Is Drake Trying to Tell Us Something?

Drake album roll-outs have a certain ritual to them, one that involves Drizzy shedding himself of stray thoughts in the form of a mixtape or an EP. This almost always seems to involve Rick Ross. Last week he released Scary Hours 2, the second installment of his album-stalling series of EPs. While the project’s overall formula is by now familiar — Drake admirably tries on some modern rap styles; Drake invites a rising young rapper to go nuts on a beat; Drake and Rick Ross talk about the finer things in life — something about Scary Hours 2 feels different. For the past few months, rumors have swirled on social media about whether or not Drake’s upcoming album, the uncharacteristically postponed Certified Lover Boy, will be his last. With his latest offering, it’s hard not to get the sense that we’re nearing the series finale of the Drake show.

The EP opens with the energetic, if a bit cryptic, “What’s Next.” Produced by Maneesh & Supah Mario, the track sounds like a Whole Lotta Red B-side and finds Drizzy doing a serviceable job keeping up with the shape of hip-hop in the Pi’erre Bourne era. We get Drake’s signature elastic flow punctuated by humble brags like “on Valentine’s Day I had sex.” The whole song serves as a reminder as to why he’s been such a reliable hit factory for over a decade. “I’m on the hot one-hundo, Numero Uno/This one ain’t come with a bundle,” Drake raps — a jab at many artists’ less-than straightforward efforts at getting to the top of the charts. In the streaming era, which can be defined by records set by Drizzy himself, it’s a poignant flex. But despite ostensibly showing us that he can adapt to any generation’s sonic sensibility, you get the sense that bragging about being successful is getting tiresome, even for Drake.

For most of his career, Drake has been accused of leeching off of younger artists for relevance, and yet on the Lil Baby-assisted “Wants and Needs” you’d be hard-pressed to make such a claim. Drake uses the track to show off a new flow that manages to meander, sort of hypnotically, to the beat. It’s not unlike his many forays into U.K. drill, where the line between rap and conversation gets blurred to mixed effect. In any case, “Wants and Needs” is clearly a Lil Baby track. It’s one of his most exciting and nimble verses to date and marks a sea-change for the infamous Drake co-sign. It’s getting harder to buy into the narrative of Drake as a vulture when he sets up such a perfect alley-oop for an obvious heir to his throne.

Or maybe it’s just that the Rick Ross-assisted “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” feels like the last season on The Sopranos. Drake has long been known to wax poetic about his own biography, but on this track, you get the sense of two hardened mob bosses who know their time is coming, whether it’s from a hungry new generation that’s increasingly difficult to predict, or from the pressures of adulthood. Drake even raps about parent-teacher conferences with his son. The song flips a sample of the Quadron song “Pressure,” and it has the same vibe as listening to Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama sit around and talk about their respective careers. At one point, Drake gets self-reflective, rapping: “Damn, not too many parallels left in our lives.” It’s a moment that acknowledges his appeal to audiences who have seen their own stories in the rapper’s often vulnerable tracks. For what feels like a generation, Drake has made music for what felt like everyone and no one. Despite being quite possibly one of the most successful artists in the world, he managed to rap like he was up against the world, and his gift was making it feel like that was true. On Scary Hours 2, there’s less urgency and more comfort. “I had it so long, I don’t even celebrate it,” he raps.

That sure sounds like someone who’s getting ready to retire!

Perhaps it would be a little too on the nose even for Drake if, fresh from a knee injury, he delivered a career-defining record that wrapped his career into a neat package that we can watch a Netflix documentary about in 20 years. Then again, stranger things have happened.