Breaking Down Drake Vs. Kanye West: A Detailed History
Drake and Kanye West are two of the biggest and most influential artists in hip-hop today, and that should come as no surprise. Each has been at the top of his respective game for a while now; Drake has had three No. 1 albums and a Top 10 EP in four years, while Kanye is seven albums and nine years into an illustrious and genre-bending career. They both also dominated the headlines this year with massive albums and extensive promo runs, rarely staying out of the public eye for long.
Their most recent spurt in publicity came in the past few weeks, when Kanye announced to Hot 97's Angie Martinez that he'd be leaving behind his lucrative shoe endorsement deal with Nike to take his talents to rival Adidas, a move that was quickly followed by a Nike announcement saying that they'd signed Drake to a shoe deal, a prototype of which can be found below left (Kanye's Yeezys are on the right).
It was another frustration in a recent line of business-related issues for Kanye, who has had a difficult time trying to break into the fashion world as well as a few technical issues in trying to pull off his full Yeezus Tour. But he's also had to deal with a simmering beef with Drake that, while seemingly squashed at varying points throughout the year, has been bubbling as the two vie for hip-hop, and cultural, dominance. So with the two recently pitted against each other again—Nike vs. Adidas, Yeezus vs. Nothing Was The Same—XXL broke down the differences and similarities between the two artists, focusing on their overall aesthetics, beefs and successes within the game, and sales and cultural influence (Ed. Note: For comparison's sake, Drake's three albums were compared to Kanye's first three albums where appropriate). Let the debates begin. —Dan Rys (@danrys)
Both rappers have a laundry list of achievements in this category. Drake had his famous feud with Chris Brown—allegedly over Rihanna—which resulted in a club fight and, bizarrely, an eye injury to San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker, while he also beefed with Common, most notably tossing bars at him on "Stay Schemin'." Then there's Kendrick Lamar, who called out Drake among others in his verse on Big Sean's "Control"; Drake responded to Billboard by saying that Kendrick was not murdering him in any lane right now, after which K.Dot sent a soft blow back, telling GQ, "We're pretty cool. I mean, I would be okay if we weren’t."
Then there's Kanye, who made his biggest waves going after country-singing sweethearts and American presidents. It's tired now to rehash his interruption of Taylor Swift at the VMAs ("Beyoncé had the best video OF ALL TIME!") or his assertion on a live telecast for Hurricane Katrina that George Bush doesn't like Black people. But the Obama one is fresh; after interrupting Swift, Obama called Kanye a "jackass," to which Yeezy only recently responded, saying, “He’s just trying to be cool in front of a room full of people that would be judging him, also.” That one seems still fresh.
Both Drake's first three albums and Kanye's first three albums (for comparison's sake, we'll leave out everything after Graduation), is that both trios defined and explored a sound, ethos and overall theme, and took them to what seems like a logical conclusion. Kanye would go on to change the face of hip-hop with 808s And Heartbreak—whether you liked the album or not—while Drake is poised to step out of the brooding emo-rap he cultivated on Thank Me Later, perfected on Take Care and expanded on Nothing Was The Same.
What Kanye and Drake each do with their music is inherently different, even if you want to lump them both lyrically into the overly-emotive-rapper trend. One way can be to look at each rapper's chart success with their first three albums, but even that doesn't indicate much; each of Drake's debuted at No. 1, while only Norah Jones' platinum-selling Feels Like Home kept Kanye's debut, College Dropout, from the No. 1 spot, thus doing the same as Drake. It's easy to look at first week sales, as below:
...but that distinction can be waved away by the changes the Internet and streaming services have brought to the music industry over the past decade. Lyrically and culturally they can be regarded as at the very highest level in their respective lanes; Kanye took the backpack rap ethos mainstream (though he thought to stop and apologize to Mos and Kweli—and, later, Spike Lee as well—for his indulgence in the finer things), while Drake made damn sure that no one would brood about another man's girlfriend at 2 in the morning without thinking about him doing it first. And by the third album, the tone of each had turned defiant and triumphant, as they both took their places at the table of the biggest rappers in the world.
As long as each album grew bigger than the last, you can say that each was pushing forward. Platinum status will take care of everything else.
Top 40 Singles
The breakdown of Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart is a direct reflection of how Drake and Kanye came up in the game. In one respect, their ascents were similar; super-creative young guns with an impressive early body of work who secured major co-signs that put them directly in the crosshairs of a public that wasn't sure what to make of them but wanted to keep them around anyway. For Kanye, his sound defined him; coming up as a producer and making his biggest, earliest splash on Jay Z's The Blueprint, he ushered in the Roc-A-Fella, sped-up soul sample era that would come to define East Coast hip-hop for a few years. Drake was quickly identified as a hook master and grabbed a series of high-profile features alongside the likes of Lil Wayne and DJ Khaled that made him an easily identifiable voice in the mainstream from the get-go before establishing himself as a lyricist and rapper.
