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.
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!"
Do you think that slowed your momentum?
What about when you fell onstage in New Jersey and injured your knee?
During the recovery phase, what was going through your mind, in terms of your career?
I can imagine.
To hear the legions of Drake fans tell it, despite not having a full body of original work, he's an artist whose records can without question carry an entire show…and then some. It's those fans and that body of work that have well-known artists hopping on the Drake gravy train before it runs dry. And who can blame them? They can feel the tide changing, so instead of being washed ashore, artists like Jamie Foxx and Mary J. Blige—and even Kanye and Jay-Z, hip-hop's shrewdest trend forecasters—chose to sign up before the Drake movement moved without them. Not to say Drake is going to eclipse 'Ye or Jay, but when the younger audience is spending the money in today's here-this-morning-gone-this-afternoon culture, it's better to be safe than sorry. However, in order to play nice with everyone…well, you gotta play nice with everyone. Except maybe your fellow rookies.The first time we ever spoke, you said that you were more in tune with R&B artists than the current new guys rapping.
Around the time that Kanye directed "Best I Ever Had," it seemed like there was strife between your camp and Cudi's camp because Kanye was so enamored of you while Cudi's project was being worked on.
You feel like you're at the finish line?
If J. Cole is Nas, then who are you?
Of all your contemporaries, it seems like you want to be famous the most.
What Drake is doing is appealing to the widest array of fans possible. Yeah, girls love him the way they used to love LL Cool J, thanks to his melodic love raps. But it's dudes, even those considered to be "true heads," who have really hoisted Drake to his current level. Why? Some say it's his affiliation with Cash Money Records that allows him to play in both sandboxes, that because he's backed by Birdman and Lil Wayne, he seems to belong on a track with Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy as much as he does on a song with Mary J. Blige. And what's wrong with that? Nothing, especially considering that Mr. Carter is slated to serve up to a year in prison for weapons possession charges stemming from a gun found when the NYPD raided his tour bus in 2007. With Cash Money/Young Money's primary breadwinner behind bars, someone's going to have to fill his Supras…
You and Wayne share an ability to cross over to diverse groups. What do you think it is that attracts polar-opposite groups to enjoy your music? Is it the Young Money affiliation alone?
Does anybody in your extended team ever push you to be more...anything, I guess?
I think it's just that you were so far from what people expected when they thought "Young Money."
Take me through your songwriting process.
Are there other rappers you bounce ideas off of that may give you a line?
Is one of those "valid opinions" from a rapper named Nickelus F.?
So Far Gone
At the moment, you're in Atlanta working on Thank Me Later, but mentioned you still need to get in the studio with Wayne.
Do you know what you want it to sound like?
Would that song have made the album?
So Far Gone
Where does that need come from?
So Far Gone
So we're going to hear that on Thank Me Later?
How much will it have in common with So Far Gone?
So what differentiates them?
What kind of lights was So Far Gone?
So Far Gone
So it's more major this time around?
Our very first interview, which was just about a year ago, I remember you saying that when you did an album, it would keep the mixtape feel. What's changed?