The top draft pick of 2009 is finally putting his (young) money where his mouth is. Can Drake stand strong while the world loses its mind over him?
New Money stands out. Take the Twelve Hotel in downtown Atlanta. Everything is modern, angular, all rich wood grains and polished metals. The chairs in the lobby are likely as expensive as they are uncomfortable. It feels like a playground for people comfortable with privilege. So it comes as no surprise that Aubrey "Drake" Graham and his crew are staying here while in ATL, and it's hard to blame him for feeling entitled: After all, he did help usher in an entirely new sensibility in hip-hop. It's not the singing that makes him special—MCs have been crooning for years. What puts Drake in a different space than rappers past and present has less to do with his music than how he found himself in a position to make it. He doesn't represent traditional hip-hop in any form or fashion. There were no obstacles to his success; far from a statistic, he caked off as a child star on a soft-ass show (Degrassi: The Next Generation). He's Canadian, which as we all know did wonders for the careers of Maestro Fresh Wes and Kardinal Offishall. And he's Jewish! Scope those stats on paper and rap celebrity seemed destined to elude Drake. Yet, the Toronto kid made it work. But how?
Call it the Kanye plan (at least to an extent—even K. West had more trouble breaking down doors than Drizzy has). Just as the Chicagoan did with the Roc, Drake aligned himself with one of the most prominent rap labels in the game (Cash Money) and absorbed a modicum of street cred in the process. Would DJ Khaled ask him to appear on record if he wasn't down with Weezy? Probably not. But that's beside the point. The fact is that a guy who raps—and sings!—about heartache is working with Jeezy; more than anything, that exemplifies the shift in the landscape. Hip-hop has long conflated gangster and authenticity, and Drake has managed to shrug that off without losing face. The question is, how long will his balancing act last? Rap may change, but it also keeps changing; overnight success has no insurance policy. Thinking about it all is enough to make anyone crazy, but sitting down to dinner in the half-empty restaurant on the Twelve's ground floor, Young Money's (half-)white knight seems calm and carefree, even as he builds about the year behind him and the one ahead. What's to worry about? It might be new money, but having it never gets old.As smooth as your entry to the rap world was, you only stumbled when people questioned your choices, like the video for "Best I Ever Had."
Drake: You can do something you believe in and people will still say, "This shit is terrible!" But I still believe in Kanye's vision. Maybe we didn't do a great job with getting the point across—it was supposed to be a humorous video. When I read the comments, I was like, Man, I guess no one wants to laugh anymore. Everybody wants the fairy tale, you know?
For an artist who's perceived to be so multifaceted, it was interesting to see people try to put you in a box: "How could he do this? This is degrading to women!"
Drake: If you listen to the lyrics, it's really not a romantic song. It's humorous. Yes, it's great to tell a woman, "You're the best I ever had." But the hook was so lovey-dovey that I just wanted to make the verses some fun shit. And that's how I viewed that song. Like a good time, like a laugh.
Do you think that slowed your momentum?
Your video going number one doesn't really mean much anymore. 'Cause it's only 106 & Park.
What about when you fell onstage in New Jersey and injured your knee?
Drake: That never happened. [Laughs.]
During the recovery phase, what was going through your mind, in terms of your career?
Drake: I was going so hard that the only way I could have ever slowed down was for something extremely painful to happen. I'm just glad I only tore my ACL and didn't get shot or stabbed or anything. It was an injury that allowed me time for discipline. That was somebody watching over me and being like, "Look, you need to slow down." If that had kept up, and I had done 50 or 60 shows before I tore my ACL, and I was at all these parties…I don't know, man. I don't know if I'd be where I'm at right now. As crazy as it may sound, I think that was how it was supposed to go. It was painful.
I can imagine.
Drake: Extremely painful. I fought with my managers, like, "You don't understand, I can't do this tour." Then I went and saw a doctor who gave me advice like, "If you don't move around too much and you wear a brace, you'll be fine." But this is what I love to do. So when "Best I Ever Had" comes on, I can't help but run around. That's my fuckin' song! I got 25,000 people that actually want to hear me perform. But it was a reality check: Sit the fuck down. The interesting thing is gonna be my new performance style. It's not gonna be the same Drake jumping on speakers and running to each side of the stage—well, not for a while. I'm gonna have to get a little Jay-Z influence on my performance style; hopefully my records will be powerful enough to carry the show.