If he had nothing else, he had a vision. When Drake released his 18-track So Far Gone mixtape in February 2009—the third in his catalog and the one that would effectively launch him to music stardom—few could have foreseen how the project would set a tone for rap, R&B, and the increasingly blurred line between them. Refusing to commit to a singular focus as an MC or singer (though fully capable in both arenas), and with musical tastes exemplary of the iPod generation, he spanned influences as diverse as obscure DJ Screw freestyles and Coldplay samples. And then there are the beats.
At the time of the project’s release, mixtapes hadn’t fully crossed over from lyrical showcases on other rappers' instrumentals to their eventual identity as entire projects comprising wholly original songs. Seven months later, a seven-song EP—also called So Far Gone—featured five tracks from the original version, including the contemplative Trey Songz collab "Successful," the syrupy-sweet runaway smash "Best I Ever Had," and the invincibility-cloak-posturing "I'm Goin' In" featuring Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy. (Wayne, in fact, appears on no less than four of So Far Gone’s tracks.) But to only have heard the tracks out of context is to understand but a fraction of the tape's impact; they're now on Apple Music together for the first time.
So Far Gone was a proclamation of inspiration, and a celebration of the varied wells from which Drake drew his. On it he fashioned collabs with rising indie stars Lykke Li, Peter Bjorn & John, and Santigold out of songs they’d already released as singles. He sang over a Missy Elliott sample alongside former B2K frontman and established R&B heartthrob Omarion. He honored heroes Kanye West and JAY-Z by rapping over instrumentals for “Say You Will” and “Ignorant Shit,” respectively. He distorted his voice to sing over the instrumental of Houston anthem “June 27th,” a DJ Screw track itself built on an altered version of an obscure Kriss Kross song. About halfway through, future NBA Hall of Famer Chris Paul pops up to give him a shoutout. Sure, he had connections, but on So Far Gone Drake also had dreams. And he laid them out over the course of the tape, carving out a place for himself as arguably the biggest, brightest, and most influential of the era to follow.