Drake’s intros aren’t usual radio mainstays, but they still get play though. Track No. 1 on his most recent chart-topping, highly anticipated sixth album Certified Lover Boy vitalizes that reality as “Champagne Poetry” mimics the formula that made Nothing Was the Same’s “Tuscan Leather” a well-regarded classic: lyrics that take aim at Drizzy’s doubters and find him comfortable in his seat on the throne, three hook-less verses equipped with their own beat, plus a goosebumps-raising outro laced by Noah “40” Shebib. Distant from the typical archetype of a commercially successful record, “Champagne Poetry” debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100—a feat that, with no shade, a lot of artists can’t reach with the 20-plus tracks on an entire project.
Untwining the DNA of Drizzy’s intros on his projects reveals that distorted samples are his cheat codes. Tracks from the 20th and 21st centuries are often remolded to snatch the attention of listeners right out the gates, forcing melodramatic pulses to command people’s attention. “Legend,” off 2015’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, flips Ginuwine’s R&B Hall of Fame entry “So Anxious,” a top 20 hit that was birthed in the year 1999. And Care Package’s Take Care loosie “Dreams Money Can Buy” floats on the foundation of Jai Paul’s “BTSTU,” released in 2011 via MySpace. Even looking at more minuscule examples like “Over My Dead Body” from Take Care ends with the vocals of DJ Screw, taken from E.S.G.’s 1995 track “Sailin’ Da South.”
Production on the backburner, the lyrical content of the Canadian megastar’s preludes is also very consistent. Perhaps he was referring to the shots he takes at his peers when he rhymed about being Chef Curry on “Energy.” For example, 2018’s Scorpion cut “Survival,” on which he raps about his beefs with Meek Mill and Diddy. He also includes a shout-out to one of his idols Jay-Z or, in other cases, Lil Wayne and the YMCMB empire: “I’ve had real Philly niggas try to write my endin’/Takin’ shots with the G.O.A.T. and talked about shots that we sendin’/I’ve had scuffles with bad boys that wasn’t pretendin’.”
Hours can be spent breaking down what makes these tunes special, but considering how there are about 15 now in the vault poses a question of which one is the best. Here, XXL narrows that down and provides rationale as to why certain songs ascend past the others. Debate with your friends. Check out a definitive ranking of Drake’s intro songs from every project.
Project: Comeback Season
The intro to Drake’s breakthrough mixtape, Comeback Season, is dramatic, likely because Drizzy wasn’t too far removed from his role as wheelchair Jimmy on Degrassi at the time in 2007. In a mini monologue delivered over empyrean strings, he finds himself reflecting straight from the pit of rock bottom. Drake notes that he has no choice but to elevate his game from that point. Clocking in at just 30 seconds and containing not one bar nor melody, this 2007 intro was undercooked in comparison to what would follow over the next decade.
Drake recruited southern mixtape giant DJ Smallz to host his first project, Room for Improvement, in 2006. For the intro, Drizzy gives a quick toast to the elevation in his career that’s about to follow, as the effort stands as an early demo of an undefeated formula of blending rapping and singing that the 6 God would eat off in the ensuing years. He speaks with a tempered cadence as he shouts out Canada three times in just under a minute. Neither himself nor the person listening are perfect in true lover boy fashion, he tells. If you skipped this track, you wouldn’t be missing much.
The intro to Dark Lane Demo Tapes was previously leaked under the name of “Rollin’,” though it would officially be called “Deep Pockets” by the time it dropped in May of 2021. Over a hazy beat that sounds like it’s playing straight off a cassette tape, Drake takes a trip down memory lane, giving listeners a flush of nostalgia straight out the gates with bars like, “Back when the house I own now was my homescreen.” It’s reminiscent of Drizzy’s early days, but underwhelming in terms of his true artistry. It makes sense why he didn’t care to put this on an official album of gems.
Drake’s 2018 fifth album, Scorpion, had an intimidating 25 songs on it and it all began with “Survival.” On the record, Drake gasses himself with bars like “My Mount Rushmore is me with four different expressions.” Comfortable on his throne, the multiplatinum-selling rapper spits about the publicized ups and downs of his career, including his beef with Meek Mill and Diddy over a hypnotizing beat that sounds like it samples an old Sonic the Hedgehog arcade game. It’s solid at best. Yet it definitely lacks that face-scrunching effect that people expected from the first track.
10. “Keep The Family Close”
“Keep the Family Close” off The Boy’s 2016 LP, Views, is in fact underrated, like the entire project which aged gracefully. Over a symphony of woodwind instruments, Drake bounces back and forth between punchy and melodic cadences, speaking truth to the idea that his family helps alleviate the hurt caused by his partners and fake friends over the years. Matching the dark clouds that float over Toronto in the winter, the track has a darker feeling to it. “Keep the Family Close” probably would’ve hit harder if it were placed in the middle of the album, but as an intro, it more so tip toes rather than it thumps.
