In a year where free, streaming music finally being recognized by the Grammys has become one of the biggest stories in the industry, it’s only fitting that the news comes right around the anniversary of one of the most monumental free, streaming releases of all-time. Drake’s So Far Gone officially turned eight years old on February 13th, and had the rules been in place nearly a decade ago the mixtape-that’s-really-an-album would have undoubtedly been recognized in some form at the Grammys. In fact, the mixtape’s biggest single “Best I Ever Had,” was nominated for a Grammy in 2010 after Drake released some of the songs as a retail LP, and “almost got a Grammy off of that thang.”
While Drizzy did release two lesser-received mixtapes before So Far Gone, this was truly the project that jumpstarted the career of the current biggest rapper in the world, and judging by the streaming numbers last year, maybe the biggest musician period. It was the peak of mixtapes, and maybe the most accurate setup of an artist’s aesthetic in their debut that the genre has ever seen. Simply put, it was a game-changer, and the reverberations from So Far Gone‘s impact are still felt today.
So now, what better time to run through the songs, one-by-one and settle the debate for good by ranking them from worst (really like, least best) to best. But first, an honorable mention
“Fear” gets an honorable mention because had it been on the original So Far Gone in 2009 and, not the re-release retail version, it may well have been the best song on the mixtape. Now, on to the rest.
16. “Best I Ever Had”
One song has to be last, and it has to be the one that has worn the thinnest over the years. This is the burden for the song that emerges as everybody’s favorite first, and when “Best I Ever Had” hit No. 2 on Billboard in 2009, it officially began Drake’s nearly decade-long chart dominance. So yeah, you might hate it now, and the video is cringeworthy, but this was everybody’s jam in 2009 and it can’t be denied.
15. “Let’s Call It Off” (Featuring Peter Bjorn & John)
“Let’s Call It Off” is the victim of an album with no fat to trim at all. Drake’s reworking of Peter Bjorn and John’s euro-pop banger helped push forward a new sort of sound the OVO team clearly envisioned for rap, and with Drake as the figurehead it just worked.
14. “Ignant Sh*t” (Featuring Lil Wayne)
One of the firmest distinctions that keeps So Far Gone a true mixtape is that Drake took a few other people’s songs on jacking-for-beats rides like he did with Lil Wayne for “Ignant Sh*t,” using Jay Z and Beanie Sigel’s “Ignorant Sh*t” from American Gangster. There were other songs where he simply placed himself onto completed songs, but for this track Drake and Weezy ripped through the beat with no chorus, in true mixtape fashion. These tracks serve as interludes of sorts, and they’re fun for what they are: A bunch of random bars strung together. And who better to feature on something like that than just at the tail end of his prime, Wayne.
13. “A Night Off” (Featuring Lloyd)
What was apparent during the lead up to So Far Gone was thatDrake was not afraid to slow it down completely, and throw a couple of R&B tracks into the mix to shake things up. While he toyed with singing on Comeback Season and Room For Improvement, here he’s all the way in, basically recording a duet with Lloyd. It was a precursor for his career for sure, but an effective one, as the sultry track was a nice change of pace nearly midway through the tape.
12. “Lust For Life”
This ambient opener set the stage for what was to come from Drake not only on So Far Gone, but for nearly a decade of his career. The hollowed out drums, the opulence, the struggles with fame and his love life — and that awkward cockiness — makes it all come together perfectly. Throw in a little bit of singing and a dash of rapping and there may be no more perfect representation of Drake than “Lust For Life.”
11. “Sooner Than Later”
Drake’s earliest attempts at R&B Drizzy were a tad awkward, but still effective because of his — and whoever was helping him — songwriting. Telling his girl he wishes he was the first to compliment her on her hair is a simple enough proposition, but it’s relatable and comes with a sing-along worthy melody that’s hard to escape. It’s all subdued, as Drake doesn’t quite jump into the pool, but it still all manages to be enjoyable and a keeper ever all these years later.
10. “Unstoppable (Remix)” (Featuring Santigold and Lil Wayne)
Drake and Lil Wayne were always compatible from the very start of their on-record relationship, mostly because Drake brings the best out of his big bro Weezy. The rapid-fire flow implemented by Drake basically forces Wayne to follow suit, and we’re all rewarded with this roller-coaster listen that barely takes a breath to rest or gives us one to catch up.
9. “November 18th”
Drake’s homage to Houston, DJ Screw and Chopped and Screwed culture brought back a sound the mainstream had ignored since the days when Mike Jones was giving out his phone number to anybody who would listen. He helped his cause even more when he took the time to shout out Screw, Big Moe, UGK, Lil’ Keke at the end of the song for good measure.
8. “Brand New” (Remix) (Featuring Lil Wayne)
In 10 years, when people make retro movies about high-schoolers in the late 2000s, this is going to be the slow song that plays at the school dance when the main character finally asks his crush for a dance. Just wait.
7. “Little Bit” (Featuring Lykke Li)
Drake, like his idol Kanye West, is not afraid to dip into the overseas talent pool for not only talent, but unorthodox-for-rap sounds. It’s no easy task, but Drake and Kanye are two of the rare acts who are successful in their attempts and “Little Bit” is just the earliest example for Drizzy.
6. “Successful” (Featuring Trey Songz and Lil Wayne)
On “Successful,” the 6 God rectified one of the biggest faux pas of his career, the awkward-in-retrospect “Replacement Girl” by linking up with Trey Songz again and adding his mentor Lil Wayne into the fold. This time, he did it all right, and while Wayne’s verse feels a little like overkill over five minutes in to a six minute song, it’s worth it when he chirps “Ask her who I am to her, and she yell ‘God.'”
Drake started So Far Gone with the ambient tone-setter “Lust For Life,” but he doubled down on “Houstalantavegas.” Like he would for a long time, Drake looked at the women from the night life and celebrity-chasing All Star weekend culture right and basically offered to save them, all while understanding he couldn’t possibly do that job.
4. “Uptown” (Featuring Bun B and Lil Wayne)
Drake has that strange, irreplaceable and impossible to replicate talent to make anything sound catchy. So when he launches into the chorus of “It’s okay” repeated over and over, it looks dumb in type but is hypnotic on record. Toss in Wayne’s fun verse and Bun B Bun B’ing his guest spot and it set the tone for Drake’s southern-infused start of the decade.
3. “Say What’s Real”
While “Ignant Sh*t” was a fun little leap onto someone else’s beat, “Say What’s Real” was practically a transfer of ownership. Airing out label grievances, wondering aloud about his loneliness and his fragile mental state for nearly four minutes with no breaks, Drake had arrived as a rapper the moment he uploaded the song and dropped it for the world to have on his Blogspot. Whatever skepticism anybody had about Wheelchair Jimmy from Degrassi rapping was gone the moment he asked “Why do I feel so alone?”
2. “Bria’s Interlude”
The 11th hour addition to the mixtape might have been the best song on So Far Gone had it been a tad bit longer. But alas, interludes are meant to be short and Drake and Omarion’s ode to Bria Myles is exactly that. Even at 2:19 seconds, and even being out-shined by Omarion, it’s still one of the brightest and most potent moments of Drake’s illustrious career.
1. “The Calm”
Often, Drake is at his best when he goes into the booth and uses the his time at the office as a confessional and “The Calm” has always felt like the earliest of his many sessions on the couch at the therapist. It always helps that he seems to have these sessions on top of the finest production 40 has to offer, and even in the infancy stages in both of their careers they still meshed liked they’d being doing it their whole lives. A few years removed from the perfection that is “The Resistance,” Drake and 40 laid the ground work for what they’d be doing together for years to come.