This song finds Drake focusing on a former lover, as he recalls the late night calls from her on his cell phone:
I know when that hotline bling, that can only mean one thing
Drake knew when his hotline "blinged" late at night it could only be a booty call from his girl. Now Drake doesn't get those calls anymore, and it's driving him crazy. With his cell phone silent, he is mad with jealousy, wondering if she's getting freaky with someone else.
The song's instrumentation heavily samples the instrumentation of Timmy Thomas' 1972 hit "Why Can't We Live Together
." Despite Drake recontextualizing Thomas' plea for universal tolerance into a lament about his ex, the R&B veteran is grateful because it means he is returning to the radio. "I was very proud to listen to what he had done with it," Thomas told Spin
. "Even though he had changed the message that I had, you know, 'Why can't we live together.' But what it does is it gives me a chance for my name to be back out there, and gives me a chance to say something to the young people again. And that's what exciting about it with me."
When Drake first dropped the song, it was billed as a remix of "Cha Cha," a R&B cut from D.R.A.M. The relatively unknown Virginia singer first made headlines when Beyoncé announced on Instagram her appreciation for "Cha Cha."
D.R.A.M. admitted to some frustration at the success of "Hotline Bling" after a gig at Drake's home city. "Just performed in Toronto for the first time tonight and it was bittersweet," he tweeted. "Sweet cus I'm out here sharing my music, my sound with the people. Bitter though, cus after my performance all I'm seeing is Cha Cha/Hotline Bling comparisons on my timeline. N------ want to know how I feel about that…Yeah, I feel I got jacked for my record…But I'm GOOD."
Here are some of the songwriting and production tricks that make this song so memorable:
1) The way Drake sings the phrase "Hotline Bling" in a rapid staccato, which he also does on the line "mean one thing." After hearing it sung this way throughout the song, it's hard not to think of the title with that phrasing.
2) The music drops out in strategic places, leaving Drake a cappella when he sings "'Cause ever since I left the city, you..." and "These days all I do is wonder." This gets your attention without being overly intrusive.
3) Drake's vocal ends at 3:32 with the line, "Ever since I left the city," leaving it uncompleted. Rather than the expected "you," the song resolves for the next 55 seconds, starting with just the synth percussion track which is then joined by the organ sample as the song begins a very slow fadeout. The last few seconds are silent, leaving us to think about what we just heard. In a world of short attention spans, this is a very unusual technique.
The "Why Can't We Live Together" sample gives this song a retro feel that is offset with contemporary elements like the synth bass, electronic drums, snaps and a sprinkling of sound effects (heard in the bridge). Since the sample comes from a 1972 soul burner, it makes the song appealing to many listeners who are generally averse to modern hip-hop, notably Erykah Badu.
D.R.A.M.'s "Cha Cha" samples "Star World" by Koji Kondo from Super Mario World, which has a similar rhythm to "Why Can't We Live Together." Drake told The Fader that he was putting his own spin on the one riddim like they do in dancehall. "You know, like in Jamaica, you'll have a riddim and it's like, everyone has to do a song on that," he explained to the magazine. "Imagine that in rap, or imagine that in R&B. Imagine if we got one beat and every single person – me, this guy, this guy, all these guys – had to do a song on that one beat."
"So sometimes I'll pick a beat that's a bit, like, sunnier, I guess is the word you used, than usual, and I just try my hand at it," Drake continued. "And that's kind of what 'Hotline Bling' was. And I loved it. It's cool. I've been excited by that sort of creative process."
The video was shot by Director X, who previously directed Drake's clips for "Started from the Bottom
" and "Worst Behavior
The visual opens with a group of beautiful women in a call center, before switching to shots of Drake dancing alone framed amongst minimal white design illuminated by vibrant colors.
The work was inspired by visual artist James Turrell, whose work focuses on the explorations of perception, light, color and space. Drake attended his Los Angeles County Museum of Art light exhibition in 2014.
In a statement issued to The Art Law Blog
, Turrell said he had no hand in the video's creation:
"While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake f--ks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the Hotline Bling video."