9. “Lust For Life”
Project: So Far Gone
2009’s So Far Gone intro “Lust for Life” is like an audio therapy session that you can revisit whenever times get rough. The enchanting key composition at the top of it ascends Drake into the depths of his consciousness, allowing confessional-like lyrics to follow about the ins and outs of his newfound fame. By the time the track released in 2009, the masses were falling in love with Drake’s vulnerability. If that’s the version of him you prefer, you’d probably rank this song higher. If you heard any of the next intros he would stick to with his following releases, you might agree that though it’s a gem, there are intros much better than “Lust for Life.”
8. “Free Smoke”
Project: More Life
Placed at the top of his playlist More Life in 2017, the best part of “Free Smoke” is the “Building a Ladder” sample by Hiatus Kaiyote in the beginning. Pivoting from those soulful vibes, storming 808s coat the foundation for Drake to step into his mid-2010s A-side bag with bars that attempt to stomp his competition into the dirt. The platinum-selling record starts the project off with an oomph, diverting from the usual easing in and opting for a more rugged origin point. While the trap flavor can be appreciated, guarded Drake just doesn’t hit as hard as unguarded Drake.
7. “Fireworks” Featuring Alicia Keys
Project: Thank Me Later
If you’re not hip to the magic of “Un-thinkable (I’m Ready),” Drake and Alicia Keys are super valid on wax. “Fireworks,” slotted at the top of his 2010 debut album, Thank Me Later, is yet another testament to that. The song is an indicator of the entire album with Drake rapping about where his life was in 2010, harmonizing with Alicia on the hook and using the verses to address questions that he would dodge in interviews. It’s one of the most thorough tracks on the project and one of the most seasoned Drizzy intros in what seems like a never-ending career high.
Drake and Future went dummy on What a Time to Be Alive. And it’s only right that they started this 2015 project of bangers with a smash like “Digital Dash.” With Metro Boomin’ and Southside on the production, the bassline provides one of the coldest beats on the entire mixtape. It’s more fitting for Future, for obvious reasons, but Drake taps into a beast mode of his own with a flex about being at the top of the rap game. Simply put, they did what needed to be done on this joint. They set the pace finely for one of the best trap projects in recent time.
Drake brought back the same formula he used on “Tuscan Leather” in 2013 for Certified Lover Boy’s “Champagne Poetry.” There are seamless transitions between the samples (shout-out Masego) and beat switches, finding Drizzy locked into a roller-coaster ride of thoughts about being a father, the most hated and a G.O.A.T. all in one. The storytelling is masterful, allowing this 2021 drop to stand as one of Drake’s best intros over the last decade-plus. Instead of making people dig deep into the project for a banger, he started it off with one.
The top five of Drake’s intros are basically interchangeable, but what will always have a secure spot is If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’s “Legend.” The PARTYNEXTDOOR-produced track, which samples “So Anxious” by Ginuwine, is a pump fake to the surprise album in the sense that it’s one of the few A-side cuts on the offering. On the 2015 track, the Canadian megastar asserts himself as a one-of-one talent, angry at the audacity anyone would have to disrespect everything he’s previously accomplished. Crooning through the grooves of the beat, “Legend” is truly a diamond in the rough.
3. “Dreams Money Can Buy”
Project: Care Package
The loosies that Drake dropped before the release of 2011’s Take Care were nothing short of amazing. “Dreams Money Can Buy” is one of those, and saw an official release to streaming in the form of Care Package in 2019. Though that effort is a compilation of old magic that came out between 2010 and 2016, “Dreams Money Can Buy” is still technically an intro, though it derives from a decade ago when Drake was still trying to reach the heights he has nowadays. It’s a potent piece of his story that through the sample, delivers Drake’s message to the masses: “Don’t fuck with me.”
2. “Over My Dead Body”
Project: Take Care
Drake’s Take Care intro “Over My Dead Body” asserts 40 as a sonic genius who coats beats with a power that will snatch your soul. Over tranquil piano keys and with the utilization of Chantal Kreviazuk’s voice, the combo of the melody, the chord progression and lyrics that come off as a short story will give you goosebumps. Not only is this track one of the best songs on 2011’s Take Care, but it’s also one of the best intros Drake has ever crafted. No one would really be mad if this also took the No. 1 slot. But at No. 2, it still gets its rightful flowers. And if you disagree, your ears must be on DND.
Drake’s best intro, “Tuscan Leather,” is devoid of choruses. Rather, it finds Drake delivering three verses, each equipped with their own beat. The woozying production styles, composed by 40, sample Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” as Drake offers a state-of-the-union-style address to the fans and his peers. Again, he names himself as the best rapper in the game, from the sonics to the quotable bars, down to calling out Nicki Minaj over their then-soured relationship, it doesn’t get much better than this Nothing Was the Same hit in 2013. Simply put, there isn’t much that needs to be said to defend this track taking the cake.