex-Factor” hit) well enough to paint the perfect picture celebrating womanhood. The balance of New Orleans bounce beat and beautiful women was a breath of fresh air from Drake, and a great headstart to his next cultural era.
“IN MY FEELINGS”
Drake has been known to favour some cities over others. So for his 2018 New Orleans-inspired hit (which samples Lil Wayne and the late bounce artist Magnolia Shorty) it made sense for him to take us down to Louisiana to give it the proper video treatment. The “In My Feelings” visual made the Southern city a true star within the plot of a parodied romantic comedy (starring Lala Anthony as “Kiki” and Phylicia Rashad) and a beautifully-shot destination video. From the vibrant rolling shots of the city’s hottest spots to flashes of dancers performing the song’s infectious viral challenge, the video proved that Drake was capable of appropriately honouring a city whose style and culture largely influenced his sound at the time.
Drake pulled the nostalgia card revisiting one of our most beloved classic teen soap operas. “I’m Upset” was the epic Degrassi reunion fans prayed for for years, and in true Drake fashion he had to be the mastermind behind the whole thing. Shot right at Degrassi’s old stomping grounds, the confetti-doused video featured appearances from our favorite OG characters like Spinner, Manny, Emma, Hazel, Paige, Marco, Mr. Simpson/Snake, and so many more. The video pulled out all the stops to take us back to those hallways and disaster-ending dances that never escaped the drama at that school. Though the song itself wasn’t a true standout on Scorpion, Drake and director Karena Evans dressed the video up enough to make it one for the books.
Quarantining with style is what gave life to Drake’s TikTok-motivated “Toosie Slide” video. The socially-distanced visual, shot inside his luxurious mansion, arrived at the perfect time just as the on-the-rise video app was taking over social media during the height of the pandemic. And instead of pretending to make a TikTok-disguised track, Drake played right into its hand with an obvious made-to-choreograph quick hit that creators wouldn’t be able to resist. He may not have created that particular moment organically, but his trending song was a notable nod to the world’s current state and it kept him relevant even when the music industry was limited to in-house pivots.
“WAY 2 SEXY”
For his latest visual, Drake successfully capitalised off the hype of his Certified Lover Boy album (and persona) with the most-fitting tongue-in-cheek video for his Right Said Fred-sampled track. Already dubbed the club-banging male bad bitch anthem, “Way 2 Sexy”’s partially-animated video (which features Future and Young Thug) plays on a little bit of everything we’d expect from its pop culture-heavy moments, influenced by icons like Popeye, Fabio, Rambo, Prince, and Michael Jackson. Between the 80s workout-style video, obvious pregnancy jokes fueled by the album’s cover, Backstreet Boys bit featuring Kawhi Leonard as an awkward backup dancer, and the cringe-worthy “Wet” by Drake fragrance ad, the video once again showcases the rap icon’s ability to get loose with his videos and still poke fun at his many toxic masculine archetypes.