A good way to sniff out whether your hip-hop record is a hit or a certified cultural phenomenon is to track who all makes their own version of it. Jay Z and Kanye West’s “Otis” fell out of the sky in the summer of 2011, and by Thanksgiving of the same year, everyone from Riff Raff to Justin Bieber had cut a “freestyle” over a crude Otis Redding sample chop. It happened to Drake when he left some open measures inside his 2013 smash “Started from the Bottom,” and every living soul with #BARZ and studio access bit the swag. If your song is so irresistible that your peers trip over one another to get a piece of the glow, you’ve got one.
It’s happening again to Drake with this summer’s “Hotline Bling,” a spiritual successor (or a jack, your call) of Virginia rapper/singer D.R.A.M.’s “Cha Cha.” It’s the #2 song in the country now, creeping up behind frequent Drake collaborator the Weeknd’s unstoppable “The Hills,” and people are dropping covers at such a clip that we’ve decided to sift through them all so you don’t have to. Look below for a roundup of all the noteworthy “Hotline Bling” remixes, from the good to the bad to the “Dawg, are you fuckin kidding?”
12) Iman Shumpert — Highlight Reel (Hotline Bling)
"Dawg, are you fucking?" is especially apt when it comes to "Highlight Reel (Hotline Bling)." We have no idea why Cleveland Cavaliers Shooting-Guard Iman Shumpert made this song. Well, actually it was recorded in support for Breast Cancer awareness so we do know why—we just wish he hadn’t. Please let Auto-Tune/cast-privy Shumpert and this song be a lesson that good intentions can have horrible, horrible outcomes. —JW
11) Alessia Cara — Hotline Bling (Acoustic Cover)
Fundamentally, there’s nothing wrong with Alessia Cara’s “Hotline Bling” cover but like many of the others in the latter half of this list it goes in with a unique approach—this one being an Acoustic cover— and the end result is kind of meh. Cara is clearly talented, but this downtempo version lacks the quiet energy of Drake’s version which is integral to nailing the song no matter what spin you give it. And as a result it falls flat. But hey it's all in good fun, and backup guitarists Adrian and Eric tried their best. —JW
10) Yuna — Hotline Bling Cover
Yuna’s “Hotline Bling” isn’t bad, per se, but in stripping away everything but cascading keys and some aqueous low end, she bets the farm on the lyric sheet. Thing is, Drake’s lyric is unremarkably meat-and-potatoes in spots, and you can tell because everyone who succeeded at remaking it did so either by singing the shit out of it, tweaking the lyrics, or some clever combination of both. Ironically, Yuna’s rendition is most Drake-like in execution—she comes around but doesn’t do much else besides give a straight read of the material in her own voice. Makes you wonder how much we would care about the Drake versions of things if the machinery of mass international stardom wasn’t attached. —CJ
9) Kehlani and Charlie Puth — "Hotline Bling"
Nobody saw this Puther Vandross and KehlaniNextDoor “Hotline Bling” rendition coming, and to keep it all the way frank, that’s probably because it was not needed. It’s earnest, tender, and very preciously vocalized—if your two favorite Glee characters spent the first two acts of an episode in a lover’s quarrel, you can totally hear this as the climactic “Are we still a thing?” duet that reunites them, or in the true spirit of “Hotline Bling,” rips them apart for good. But this theater geek austerity is a weird fit for Drake. He’s plenty melodramatic, but the sense he gives off that he’s trying to look cool through his pain is what makes all of it bearable. Without it? *shudders* —CJ
8) Jadakiss Ft. Nino Man — "Thot Line Bling"
While the original is most certainly petty and spiteful, Jadakiss and Nino Man trade in some of the most disrespectful bars on “Thot Line Bling.”For example “Every since I left the city you/Single parent home but your mom works/Fucking with some stretchies for some converse” or “Bitch gon be so mad when I’m really on/Becuz When I get them M’s I’m curving you.” Honestly, we’re not sure what to make of this but it’s hard not to think this could’ve been the very same song Drake had in his rough drafts. This song flourishes in being problematic but somehow Jada wins us... over? *yikes* —JW
7) Trina — "Hotline Bling (Remix)"
By the time you finish reading this paragraph, you will have probably finished listening to Trina’s minute and a half long re-work of Hotline Bling so let's get this over with. The Diamond princess drops some pointed barbs like “You in love with a stripper/ I’m in love with a Clipper” before half singing off-key for the rest of the song For someone who has consistently blessed us with solid verses on remixes (about the only good thing on pre-woke Chingy's “Right Thurr remix”), she delivers something that is kind of alright but still good enough to rest above mediocrity. —JW
6) Tim Vocals — "Potline Bling"
