Drake’s highest peaking single at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Hotline Bling”, has an interesting backstory to it. The single potentially could’ve hit number one but thanks to the exclusive release on Apple Music it couldn’t. According to Business Insider, Apple Music does not report music video views to Nielsen Music so there was no way to obtain the stream count of Drake’s popular meme-dense video. Nonetheless, with a catchy beat, lyrics and Drake’s meme-bait dancing he was able to create a hit with almost 1 billion views on YouTube.
Unfortunately the infamous “Hot Line Bling” beat is not an original beat. To my surprise, I was under the assumption that Drake and his producers were able to create an entirely new sound, instead of sampling an old beat. The beat sampled in the song is originally from 1973’s number 3 pop hit record, Timmy Thomas’ “Why can’t we live together”.
According to Rap Genius, “Hot Line Bling” is most likely about Drake’s EX-Girlfriend back home in Toronto, Nebby. Because of their on and off again relationship her Instagram account is a constant reminder that she’s never home (“running out of pages on your passports”) and out wearing almost nothing (“started wearing less and going out more”). Drake is upset that she use to “make his hotline bling” but now is out enjoying her life and doesn’t bother to call him. If you pay close attention to the lyrics they can kind of come off as creepy, possessive, and somewhat sexist.
Don’t get me wrong the song sounds great, but the lyrics are somewhat questionable. For example, “Why you never alone, Why you always touching road. Used to always stay at home, be a good girl. You was in the zone, yeah. You should just be yourself. Right now, you’re someone else.” Drake is basically upset that his Ex-Girlfriend is independent and he basically wants her to be someone that he can control just waiting at home for him while he travels and performs around the world. He wants this girls entire life to just revolve around him.
On the other hand, the sample from Timmy Thomas’ “Why Can’t We Live Together” is a song about advocating world peace and being able to live together no matter what your skin color is he considers everyone to be brothers and sisters. I find it very ironic that Drake chose to use a sample from a song even though it has an entirely different meaning it can literally be applied to Drake’s situation with his Ex-Girlfriend. The beat is very smoothly made up of an organ and some sort of rhythmic machine. Compared to Drake’s version where he and his producers speed up the beat slightly to increase the beats per minute and give it a kind of Super Mario video game vibe to it with a bass boosted drum kick and snare.
The way Drake and his team got their hands on such a beat is where it gets questionable. In the spring of 2015 an artist named D.R.A.M released a song called “Cha Cha” using the same Timmy Thomas sample but he altered it and added a Nintendo themed sample from popular video game Super Mario World (song called Star Road). Once again not only did Drake not create the sound, but the video game sample that he added wasn’t even his original idea, he stole it from D.R.A.M’s “Cha Cha”. Lyrically however, the songs are very different, D.R.A.M basically just says how wants to Cha Cha in a Latin bar and meet a nice Latin woman. When Drake first released “Hotline Bling” he labeled it as a remix to “Cha Cha” but as the song got popular he dropped the “remix” from the title. D.R.A.M even went to Twitter after the popularity of “Hotline Bling” saying “Yea I feel like I got jacked for my record…But I’m GOOD.”
When comparing D.R.A.M’s record to Drake’s there are noticeable similarities other than the sampled beats. “I like to Cha Cha” and “You use to call me on my” have similar pitch patterns and are both the respective hooks to “Cha Cha” and “Hotline Bling”. Then in his music video Drake had the audacity to do the Cha Cha dance basically laughing in the face of D.R.A.M.
It is unfair for an artist to hijack another artist’s song no matter how much publicity the originator gets; publicity does not pay. If Drake’s song didn’t sound so similar to D.R.A.Ms and if he used a completely different sample I wouldn’t think it was a hijacking but the songs are too similar for it to go unnoticed. Just because Drake is the more popular artist he gets away with ripping an original record. Sure, D.R.A.M used the Timmy Thomas sample, but his record was much different from Thomas’. He recreated the organ beat, sped it up, and incorporated the Super Mario Theme to it which Drake also seems to have used in Hotline Bling. According to Coyle, “since the consolidation of rock and roll, the ‘cover song’ has established itself as a way for performers to signify difference”. It’s one thing to use a song to help your creative process but Drake did not change it enough for me to believe that.
Drake stunted the growth for D.R.A.M’s record because the way the U.S music structure is set up there’s no room for multiple songs with the same beat to be hot at the same time. Most of what Drake does is to maintain his brand as being a “hot” rapper so he always has to produce hit records and the easiest way to do this is to find the new hot wave (instead of creating your own) and blow it up.
Heres a video of D.R.A.M’s song played over Drakes Hotline bling beat: