For as long as he’s been at the nexus of hip-hop, Drake has comfortably straddled the line between global citizen and master panderer. The guy simply cannot stop doing new accents. His latest is a stab at Arabic on a new song called “Only You Freestyle” with the London rapper Headie One. Whether or not it’s any good is kind of beside the point by now, nothing is getting in his way of Drake's 101-approach to language learning.
A speech and dialect coach based outside of Toronto told The Fader after “Jungle” came out in 2015 that Drake’s play with accents amounts to code-switching between segments of his fanbase and Toronto. “I don't feel he's putting on a whole different dialect," John Fleming told the magazine. "He's just using a different voice for the different people he speaks to. Think about the voice you use with a bank teller compared to the voice you speak to your grandma with.” It’s hard to imagine him using some of these at the bank or with anyone’s grandmother, but here’s a guide to Drake botching accents over the years.
Drake’s most recent addition to the arsenal comes on the “Only You Freestyle,” which was released on Monday. At one point, he raps: “Arabic ting told me that I look like Youssef, look like Hamza/ Habibti please, ana akeed, inti wa ana ahla.” Mic social director Ramy Zabarah, whose first language is Arabic, confirms that “yes, Drake’s Arabic is as bad as it sounds in this song.” That said, it’s in line enough with his past accent work and in-jokes that it almost works. “I don’t know if it bothers me that much since it's not that uncharacteristic of him and he's kinda very self-aware of his pandering tendencies.” This wasn’t his first dabbling with the language, after rapping “It's a Habibi’s ting, ya?” on More Life’s “Portland” back in 2017. Clowned for being the wrong tense and celebrated in equal measure, he was most likely just shouting out a friend who runs Habibi’s Hookah Lounge in Toronto.
This is one of the most shameless and reliable accents Drake’s tried on in the past, dipping into Jamaican culture for the better part of a decade now Timed around the release of Views in 2016, BuzzFeed published a comprehensive deep dive observing how Drake’s at-times clumsy forays into Afro-Caribbean music tracks with the culture he’s ensconced with in Toronto. From the early collabs with dancehall artists Mavado and Popcaan, to “Hotline Bling” cribbing some moves and so much of More Life, it seems locked into his repertoire.
Much like an entire legion of hip-hop bloggers, Drake got really into grime right around 2016. From Views and More Life onward, he’s spotlighted some of the U.K.’s most notable artists from Skepta to Wiley and the aforementioned Headie One. This has creeped into his cadence in hilarious ways, on the “Behind Barz” freestyle and peppering some oys throughout this year’s heavily grime-inspired Dark Lane Demo Tapes. Despite facing accusations of appropriating or culture vulturing in, well, just about everything Drake does, Stormzy seemed to think bringing grime to a wider audience was a positive. “I think it helps because Drake is undeniably a fucking massive, gargantuan artist, and an incredible artist as well,” he told Charlamagne tha God earlier this year. “So having a big, incredible artist pay homage or pay recognition to a style or genre is undeniably a good thing, a positive.”
Definitely an early Drake affectation, but no less weird than any of the others to hear in retrospect. At his most impressionable (read: Thank Me Later,) Drake tested out the flow of his Houston and Atlanta idols after spending significant time in each city. Chameleonic as ever, you hear him kind of adopting the Cash Money drawl on his Lil Wayne-featuring “Miss Me,” and especially on T.I.’s “Fancy” from that same record.
This was more of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it slang than trying on a full-fledged accent, but on Swae Lee’s “Won’t Be Late” from last summer, Drake rapped the following: “Ikebe, pressing on me heavy/ Pressing up against me real close. Bakasi, moving on me.” Someone on Instagram wondered if the track’s producer, Nigeria’s Tekno, tipped him off to the phrases, but Drake came back as an “I do my own research” guy. Time will tell if more’s on the way: