Until now, the closest Drake ever got has been No. 2.
It has to have killed him. All the awards, the accolades, the money, the memes, and the notoriety he’s garnered in his decade in the rap game, and Drake always got within reach, only to lose out on the one thing he’s always wanted at the last moment.
You can’t call yourself No. 1 until you’ve earned it. Sure, Drake can lay claim to the title of the top rapper in the game, the de facto biggest name in music, but until he saw the title of one of his songs on the top of the Billboard Hot 100, how could it ever feel legitimate? After all, men lie and women lie, but numbers don’t.
And so he strove for the one indelible, undeniable hit that would take him to the mountaintop and solidify his claim, before someone — most likely Kendrick Lamar — came along to snatch it from him permanently.
However, for some reason, it seemed that every chance he took on a new sound, every attempt to offer fans the version of Drake they claimed they wanted, was thwarted.
His first big chance, ironically, came from his second single and first as a solo artist. After the forgettable Trey Songz collaboration, “Replacement Girl,” from his second mixtape, Comeback Season, “Best I Ever Had” came roaring out of the gate from the jump. As unremarkable as “Replacement Girl” was, “Best I Ever Had” was the triumphant announcement that Drake had, at last, arrived.
It came from seemingly out of nowhere, climbing the charts until it finally ran out of gas at No. 2 on the Hot 100. Unfortunately, the bizarre success of Drake’s first “real” single coincided with the monstrous run of the Black Eyed Peas and their teen-movie-soundtracking smash “I Got A Feeling.
The inescapable bounce of the made-for-corporate-America Peas song was just too much for the plucky upstart from Canada to overcome, but Drake had made his mark and set his goal. No. 1 seemed like a foregone conclusion. All he needed was one more single.
However, that turned out to be easier said than done for nearly a decade. Drake single after Drake single entered the top ten — “Find Your Love,” “Started From The Bottom,” “Summer Sixteen” — yet failed to achieve the same level of success as that first surprise smash.
The closest he got was 2015’s “Hotline Bling.” Again, an unconventional left-handed curveball from the Toronto native turned out to be exactly the pitch that mainstream just couldn’t get enough of. His goofy dancing in the video for the song made him a fixture in internet memes and television ads. It was finally his moment; so confident was he that he that he actually posted a self-congratulatory statement on Instagram explaining just how important his final victory would be.
“Hotline Bling” reaching No. 1 would be “the biggest moment of my career to date (in my mind) and if you are looking for me on that particular evening I will be passed out in the water slide that connects to our pool.”
But then The Weeknd released a last-minute remix of his own skyrocketing single “The Hills” featuring two of rap’s biggest names in Eminem and Nicki Minaj which propelled it all the way to No. 1, and again, Drake had the trophy snatched away at the finish line.
Of course, he had other victories. Technically, in that time, he became a No. 1 charting artist three times before “God’s Plan” came into the picture, but two of those came on Rihanna songs (“What’s My Name?” and “Work”) on which he featured, with the sole remaining chart-topper, “One Dance,” coming from his criminally maligned 2015 album Views.
Yet, like his Rihanna collabs, “One Dance” didn’t exactly succeed solely on Drake’s charms. For all the track’s wild, record-breaking success, it didn’t belong to Drake alone. Kyla, the UK funky house singer whose ’00s hit “Do You Mind” was sampled for the hook, and Nigerian singer WizKid certainly expanded the potential audience for the multi-cultural track’s chart dominance.
And unfortunately for Drake’s continued dominance over the rap game, he ultimately did see Kendrick Lamar achieve his dream before him when 2017’s “Humble” snatched the No. 1 position after becoming the highest-charting debut for a rap record in the history of the chart.
“God’s Plan” allowed him to reclaim a little of his lost swagger though. It stands as the culmination of ten years of grind and hustle, and it finally gives Drake his coveted solo No. 1. It’s still there, by the way, making nine weeks at the top, and even beat Kendrick by becoming the first rap song ever to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100. The fact that Boi-1da, the producer behind Drake’s first big single, helped helm the success of “God’s Plan” only makes it all the sweeter and brings it all full circle
The fact that it’s also Drake’s highest-charting straight rap song also has to be supremely satisfying for The Boy. After years of criticism for utilizing writers on some of his songs, of not rapping enough, of being too soft, and fighting a losing battle of attrition against Kendrick Lamar, he’s finally been vindicated. He’s officially the undisputed No. 1 rapper in the game. It may have taken a decade, but as Drake can now attest, God laughs at everyone’s plans but His own.