Former “Degrassi” star shines on new EP
March 10, 2021
On October 19, 2007, the “Degrassi: The Next Generation” episode “It’s Tricky” aired on The N, and countless American millennials and zoomers were introduced to Aubrey Graham, the rapper. In the episode, Graham plays Jimmy, whose girlfriend Ashley enlists his help for her set at their high school talent showcase. The performance goes in an unexpected direction; the audience heckles Ashley, understandably so considering her song is trash. Then Jimmy jumps in with a surprisingly awesome rap freestyle, completely dominating the stage.
I bring up this episode of “Degrassi” for a few reasons. The first is that I am thinking about “Degrassi” and what an enormous cultural milestone it was pretty much every minute of every day (the episode where Manny wears a thong to school? Rent free in my mind). The second is because I was reminded of Jimmy’s rap, and the refreshing enthusiasm he brought to it, while listening to Drake’s recent extended play, “Scary Hours 2.”
Watching “It’s Tricky,” even if you had no idea that Graham had at that point already released two little heard mixtapes under the moniker Drake, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to hear that the child star was pivoting away from acting and towards music. Graham was never a standout in Degrassi’s cast, and by the time the episode aired, he’d been sleepwalking through his scenes for two seasons. But during the rap, his performance snaps into focus. The verse isn’t amazing, and you probably wouldn’t peg him as one day becoming arguably the most successful rapper of his generation. But his talent and potential is clear, and you can tell that he loves what he’s doing.
“Scary Hours 2” is technically a sequel to 2018’s “Scary Hours,” but the main thing the two have in common is that they’re really warm-ups to actual album drops: the original “Scary Hours” came out five months before Drake’s blockbuster “Scorpion,” while this EP is essentially a consolation prize for fans waiting for his followup “Certified Lover Boy,” after it was indefinitely delayed from its original January release date.
The projects end up being completely different though, at least in how they succeed in their goals of building up hype for the main attraction. “Scary Hours” included two songs, the forgettable “Diplomatic Immunity,” and the very successful but very boring “God’s Plan.” This underwhelming showing was a foretelling for how dull and lazy “Scorpion” ended up being, an overlong retread of material Drake covered before that, one or two good songs aside, felt completely phoned in. For longtime listeners of the artist, it was easy to view it as a sign that his heart wasn’t in it anymore, that the passion young Aubrey Graham felt while rapping in the gymnasium of the Degrassi Community School was dead.
“Scary Hours 2,” however, is a different story, even if it might not look that way at first glance.
The three songs on the EP are largely familiar territory for Drake, in terms of production, lyrics, subject matter, and even collaborators. There’s the destined to be number one single “What’s Next,” the relatively muted “Wants and Needs,” and the freestyle cut “Lemon Pepper Freestyle.” All of the songs focus on being rich and famous in some way, which has been Drake’s main subject matter for several album cycles now. In other words, they’re songs Drake could perform in his sleep at this point in his career.
The difference is that this time, Drake isn’t sleeping; his performances on the EP feels sharper than most of his recent output, and that energy does wonders for making the material feel fresh. “Wants and Needs” is mostly a showcase for Lil Baby, whose frenetic verse overshadows everything else on the song, but Drake is in fine form on the other tracks. “What’s Next” is a fairly typical “I’m the biggest star in the world” opener for a project, but Drake’s fast and energetic delivery paired with the memorable synth production makes it bang. The highlight is the excellent “Lemon Pepper Freestyle,” which combines a solid showing from Rick Ross, one of his best collaborators, with a great five-minute long blockbuster verse from Drake that combines his musings on fame with reflections on his relationship with his young son.
“Scary Hours 2” isn’t exactly a reinvention for Drake, or anywhere close to his greatest achievement (that would be this scene from season 2 of “Degrassi,”), but it is an encouraging sign of what’s to come for the rapper. Between the EP and the solid lead single “Laugh Now, Cry Later” from last year, I’m far more optimistic for “Certified Lover Boy” than I would be if my last taste of Drake had been his anemic mixtape “Dark Lane Demo Tapes.” The “Degrassi” loyalist in me will always follow the erstwhile Jimmy Brooks wherever he leads, but “Scary Hours 2” gives me hope that after a few fallow years, he’s bringing his A-game along with him.
Read more from the March edition of The Monthly here.
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