Newcomers to snooker are largely concerned with one thing and one thing only: getting the balls into the pockets. Doesn’t matter which ball – as long as it’s not white – or which pocket. Professional snooker players, by contrast, have to announce which ball they are sinking into which pocket before they even make the shot. They aren’t trying to get any ball into any hole. They are playing a different game entirely, and they are only able to do so because they have the requisite skills and intelligence to recognise that a second game even exists. Those playing at an entry level aren’t even aware of the game that exists beyond the game.
The man known as Aubrey Drake Graham is playing the game beyond the game. Hotline Bling sees him mining the territory of nostalgia, love lost and the cruel passage of time in a way that is emotive but never melodramatic. His lyrics are on point. His voice is as good as it has ever been. Raw and honest, he never succumbs to generalizations or cliches, and one never gets the sense he is speaking anything but the truth.
While other rappers – and indeed, most pop stars – define themselves and their music with braggadocio influenced threats and ego-drenched boasts, Drake is working in territory those entry level musicians don’t even realize exists. He is playing the game beyond the game. And he’s winning.