Do you know about Album Mode? Let me tell you about Album Mode.
Or better yet, let me show you.
Boom. Album Mode.
If you’ll notice, this Instagram post is from June 19, 2019. Drake did not put out an album, specifically his new record Certified Lover Boy, until September 3, 2021, which means he was in Album Mode for approximately 26.5 months. (Dark Lane Demo Tapes, which Drake released in 2020, was officially released as a mixtape and therefore does not count towards any Album Mode calculations.) Now that Drake has released Album, aka Certified Lover Boy, he is blessedly free of its accompanying Mode — by the way, Drake’s Album Mode should not be confused with Drake à la mode, which is what happens when Drake spends $10,000 on ice cream — and we, Drake’s adoring public, are free to listen to it.
Why did Drake declare that he was in Album Mode by posting multiple pictures of himself on a golf course? To be fair, Drake being in Album Mode also involves him talking on the phone, drinking wine in a bar, drinking a spritzer in a pool, and standing in front of a car with his friends. But if there is one thing I know about Album Mode, it is that golf, or at least posing for a photo while holding a golf club, is integral to it. And when Certified Lover Boy dropped, I was pleasantly surprised to find that its fourth track, “In the Bible,” contained the lyric, “Think I’m Tiger Woods the way I’m teed off of 17 / And you know pockets on whatever, jeans on forever green.” The rest of the album is fine, by the way. There are some good songs, some songs worth skipping, and some songs that simply exist. Much like his semi-rival Kanye West, Drake is so popular that at this point he’s essentially critic-proof, and while this is a phenomenon that’s definitely worth discussing, it’s also a phenomenon that gives me an excuse to not talk about the actual Drake album and instead talk about golf.
Let us be clear: Drake seems to be super into sports in general, both playing and watching them. Here he is catching a football. Here is a blurry picture of him as a youth hockey player. Here he is playing basketball with Justin Bieber and Quavo from Migos. Kicking a soccer ball and accidentally breaking a lamp. Concentrating way too hard on bowling. Striking out in his own charity softball game. Getting a single in someone else’s charity kickball game. There are more sports out there, and I can’t think of them right now, Drake probably plays them. Wait, tennis! Okay yeah, Drake is into tennis, too. Meanwhile, it is a well-documented phenomenon that if you’re a sports person and/or a sports team and Drake decides to publicly root for you, something bad will probably happen.
But golf is a sport, and therefore, Drake is into it. From my extensive research into this subject, I wouldn’t say it’s his favorite thing in the world, but definitely a hobby. Drake seems like the type of guy who spends 40 to 60 percent (conservatively) of his time at fancy resorts, which are the sorts of places that, if they do not contain a golf course, are at least golf course-adjacent. So for Drake, golf is a side-effect of his overall lifestyle. Look at this photo. The setting looks very resort-like, and you can see that Drake, positioned on the leftmost side, is hitting balls on a driving range somewhere.
Another reason I’m extremely confident that Drake actually has some interest in golf is that there exists video footage of him actually swinging a golf club. A competent golf swing can’t be faked. It’s got like a bazillion moving parts and they have to be working in concert in order to result in you actually making solid contact with the ball, let alone not fall over while trying. Here is a video, from 2016, showing Drake hitting balls at TopGolf, which is sort of like the golf version of a fancy bowling alley crossed with an Applebees, while listening to his own music.
There are a couple problems with his backswing here — namely, he intentionally twists the club so that the toe points skyward as he comes back, which is actually a thing you’re supposed to let happen naturally, and he could stand to straighten his arms out, too — but Drake has the fundamentals down. He sets up with his back straight and positions his lower body like he’s sitting on a barstool, which is what golf teachers tell you to do, and he swings by creating torque with his torso rather than trying to just swing at it with his arms, which is how you make the ball go relatively straight. His backswing is slow and smooth, which helps him control the club as he brings it back down, and he maintains balance throughout the whole thing. From this video alone, I am prepared to declare Drake a Certified Golfer Boy.
