What was the highlight of Drake's weekend? Ask him, and he'd likely answer hosting the second OVOFest, the one night of the year Toronto becomes hip-hop's Mecca. Or maybe he'd get more specific and say having Nas come out to perform "Made You Look" was the best part. He wouldn't be off-base to say Stevie Wonder's mini-set in the middle of the concert was an achievement few rappers could pull off, let alone any rapper under 25. These are all worthy answers but the true highlight came quietly at 1:30 a.m. Sunday, when Drake dropped "Headlines," the first single from his forthcoming album, Take Care (due on his birthday, Oct. 24.)
If you've paid attention to the too-good-for-just-Mediafire freebies ("Dreams Money Can Buy," "Trust Issues") and DJ Khaled's summer anthem "I'm On One," you know two things: A) Drake is killing anything he touches right now and B) His maudlin, faded songs are so insular, so disconnected from the four-on-the-floor clubs that you wonder if he ever leaves the studio or just chooses to get bent comfortably. And that's why "Headlines," produced by Noah "40" Shebib and Boi-1da, is a real surprise. The usual dank and cold beats are replaced with a buoyant, staccato synth line and Casio snares. The song just goes, without a soft-to-loud dynamic or even obvious entry and exit points for its verses and hooks.
The beat calls for such a sing-song flow that few rappers could tackle it (although, in the coming days, I'm sure we'll see the attempts). This is a beat only Drake could rock to its fullest potential, and he does, falling in love with the sounds of the punctuating "... like that" and the instant ear-worm "they know, they know, they know." "Headlines" possesses a hypnotizing effect that could make it easy to gloss over, something I was guilty of the first time I heard it. (The bounce and the kick-drum had me under a spell.) But give it a few spins and be reminded of his lyrical charm — part braggadocio, part isolation, all sticky combinations of phrases your mind will repeat:
"Then she wanna ask when it got so empty / tell her I apologize, happened over time / She says they miss the old Drake, girl don't tempt me / If they don't get it, they'll be over you / That new s--- that you got is overdue / You better do what you're supposed to do / I'm like why I gotta be all that? But still I can't deny the fact that it's true."
"Over," Thank Me Later's first single, was an attempt to capture and capitalize on Drake's momentum post-"Best I Ever Had." As grandiose and pretty the strings sound, it never felt like a 100 percent natural fit, like a batter trying to will a game-winning grand slam for his 3,000th hit. "Headlines" doesn't even try to fit that mold, and it works better for it. While Kanye West, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne have attempted to shift the summer conversations to their projects, it's Drake who has rap fans anticipating the fall.
Bonus: Good footage of Drake, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross performing "I'm on One" at last night's OVOFest, courtesy of Real Talk NY.