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Who Is Drake in 2016?

The rapper is celebrating his 30th birthday by announcing a vague new project and releasing four new songs. What do the new tracks tell us about him?

Sunday night, on the eve of his 30th name day, Drake released four new songs on a special episode of OVO Sound Radio. He also announced a new project — More Life, due out in December — that he teased on Instagram with an X-Pro-II-filtered photo of his dad in a bow tie and a velvet shawl, scribbling on a notepad while sitting in a basket-weave chair and smoking a cob pipe. These details are important because this photo is going to be the cover for the album. Except More Life isn’t an album, it’s a mixtape. Except it’s not a mixtape, it’s a “playlist” to “soundtrack your life.” Which, if we cut through the buzzwords that tested well, probably means that it’s some sort of OVO compilation.

Of course, I can’t say for sure what More Life is at this time, but I can say that a Drake project being titled More Life is fertile ground to be tilled for jokes. Like:

“More Life”? Is that what he chuckled to himself while listening to “Cha Cha” for the first time on YouTube?

“More Life”? Is that what he said under his breath with a half grin upon the realization that Ramriddlz’s laptop wasn’t password-protected?

“More Life”? Is that what he said as he flicked on the intrinsic field experiment test chamber at the OVO Sound compound and watched ILoveMakkonen disappear in a neon flash?

Those are bad jokes, and there are plenty more where they come from, but Drake knows all of them already. He probably knows what I’m wearing and what I had for breakfast, too. Because if I’ve learned anything in six years of occasional fandom since his 2010 debut album, Thank Me Later, it is that Drake knows everything. And this — all of [gestures at everything] this — is likely part of his overarching, dastardly master plan.

But where is Drake going with all of this? And what will Drake be in the future? Neither question is as answerable as the question of who he is right now. And that might be the most apt question to posit right now. A few of the songs he released Sunday night seem to suggest that he, himself, might not be so sure. So, who is Drake now?

Someone Who Can Make Hits

“Fake Love” is basically “Hotline Bling” with a lot more wailing.

“Fake Love” is so great that I only sort of wish that Drake would’ve let Swae Lee sing the hook.

“Fake Love” is full of surface-deep my haters are legion shit like “I came up, you stayed the same” — perfect for tweeting and deleting, scream-singing, and Instagram captioning.

“Fake Love” is the one.

Not Someone Who Pushes Boundaries

Views, Drake’s last full project, was a step backward in the same way that a draw emotionally registers as “dropped points,” and that’s partly to do with the releases that orbited around it. With Untitled, Unmastered, Kendrick Lamar changed everything as we knew it with table scraps from To Pimp a Butterfly, an album that changed everything as we knew it nearly a calendar year before. With Lemonade, Beyoncé also changed everything as we knew it, with an arresting audiovisual journey into just how much bullshit black women have to put up with on the daily. Kanye West had a fashion show at Madison Square Garden that doubled as the listening party for the first iteration of The Life of Pablo, and kept doing software-patch updates to the album after it came out. (“Puerto Rican Day Parade Wavin’” is better than “In School to Be a Real Estate Agent,” and the “finished” incarnation of “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” is worse musically than the low-quality stream rips we started with, but that’s neither here nor there.)

With the rest of music’s royalty taking risks, Drake gave us exactly what we expected of him, which was, unfortunately, less than what we wanted. Views is a protracted, overly serious (and at 81 minutes, overly long) exploration of the many mundanities that weigh on the well-to-do — which, honestly, who cares? There were injections of soca and dancehall that, to be fair, made the album slightly less boring and forever-taking than it otherwise would’ve been. But six months out, it’s still whatever.

Drake stock wasn’t falling, but it wasn’t exactly rising either, so he needed something new and fresh to stir the pot and make people care again. (Read: He needed to leach off the momentum of a new, bubbling rapper.) Yesterday, Chris Black, who wrote a book that everyone should read, suggested he do something with 21 Savage:

Hours (literally hours later), we had “Sneakin’,” a Drake song featuring 21 Savage.