But what is Drake to do with this sacred and profane knowledge of golf? Because he is Drake, the answer is not “play in celebrity pro-ams like he’s Justin Timberlake” (although, given his love of participating in sports, he’ll probably do that at some point). Instead, the answer is “wait several years for golf to become popular, then make money off golf.”
At an early September PGA event — i.e., just as Certified Lover Boy was about to drop — the professional golfer Brooks Koepka, who could be described as “fashion-forward” in that he was once profiled by GQ, was spotted wearing an unreleased mock-turtleneck/t-shirt thing from Nocta, which is Drake’s Nike-affiliated clothing brand. (Koepka is sponsored by Nike, btw.) Soon thereafter, Drake posted an Instagram story indicating that the upcoming Nocta collection will consist entirely of golf stuff and will be dropping at some point this month. Apparently, the collection will also involve a collaboration with the golf equipment giant TaylorMade and consumers will be able to purchase Nocta-branded, TaylorMade-made golf clubs and balls that will almost assuredly be marked up from their already outrageously high prices. In case things weren’t clear enough, Drake has also been spotted wearing a Nocta jacket prominently featuring an image of a golf ball, as well as the word “golf.”
Some context: Over the past few years, there’s been a minor renaissance in the independent golf space, with small brands such as Malbon, Manors, and Metalwood Studio — they don’t all start with the letter M, I swear! — popping up to inject a sense of what you or I might recognize as “style” into the normally garish and/or boring world of golf fashion. (While this has the unfortunate side-effect of enabling assholes who are into golf to look cooler than they actually are, this is not the cool golf brands’ fault, and it will be even less their fault if those cool golf brands ever decide to send me some free stuff.) The market for apparel that blurs the line between streetwear and linkswear has grown in tandem with the rise of golf as a pandemic pastime, to the point that the streetwear media empire Hypebeast, which already had a dedicated golf section on its website, actually hosted a golf tournament over the summer. Hell, the rapper Macklemore created a company called Bogey Boys, which was popular enough that some of the items, all of which are extremely ugly, sold out. And Macklemore sucks! Clearly, there’s gold in them thar hills, and there aren’t so many people mining it that Drake can’t swoop in and automatically seize a shitload of it.
Drake is by no means the only rapper out there who’s into golf. Scarface of the Geto Boys plays. So does ScHoolboy Q, and Rick Ross recently started golfing as well. When I was starting my career as a music writer, I went to interview The-Dream and all he wanted to talk about was golf. But few rappers besides Drake and Macklemore (lol) have actually tried to profit off of the game.
If nothing else, all of this provides further evidence that Drake, or at least the person whose job it is to make money for Drake, knows how to create feedback loops that yield positive cash flow. Drake announces his album with a picture of himself on the golf course, then, when the album finally drops, announces he’s now in the golf clothes business, while also inserting a line about golf into the album itself. For the next couple of months, approximately one out of every five golfers under the age of 40 who posts a picture of their round on social media will caption it with that Drake line, further forging the connection between the artist known as Champagne Papi and the game and providing stealthy organic marketing for Nocta mock-necks (Noct-mocks?) in the process.
Maybe I’m reading way too much into all of this. Perhaps it’s not that Drake is making a Herculean effort to subtly pump his line of golf stuff as much as he is now, privately, more into golf than ever before. We all grow older, but not all of us grow up. As facile as that is, it’s also the sort of thing that Drake would probably rap in a song called “8 a.m. at Moxy Times Square” or whatever, which is to say that it’s the exact amount of facile that it’s probably how Drake actually thinks. In October, Drake will turn 35. Last year, he blew out his knee and needed to have surgery. That’s an old people thing right there, or at least it’s a thing that happens to the sorts of late-career NBA players who Drake’s probably been friends with for over a decade. And like those guys, Drake probably can’t play all the sports that he’s used to playing, but clearly, something within his soul compels him to seek the thrill of competition. Golf is perfect for him; it’s a game that you can physically play your entire life, and it’s one that, like rap itself, is easy to learn but impossible to master. Drake, if you’re reading this, it’s not too late: You can always play more golf. Have your people call my people. I’ve got some swing tips for you.
Drew Millard has written for The New York Times, Vice, The New Republic, and The Outline and is currently working on a book about golf.