At first glance Drake blows Kanye out of the water by sheer numbers alone, until you look closer. Drake, for all his high-charting success, has zero No. 1 songs (he hit the top slot as a featured artist on Rihanna's "What's My Name") to Kanye's three and had the good fortune of having label boss Lil Wayne on five of his Top 40 cuts. Drake's crew love gets even stronger when you include tracks where each rapper is a featured artist, which sets the tally at 15-1 in Drake's favor (including tracks like "Pop That," "No Lie," "I'm On One" and "No New Friends"). That number speaks to the different ways they came up; in that period of his career Kanye was putting together Top 40 hits more from behind the boards than with his rapping skills when assisting others (such as "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and "'03 Bonnie And Clyde" featuring Beyoncé for Jay Z and "You Don't Know My Name" for Alicia Keys, all of which were in the Top 10 of the charts).
Then again, with tracks like "The Motto" and "Gold Digger," "Started From The Bottom" and "Jesus Walks," both made a massive effect on hip-hop catchphrases. It's nearly impossible to gauge who made the biggest mainstream impact.
There's not much to say on Drake's side here that's not rumors or hearsay; the closest you'll get is the fallout surrounding his club fight with Chris Brown that included vague insinuations that the entire thing was over Rihanna or Drake's admission on Ellen that he'd—gasp!—gone on a single date with Tyra Banks.
As for Yeezy, while he may rap a big game about the women he's loved and left, the reality is that he's had a trio of long-term, fairly public relationships that have played out in front of his legions of fans. There was his 2006 engagement to designer Alexis Phifer before he began dating model Amber Rose in 2008; after they broke up, of course, Rose would go on to marry and have a child with Wiz Khalifa.
But though Drizzy Drake may have been linked with varying degrees of seriousness to Jhené Aiko, Teyana Taylor and, most recently and due to his own admission, Courtney From Hooters On Peachtree (whom he referenced on NWTS' "From Time"), Kanye seems to have finally settled down with Kim Kardashian and baby Nori. True love can only truly be expressed when parodied by Seth Rogen and James Franco dry-humping on a motorcycle.
XXL Magazine Covers
Kanye's helped himself to a few more, though Drake highlighted XXL's 150th issue. By the third album in each of their careers, it's safe to say that they could carry newsstands on their own, at the very least. Breaking it outside the XXL realm, the only real distinction comes in the difference between Rolling Stone covers and those of GQ; Kanye, for all his forays into fashion, has only managed to cover the men's mag one time, while Drake has done it twice to this point, whereas conversely Kanye's sales battle with 50 Cent (Graduation vs. Curtis) in 2007 made that cover one of the most iconic RS covers of all time.
Birdman and Wayne for Drake, with Roc-A-Fella heavyweights Jay Z and Dame Dash for Yeezy. Two of the biggest rappers in the game teamed with two of the biggest execs to ever do it. Kanye always said it was Dame who plucked him from behind the boards and put him in front of the mic, while it was Wayne and Birdman who snapped up Drake after So Far Gone caught everyone's attention. With Cash Money and Roc-A-Fella being two of the most famous labels in hip-hop history, and Kanye and Drake both able to chip in and define the sound of their respective companies, they've both proved essential to their respective mentors. So how about Weezy and Drizzy do a Watch The Throne-type album in the future, with both at similar points of their careers as Jay and 'Ye were?
'Ye rolls deep, but Drake rolls deeper. The G.O.O.D. Music head honcho can always call upon his big brother Hova, but his Cruel Summer cohorts like Pusha T, Common, Big Sean, John Legend and frequent collaborator 2 Chainz put together a respectable and underrated compilation album in 2012, with "Mercy," Clique" and "New God Flow" dominating the airwaves. Drake, on the other hand, was part of 2009's We Are Young Money, a playground for Weezy, Nicki, Birdman, Mack Maine, Tyga and Gudda Gudda that produced huge hits like "BedRock."
Drake sat out this year's Rich Gang, while Kanye seems set to get the team back together for a Cruel Winter that, much like its predecessor, misses its intended season. Oh well; either way, the two have friends in very high places. And when push comes to shove, they each can call in favors from each other's crews; Kanye has collaborated with Nicki in the past, Drake taps Big Sean and 2 Chainz often, and both have hopped on tracks with Rick Ross. Not a bad spot to be in.
In the arena where Kanye yearns to thrive, he's made a few mistakes in the past, though you could never accuse him of not trying new things and pushing the limits. Drake, meanwhile, classes it up as often as he can—he's rapped about how proud he is of his GQ covers—but mostly embraces the dorky sensibilities we all know he has deep inside. They've both evolved through the years, but Kanye is the one who might wind up never wearing the same thing twice.