Baltimore Sun

Drake eyes the 'Throne' on the instant classic 'I'm On One'

In January, Drake facetiously told Tim Westwood that he heard “some other guys” — Kanye West and Jay-Z — were doing a joint album. He even inferred the titans jacked the idea from him and Lil Wayne. It’s a funny shot (collaboration albums are nothing new to any genre) but it spoke volumes to Drake’s view-point: the young guns run the game and it’s time for the old (Jay) and slightly less old (Kanye) to fall back a bit. In case Jay and Kanye missed the message, Drake spells it out on “I’m On One.”

The DJ Khaled-single also features Rick Ross and Wayne, but it's entirely Drake’s moment. The T-Minus and 40-produced banger sounds handcrafted for Drake, a tender crooner and s—t-talker of the highest regard. His hook — an ode to champagne, promethazine lean, being young and its pursuit of intoxication — weaves in and out of the ping-ponging synths. Don’t question his focus, though: “Hate the rumors, hate the bulls--- / Hate these f---ing allegations / I’m just feeling like the throne is for the taking / Watch me take it …” That’s a red-beam-between-the-eyes toward the Watch the Throne duo, and it sounds fantastic, making me temporarily forget how good a Kanye/Jay album could be. When Drake punches in that last bar, Watch the Throne feels like the old guys desperately grasping for glory, or even air.

Judging from my iTunes play count, “I’m On One” is an instant classic. The more spins it gets, the more that feels spot-on. I haven’t even touched on Ross, whose verse illustrates why his rags-to-extravagant riches persona resonates when it shouldn’t. It’s because Ross sounds awe-inspired by his self-made success (“Ever made love to the woman of your dreams in a room full of money out in London as she screams?”) while still dressing up tired rap signifiers of power in new ways (“Call Marc Jacobs personally to make a pair”). Lil Wayne comes up shortest, but even his lethargic drawl offers subtle, rewindable moments (“Choppa dissect a n---- like science / Put an end to your world like the Mayans”). And then there’s DJ Khaled, a master of promotion and keeping the public in the dark of what role he actually plays in "his" songs. He’s likely a vessel, a rap personality with clout and a huge contacts list. But “I’m On One” shows he’s still learning, too. He’s not all over the track, screaming innocuous taunts or even worse, rapping himself. DJ Khaled showing restraint? It’s a special song indeed.