Director X told The Fader
that one of the inspirations behind the video was his own work with Sean Paul. "I'm influenced from a lot of places," he said. "I'm a set-driven director. A lot of kids were noticing that this feels like the Sean Paul video [for "Gimme The Light
"] which was a light-driven piece. A lot of kids were saying it looks like this other Sean Paul video, 'I'm Still In Love,' which is another video I did, which is another set-driven, people in boxes kind of piece. I do understand why people would say that's Turrell's thing but this is my style best of all. I'm definitely familiar with the man's work, he's a genius. But if you look back at what I do, this is my style."
"Drake's vibe and involvement [made the 'Hotline Bling' video experience] a little different than your usual music video, where you're hired and it's: 'Here's the gig and here's the thing we're doing.' Drake is a part of it, he has an idea of what he wants. He wanted to do that whole dance number with [dancer] Tanisha at the end."
"That dance was a throwback for me and Tanisha, to Sean Paul's 'Gimme The Light.' Tanisha and I do the same dance and situation in those videos. This really does feel like a 'Gimme The Light' for a new millennium, or the '10s. But this is definitely on a different level. I've seen some videos react, 'Gimme The Light' was a real piece of culture. It was a music that was out of the spotlight for a while - it all really hit and people were excited when it happened."
Drake's awkward dancing in the video quickly spawned various memes and parodies, culminating with a Saturday Night Live skit that featured Donald Trump and other non-dancing types doing a sendup, implying that Drake was dancing like a dad. Martin Short appeared in the bit reprising his Ed Grimley character.
Erykah Badu did a popular cover of this song that stretches to 7:27. She worked on the track with producer Zach Witness, and the collaboration led to Badu's 2015 mixtape, But You Caint Use My Phone
. Badu isn't big on modern hip-hop, but "Hotline Bling" jumped out at her and she felt a connection to the song.
Drake and Badu are friends; he rapped about stopping by her place for tea on his 2014 track "Days in the East
Drake appeared in a T-Mobile commercial titled "Restricted Bling" that debuted during the 2016 Super Bowl. In the spot, he is performing this song when three management types (presumably from a rival phone company) interrupt him after he sings the line, "call you on my cell phone," demanding changes to reflect their restrictions ("device eligible for upgrade after 24 months"). He's also not allowed to sing "You got exactly what you asked for," since "we never give them what they ask for."
The track first surfaced when Drake dropped in on his barber Jason Macaraig's wedding at York Mills gallery in his hometown of Toronto and performed it at the reception. The following week, the song received its radio premiere during Drake's OVO Sound Radio show alongside his first of two Meek Mill disses, "Charged Up
Drake previously sang about a phone call on his 2011 single "Marvin's Room
." That time it was him drunk-dialling his ex on her hotline. Also the If You're Reading This It's Too Late
," takes us back to the Toronto MC's teenage years when he did a phone scam to support his mom.
The chorus is repeated four times in this song, the first coming after a 12-second intro. Musically, these chorus section vary: the first one contains full instrumentation, but in the second chorus, the drums drop out for the first section. In the third chorus, the drums and bass are both removed for the first section. The final chorus is identical to the second in terms of instrumentation.
When Drake wonders if the girl is "rollin' up a backwoods for someone else," he's referring to Backwoods cigars. Rolling up a cigar for someone is rather intimate. Not foot-massage intimate, but certainly cause for concern.
This won for Best Hip-Hop Video at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards.
This took the prize for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Song at the 2016 American Music Awards. Drake also won for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Artist, and his Rihanna collaboration "Work
" won for Favorite Soul/R&B Song.
It was Toronto producer Nineteen85 who came up with the beat. He recalled to Billboard magazine: "I was in my car, listening to a satellite station that plays a lot of smooth-rock deep cuts, and the original song ["Why Can't We Live Together,” by Timmy Thomas] came on. By the time I got home, I had basically made the beat in my head. There's a thing he knows how to do on my beats that connects with the audience so well."
This won Grammy Awards for Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 2017 ceremony.