Like “Grammys” and maybe “6 Man” before it, “Sneakin’” is “I’m definitely wearing a fur-hooded Stone Island jacket even though it’s currently only [Googles] 50 degrees in Toronto” music; with skittering drums and a chord progression pulled from The Twilight Zone. In other words, it’s good. I particularly enjoyed the part where Drake says he’ll “call [his] bros for assistance” because right after that 21 Savage talks about how he doesn’t need backup; he’ll just kill everyone by himself.

Not Someone Who Can Go Toe-to-Toe With Pusha T

“Two Birds, One Stone,” another one of the songs Drake released on Sunday, was particularly petty and vindictive, replete with all kinds of subliminals.

Depending on whom you ask, one of these subliminals could have been pointed in Rick Ross’s direction, but the consensus seems to be that it was meant for Pusha T. Which is funny because if this is a response to the entire verses lobbed at Drake on Push’s “Exodus 23:1,” it’s technically four years late. The lines in question:

But really it’s you with all the drug dealer stories
That’s gotta stop though
You made a couple chops and now you think you Chapo
If you ask me though you ain’t lining the trunk with kilos
You bagging weed watching Pacino with all your niggas
Like “this what we need to be on,” but you never went live
You middleman in this shit, boy you was never them guys
I can tell cause I look most of you dead in your eyes
And you’ll be trying to sell that story for the rest of your lives

If this is meant for Pusha T (and it’s possible that it isn’t, but if it is), this is a mistake. You don’t start rap beef with Pusha T, same as you don’t hit on 19, same as you don’t go under the elevator screen against Golden State, same as you don’t schedule North Dakota State as the opponent for your homecoming game. Well, you shouldn’t do these things, but people keep doing them anyway, for whatever reason.

Drake has a storied history of punching down when it comes to rap beef. He tends to only pick fights he stands close to a 100 percent chance of winning. This happened with Common, and most recently Meek Mill. I can’t speak to which of Drake and Meek Mill is (was? Do we refer to Meek in the past tense now?) the Better Rapper, but Drake was the unanimous winner because he is, by a wide fucking margin, more famous than Meek, and that’s all that really matters once you’ve gleamed the rap cube to become a bona fide pop star. Which is exactly what Drake has been for years.

Pusha T, while not as famous, is, by a wide fucking margin, the better rapper. This is technically arguable, but really and truly, it’s not. Pusha T is a rapper. More to the point, Pusha is a rapper’s rapper. Probably your favorite’s favorite. One of the nicest. Drake is nice, and very charming, but maybe probably almost definitely not in Push’s weight class rappingwise.

But that’s what makes this all so exciting. Drake, for once, is playing a game he could actually lose. And not just splashing around in the kiddie pool about whether or not a cushy spot on a global tour with your girlfriend is a bad thing.

Not Someone Who Should Be Making Fun of Kid Cudi

While the identity of one of the two birds on “Two Birds, One Stone” is open to debate, the other was definitely Kid Cudi. As you may recall, Cudi’s debut album was titled Man on the Moon: The End of Day, and, well, look:

You were the man on the moon,
Now you just go through your phases,
Life of the angry and famous

Cudi, who called Drake out in a recent tweetstorm, checked himself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges earlier this month. Like any Drake barb, there’s wiggle room to squirm out of any concrete thing we might peg it to, but I feel reasonably comfortable in saying: Drake called Kid Cudi’s depression a phase. That was a thing that he did.

Now, I’m not saying that low blows aren’t well within the rules of the game. Tupac somehow knew that Prodigy had sickle cell anemia and poked fun at him for it. Gucci Mane once told Young Jeezy to dig up his dead friend’s body. But neither of them were standing in glass houses when they threw their stones. Tupac, by all accounts, was in good health. Gucci was alive, and Pookie Loc was not. So it’s a little off that a man whose entire catalog can be accurately described as “a series of dramatic sighs” is ribbing another man for finding his own way of coping.