Dubbed “Toronto’s most exclusive hotel,” the Hazelton is a mix of old money and new aesthetics. Rocking a gray North Star sweatshirt, baggy stone-washed denim, and Timbs, Drake stands on the sidewalk waiting for the rest of his crew to arrive while wealthy white businessmen and their spouses steal looks at the young rap star. He waves politely and smiles.
We move as a unit to the Hazelton’s ONE restaurant and grab a table. Drake tells me he would have liked to do the interview at his apartment but he’s having an experience shower installed.
“It’s a shower that’s lit by all LED lights,” he explains. “It has 10 jets, an overhead, and it sprays out lavender or whatever scents you want. It’s something I’ve always wanted.” Some guys buy chains and watches; Drake cops showers. His newfound affluence brings to mind a line from “Headlines,” the first single off his new album, Take Care: “I exaggerated a bit, now I got it like that.”
“Before it was foresight,” he says. “I used to rent a Phantom for $6,000 a month. I would tell girls I owned it or whatever. You know, I would exaggerate. But now it’s all good.”
I do not fear anyone in this game. Nobody. Especially none of these guys that are paid to talk s**t.
Shit, it must be. The “Headlines” video ends with Drake standing alone in the Rogers Centre—previously known as the SkyDome—looking to the clouds as the roof opens. I remark that shutting down the SkyDome must have cost a lot. Drake says the video only cost $60,000. “It’s always a phone call out here,” he says with a smile. “Anything is a phone call.”
More than the drop-top stadium, the video’s most talked-about image was Drake draped in all-black Nike apparel, surrounded by two groups of ominous-looking dudes in black hoodies. Blog commenters derided him for renting some thugs to make himself look tough.
But the guys in question are not some newly assembled goon squad. Most come from two of Toronto’s worst neighborhoods, Malvern and Galloway, which have been warring for the past few years. “There’s a lot of people lost in that situation, and through having mutual friends in both of those hoods, we were all able to come together, shoot that video, and immortalize that moment,” says Drake—visibly perturbed that he has to explain himself. “I don’t brag about my hood stories. Everybody’s like, ‘Get the fuck out of here with that shit,’ but I’ve done a lot for the streets out here.”
“Everybody knows Drake isn’t hood,” says Niko, his right-hand man and confidant. Neeks, as the crew calls him, is a quiet, bespectacled dude who met Drizzy back when he was pushing his first mixtape, Room for Improvement. Neeks says Toronto rap used to be much more street-oriented. Kardinal Offishall, Saukrates, and Choclair were the big names. “Drake came and flipped it and said everything that a hood guy can’t say. I guess that’s why people liked him.”
Drake has no delusions of himself as a gangster. He knows he’s at his best when paring down real-life events and emotions other rappers would never tackle. “Any musical sound is real to me,” Drake says as another round of drinks hits the table. “It doesn’t matter if it’s from like Lana Del Ray all the way to Future from Atlanta or ASAP Rocky. Sonically, you can do whatever you want. That’s the beautiful thing about music: you get to make a choice. The more you can start pinpointing pieces of your actual life and start pulling it into your music, people will be like, ‘Damn, that’s something I’ve only thought about, but this guy put it into a song.’ ” He mentions the drunk-dialing ditty “Marvin’s Room” as one example of a song drawn from his daily life.
But if music is a blend of reality and artistic license, where does Drake’s talk about catching bodies fall? “Who’s going to catch a body with all these niggas rapping about murder?” he asks. “Who’s really putting a body on a gun?” C-Murder and Gucci Mane come to mind, but I say nothing. “When I say, ‘You’re going to make someone around me catch a body like that,’ that’s something you can ask them about.” He points to his boy Chubbs—the one who’s “in love with street shit.”
“Everybody wants to poke and jab at Drake because they don’t feel like he will throw back,” says Chubbs, who met Drake nearly four years ago. “But nobody around here is going to let something happen to him at any time, especially me. I’m not ever going to let nothing happen to him. If it’s going to happen it’s going to happen to me first.”
Drake never looks for trouble, but he’s not going to run and cower if it comes looking for him. “If somebody wants to bring a problem to me, it’s strictly based off of their immense amount of hate for me,” he says. “It’s never because I’ve sparked that using my voice, my image, or my outlet. I never use my outlet for confrontation or negativity, ever. I always try and give people music to ride to and music to enjoy. All I ever ask in return is that it’s mutual love.”
Is that too much to ask? Maybe. But what can you do when the love turns to hate? “I’m ready for whatever,” he says. “I don’t give a fuck. I want to move through life in the most non-confrontational way possible, but I’m not a pussy. Don’t ever get that mixed up.”
There is one thing that Drake fears though: “Dying, before I accomplish all this,” he says as the waiter arrives. “That’s it. My father taught me: ‘Don’t fear any man. Don’t ever fear another person.’ I don’t get myself mixed up with stupid shit. I get a lot of love. I don’t feel tension. I stand 6'2". By no means am I the most threatening guy in the rap game, but there are very few people who will come up and say that shit to me in person. It’s always all smiles. That’s one thing I do not fear, anyone in this game. Nobody. Especially none of these guys that are paid to talk shit.”