In 2009, Drake dropped the instant-classic mixtape So Far Gone (which sold upward of 70,000 units its first week when it was released as an EP last September) and appeared on songs with Jay-Z, Fabolous and Mary J. Blige, among others. He was the industry's new "it" guy, nominated for two Grammys after only a mixtape. His clout was reflected on last year's Hottest MCs in the Game list, with the MTV News Hip-Hop Brain Trust ranking him #3. What more did Aubrey Graham really have to do?
Well, for one, he needed to drop an actual album to prove he was more than just a fly-by-night sensation. He also needed to hit the road and show he was a dynamic performing artist who could fill an arena. And, finally, he needed to make up for some past flubs like the poorly received "Best I Ever Had" video. He did all that and more this year, which led the Brain Trust to vote him the #4 Hottest MC in the Game of 2010.
Drake was a staple on radio all year, whether it was "Bedrock" with Young Money, "Money to Blow" with Baby and Lil Wayne, "Forever" with Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Eminem, or any one of the songs from So Far Gone that stayed in rotation.
"He's been on the radio all year," RapFix editor Hillary Crosley said during the Hottest MCs roundtable. "Like, I can't get away from him. It's impossible."
"Different artists, they may have a hot regional presence or be hot on the East Coast or Down South around Atlanta or whatever," added MTV News supervising producer Sean Lee, "but this dude — everywhere, man."
Sure, there are artists who might be big on the radio, but few do it as whimsically as Drake does. To wit, his Thank Me Later singles were all creative stretches. "Find Your Love" was an R&B single that found Mr. Graham not rapping, but crooning over a rich piano line and lo-fi electro blips. "Over" saw him spitting feverishly against staccato drums and questioning his newfound fame. And "Fancy" was a gentlemanly nod of female appreciation — not something rappers are typically wont to do. Reception to these songs was overwhelmingly positive, leading Thank Me Later to move 447,000 units its first week, and it's closing in on platinum status.
But Drake also made his presence felt perhaps in the most important arena of the modern music business: performing. Aside from staging the October's Very Own festival in Toronto this past August (where Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Eminem and Jay-Z made appearances), but he also hit the road for his Light Dreams & Nightmares Tour. And what's more, he was the guy Eminem and Jay-Z brought out at their Home and Home concert series this past September. Yeah, the big dogs really get down with Drake like that.
"You got the biggest-selling artist of the past 10 years, Eminem, who brings out Drake to hype up the crowd at the Home and Home Tour," Sway said, acknowledging just how powerful of a statement that move was.
That said, the roundtable wasn't in agreement that Drake really had the performance component of his career down just yet. In fact, during the taping, Drake was actually voted #3 on the Hottest MCs list but was then demoted by Kanye West, who the Brain Trust felt brought more to the table as an artist.
"You know what Kanye does that Drake doesn't? He reminds you of what a full package is," MTV Jams' Sheila Grullon said.
MTV News senior producer Rahman Dukes replied: "What's missing from the Drake package?"
"He's missing charisma," MTV Jams' Tuma Basa said. "He's missing drama."
MTV News senior writer Jayson Rodriguez put the battle between the two in context of what type of attention each artist gets. "Kanye is attracting the world's attention," he said. "Whereas Drake isn't there yet. He's building that up."
In a vote, Kanye beat out Drake for the #3 slot. But still, give credit where it's due: Drake won an ASCAP Award for Rap Song of the Year ("Forever"), a BMI Award for Most Performed Urban Song of the Year ("Best I Ever Had"), Best Male Hip-Hop Artist at the BET Awards and New Artist of the Year at the Juno Awards. He also graced the covers of XXL, Vibe, Complex and Billboard and even had his very own MTV documentary, "Better Than Good Enough." He's come a long way since "Degrassi."
The 2010 Hottest MCs in the Game rollout is now complete! As in 2008 and 2009, the criteria is based on a combination of rhyme skill, flow, buzz, commercial success, business ventures, Web presence and cultural influence. Upload your comments, reactions, arguments and/or your own list to Your.MTV.com or send tweets with the hashtag #hottestmcs — the best responses could be on TV or our hip-hop blog, RapFix! For the complete 2010 Hottest MCs list go here.