There is something truly disturbing about how “crimewave-cover specialist” Tim Vocal twists “Hotline Bling” into a song about getting caught by the feds while sounding so good doing it. For instance, we played Vocal’s cover to an unsuspecting audience and it largely went otherwise unnoticed as the original song until “I got 6s I got 15’s/ my jail n***as know what that mean” hit the speakers. Now, one could surely make the argument that people don't pay attention to lyrics, but just imagine being in a moment of time where you believed it was Drake saying those words. The sheer confusion and concern that the past seven years of your life were a lie and with that a disturbing realization that maybe the Canadian rapper was making somber drug tales about Guantanamo Bay the whole time. Very few songs in life can create such powerful moments such as these, far less covers, so when they do you have to acknowledge the sophisticated level of trollery at work. —JW
5) Mila J — "Hotline Bling Bling"
Mila J’s “Hotline Bling Bling” sounds like Drake’s original trick-or-treating as Chris Brown’s “Deuces,” which goes over much better than it sounds like it would on paper. The evil robot harmonies shadowing her voice are an intriguing armament, but the song really opens up when she ditches em and fans her lead vocal out into three interlocking parts two-thirds of the way through. The deliberate emotional vacancy of the singing here is the most curious decision; everyone else who covered this was too concerned with showing their wares as singers to reach out and grab the soul-dead crux of the song. —CJ
4) Keyshia Cole — "Hotline Bling (Remix)"
Do not let Keyshia Cole near your song. She will snatch it and turn it against you. When Chris Brown and Tyga and all them thought they got one over on bad girls with “Loyal,” Keysh assembled a ragtag band of underrated hip-hop/R&B Avengers—Mila J, K. Michelle, Lil Mo, Da freaking Brat—and coldly flipped it on the boys. (“Y’all niggas ain’t shit, nor is your daddy or your granddaddy, that’s the problem.”) “Hotline Bling” is exactly the kind of smirking, patronizing bro hurt she lives to bulldoze, and Father God, she came through. Here, the hotline’s still blinging, but it’s not for her, it’s for a boy she’s seeing who’s got a wandering eye when she’s not around. The reversal’s simple, but pair it with the pleading urgency and casual technical excellence of Keyshia Cole’s singing, and you get a powerful entry in the Drake covers arms race. —CJ
3) Fuego — "Cuando Suena El Bling"
Everything Fuego touches (and covers) turns to rose gold. Just listen to his beautiful cover of Drake’s other ruminative anthem “Marvin’s Room.” So, by and large it's no surprise that he turns that song’s spiritual successor into a work of lustful longing and passion and one of the best versions of the single. Lord, the way he rolls his tongue when he says “Como te rompo a ti, como te rompo así” it's just ooh, Fuego, he’s just too good. —JW
2) Sam Smith & Disclosure — "Hotline Bling"
Fact: Sam Smith is a better singer than Drake. Another fact: Being a better singer doesn’t necessarily mean a great cover. In this case, however, Smith and Disclosure’s take stands as a great “Hotline Bling” cover simply because they do very little to alter the original formula. And whilst everything from the dance-y 4/4 uptick, the airy synths that sound like turbine engines and Smith’s crooning sound like some of the trio’s past work, ultimately these serve as additional flourishes that still follow the same direction and energy of the original song. Sometimes playing it safe is the best thing option. —JW
1) Erykah Badu — "Hotline Bling But U Caint Use My Phone Mix"
Erykah Badu’s best songs involve telephones. When a trifling beau is told to come get his shit on 1998’s “Tyrone,” she waves him off to call a friend to help pack, pettily snarking “But you cain’t use my phone.” A decade later “Telephone” recounted the chilling tale of late, great friend and collaborator J. Dilla in his darkest illness saying he’d spoken to Ol’ Dirty Bastard and received directions to heaven. Erykah’s a giant, and she attacks her self-referential “Hotline Bling (BUT YOU CAINT USE MY PHONE MIX),” her first new song in what feels like ages, as a lioness toying with her dinner.
Badu begins by rewriting Drake’s chorus, imbuing an audacious soul it didn’t know it needed as she spices up melodies and replaces the hollow “You used to call me on my cell phone” with the punchier “You used to call me on my cell-u-lar de-vice at night.” Just when you think Drake’s song’s been fully coopted, she does away with the beat too, swapping the Timmy Thomas sample and trap drums of Toronto producer Nineteen85’s original production for a bed of luscious keys, tambourines to keep time, and sparse wire brush snare hits for personality. By minute seven, she’s excised the bleeding essence out of the thing and given it brand new life. Supposedly there’s a whole mixtape of these reduxes forthcoming, and everyone should be very scared. —CJ