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How Drake’s obsession with New Orleans finally paid off

By
Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Drake may be known for creating the Toronto Sound, but he owes his current success to his uncanny ability to emulate and adapt to regional sounds around the world. New Orleans is just one of those scenes, and it’s actually behind two songs off of Drake’s fifth album, Scorpion. Both songs — "Nice for What" and "In My Feelings" — have hit No. 1 on the charts.

New Orleans’ influence on Drake runs deep, being the home of his label, Cash Money, and his mentor, Lil Wayne. Early on in his career, Drake began emulating the NOLA sound, and even started to sound so much like Lil Wayne that it was hard to tell the two apart when they were on the same track.

But two of Drake's biggest hits this year owe an even greater debt to the city’s sound, namely New Orleans bounce.

A quick background on bounce

Characteristics of bounce include: a hit sample, a heavy use of call-and-response, dance instructions and, most notably, some aspect of the Triggerman beat, which forms the foundation of bounce.

“NOLA bounce artists and DJs take a mainstream R&B song and speed up the BPMs, chop the hottest parts of the record, add 808 [drums], add a NOLA chant or rap, Triggaman snares or some similar snares,” DJ Wild Wayne (a.k.a. the Mayor of New Orleans), told Hot 97.

Drake took that formula, but went one step further by sampling Lauryn Hill’s "Ex-Factor," a song artists usually stay away from for fear that the sample won’t be cleared. But this is where the Drake touch comes in, as most artists are happy to work with him. That includes many New Orleans legends, who jumped at the chance when they got the call.

That much is clear right from the opening notes of "Nice for What," which kicks off with the voice of Big Freedia, one of bounce’s most successful artists.

"They reached out to my team and they wanted me to be a part of the project," Freedia told the Fader. "Once they told me, I was like, 'You gotta be kidding me.' I was super excited about my voice being at the beginning of the song. They sent the track for me to approve it and I was like, 'Shit, I don't care what I say on it, long as I'm on it.'"

The beat was produced by Murda Beatz, from Lake Erie, Ont., but it was also given the final New Orleans touch by BlaqNmilD, a legendary bounce producer whose presence can really be felt at the 2:30 mark, chopping up the vocals and giving the track that real NOLA vibe (BlaqNmilD’s full bounce version can be heard below).

BlaqNmilD also co-produced "In My Feelings," which samples Wayne’s "Lollipop" and New Orleans rapper Magnolia Shorty’s bounce remix of "Smoking Gun."

Cameron Paul’s "Brown Beat," another foundational bounce sample, clearly forms the drum pattern.

The video for "In My Feelings" was also being shot early in July in New Orleans by Karena Evans, the director behind all of the Scorpion videos, including "God’s Plan,"" Nice for What" and "I’m Upset."

Drake’s history with bounce

While these are Drake’s biggest bounce songs, they are certainly not his first. It’s a sound he’s long been tapping into, with mixed results. "Practice," from 2011’s Take Care, takes Juvenile’s "Back that Azz Up" and actually does the opposite of a traditional remix by slowing the BPM down to a crawl, bringing the energy down with it while Drake sings about “pain and regret.” It ends up sounding more like a cut from the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack, and while it was an interesting experiment, it was far from the club bangers in "Nice for What" and "In My Feelings."

Drake had more success with 2016’s "Child’s Play," which keeps the higher BPMs and incorporates Triggerman elements, but lacks the overall frenetic energy of a good bounce song. The track also samples New Orleans bounce artist Ha-Sizzle, who has been producing New Orleans club classics for 15 years and was happy to work with Drake.

“I just remember having this feeling like "YES! I finally made it,” he told the Fader. “It's like the remix I never got to do.”

If good artist copy and great artists steal, then Drake is up there with the best of them. Like a chameleon, he’s able to emulate regional sounds from all over the world and put his own spin on them. But more importantly than that, he gives credit where it’s due (for the most part).

Like the rappers before him who introduced generations to jazz, funk and soul through samples, Drake is doing so with the rappers that influence him, both young and old.

In the end, he’s making hit records, but he’s also shining a light on vibrant, regional scenes and the artists who helped shape them.