Best I Ever Had is a rap song about a guy who likes a (lot of) girl(s), and a lot of time is spent reasserting his assessment of them. It was the insta-start of Drake’s career, and Drake went on to widen rap’s purview by making it undeniably okay to rap about your feelings, and by actualizing the Internet to propel him to fame, when everyone before him had failed to pull this feat off.
Drake is a force. Drake is a force created by the Internet. Drake is a force created by the Internet and Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak album and also some Andre 3000 verses. His first proper single, “Best I Ever Had,” was an instant success that verified his creative existence before he’d fully developed it.
Drake’s funny on “Best I Ever Had” on purpose, like when he says, “When my album drop, bitches’ll buy it for the picture / And niggas’ll buy it, too, and claim they got it for their sister.” And he’s funny on it by accident, like when he says, “I be hittin’ all the spots that you ain’t even know was there,” as though he’s discovered a new area of the vagina, as though he is the Ferdinand Magellan of vaginas.
Quick stats: “Best I Ever Had” was nominated for two Grammys, and that’s crazy because it was basically from a mixtape,4 and so this is a really good example of how Lil Wayne turned rap inside out with his mixtape run from 2006 up through 2008.
“The Best I Ever Had” rose to number one on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and also their Hot Rap Songs chart, which are two different things. It’s been downloaded from iTunes more than two million times, a feat more impressive than the (already impressive) number would suggest, given that it was easily available for free on the Internet.
Best I Ever Had Video
In the “Best I Ever Had” video, Drake is the coach of a female basketball team full of large-breasted women who are very bad at basketball and never ever wear bras. His team plays a game against what would appear to be a team of Amazons.
And they get pummeled. With two minutes left in the fourth quarter and his team down 42–4 Drake calls a time-out. He brings his girls close, gives them a motivational speech, then sends them back out to finish the game in what is to be the most stirring comeback of all time.
Except it never materializes. We see a shot of a girl on his team trying a jumper and getting it blocked, then the next shot shows thirty seconds left on the clock and now his team is down 91–14, and then the game is over. Four things:
#1. Drake is not that great at rah-rah speeches. That’s surprising.
#2. I don’t think I understand the rules of the Music Video Basketball Association, and I say that because as the aforementioned girl was preparing to take the aforementioned shot, she looked especially hopeful, a hopefulness that was matched only by dejection in Drake when he saw it get blocked. Nobody looks that irritated when a shot gets blocked unless that shot carries with it the potential to win a game. So I figure maybe she was shooting a 78-pointer, like from a special spot on the floor or something? That would have given her team a one-point lead. I guess it’s like MTV’s Rock N’ Jock basketball game, only except without Dan Cortese.
#3. The Amazons scored forty-nine points in ninety seconds at the end of the game. That’s astounding. That’s the most dominant stretch of basketball that’s ever been played. The 2012 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team beat Nigeria by eighty-three points, and that’s the largest margin of victory in the history of Olympic and professional basketball, but even there their points-per-possession rating is way subpar to the Amazons. You can blame Drake for the defeat if you like, but that hardly seems fair. He was up against an unprecedented mismatch.
#4. The song is all about the best girl(s) Drake has ever had. That’s the whole point. He’s so happy and excited about it. But then in the video it ends with him sad and alone in his coach’s office. The dichotomy would seem to serve as an indicator for the manner in which Drake navigates relationships, in that even when they are very good, they are also historically bad and unsettling. Which circles to:
Kanye West directed the “Best I Ever Had” video, and I’m happy about that because it allows for an easy transition to talk about 808s & Heartbreak, the album that West made in 2008 that was the template for Drake’s professional angst, and also the (unintentional) permission for him to be able to pursue it, and not just to pursue but to be successful at it.
To be short: 808s was an album where Kanye, already a star, emoted for fifty-two straight minutes about the spiritual consequences of love, sometimes literally (there’s a song called “Heartless,” there’s a song called “Welcome to Heartbreak,” things like that) and sometimes aesthetically—the last three minutes and fifteen seconds of “Say You Will,” for example, there aren’t any words, just a couple of cold and lonely drums, two robo-tinks, and lots of chilled gray air to walk around in and explore your feelings.
Drake’s Influence on Rap
Drake shifted rap in observable ways, the most important being that he commoditized the investigation of heartache better than any rapper ever had, and that made it an acceptable business model, and so now there are one hundred thousand rappers rapping about their ninth-grade girlfriend, and you can go either way with that. But there’s also his relationship with the Internet.
His music had traveled from Canada to Houston via the Internet, and then from there to Lil Wayne, so there’s an actual functional aspect there. But he was the first (and thus far only) rap giant that the Internet actualized, and from there it was fine if the Internet as part of your origin story.
The Internet tried to push Wale up into the clouds in 2008, but Wale was always too goofy and never interesting enough for the throne. It tried to shove Kid Cudi up thereafter that, too, but Cudi was always too weird and too untrustworthy to be given the crown. There were others, and there will certainly be others to come, but those were the first true ones. And they failed. Drake was the one.
I remember watching Drake in concert early on in his career—this was right around the time Thank Me Later had crystallized his arrival; it shipped more than a million copies, he’d been nominated for five Grammys, all that.
Near the end of the show, he stopped the music and asked for the lights to be turned up. Then he started pointing out people in the crowd, making jokes, engaging them. He did it with the same ease that Dave Chappelle does stand-up, the same ease that Jay Z interacts with interviewers. It’s always been easy to see that Drake was a king.