With samples ranging from Jon B to Juvenile, Drake's sophomore album, Take Care, is expansive in its reach. It's also daring in the way it continues to meld rap, pop, and R&B into a new sound perfectly tailored to be the soundtrack for a bi-racial former child actor from one of the most culturally diverse cities in North America. Or, as Noah "40" Shebib, 28, says, the album is brazen. Fair enough.
As the man behind the boards on every Drake release since So Far Gone, 40 is well qualified to describe what the two Toronto natives have accomplished. A former studio engineer, 40 has roots in the Canadian rap scene that intertwine with a number of its biggest stars.
While putting together the Complex's Dec/Jan cover story "The Long Way Home", we reached out to 40 to talk about how things came to be. Specifically, how he wound up as the Quincy to Drake's Michael, how the new album was created, how Toronto is reacting to his team's success, and who the real godfather of Toronto hip-hop is.
Interview by Damien Scott (@thisisdscott)
In the rap world the perception is “where the hell have you guys been?” Before, you would have two years to sit with an album before you start anticipating another one. Have times have changed?
Yeah, it’s funny. I think it’s a generational thing for sure, as far as how far apart albums were. You know, when we grew up it was a different time. I remember artists putting albums out five years apart from each other, you know?
Now, of course if six months goes by there’s something wrong. That obviously has to do with the Internet and the Google generation, you know things coming with immediacy—there’s a lack of patience. But also people like Jay and Luda putting albums out every fucking eight months for a while there.
Yeah Jay was dropping something every summer.
Even Ye. People just started putting out albums back to back to back. And they created sort of a stigma in the industry where it was like, “That’s the way it works.” And especially for new kids growing up and living with that mindset and seeing that, they expect it right away.
And with Twitter everybody knows what people are doing, and they’re saying, “What are you doing? How come you’re not in the studio working?”
One of the funniest things—I feel like just over the last couple months, has it been long enough that Thank Me Later has been for me to actually stop and look at it and see what it was. Or see even what it is to me now, and listen to it now, and see what impact does it have or how it sounds.
It was hard for me to analyze it over the last year because we’ve been in it. And to just now stop and look at it is like, you need that time. So I think that it’s unfortunate even as an artist that you don’t have the time to sort of absorb your own material and see how you should move forward.
Do you think that had any affect on the way this album came out?
If six months goes by [without new music] there’s something wrong. That obviously has to do with the Internet and the Google generation—there’s a lack of patience. But also people like Jay and Luda putting albums out every fucking eight months for a while there. Even Ye. People just started to put out albums back to back to back.
No, no, I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying like more generally. That’s my perception of the way the industry works as a result of people wanting music so quickly and having iTunes and having Spotify and getting something instantly. You know? Of course there’s leaks and things like that, and people putting out their own music for the sake of satisfying their fans. But I just mean like in general.
I think this album is fantastic. I think this is Drake’s best album. I think it’s a growth for both of us. Especially for him, lyrically and musically. I think we did things that we’ve always wanted to do on this album—like maybe a bit better than before.
I’m super-excited about the record. Like I wouldn’t even remotely begin to suggest that anything had an impact on it due to the fact that we turned it around, or started working on it, immediately after [Thank Me Later] was finished.
But I think just in general—you know what I mean? People like Drake will never have an opportunity to know what it’s like to take time putting out records. I mean, when we put out Thank Me Later, it must have been less than three weeks went by before we were back in the studio working on Take Care.
And he didn’t want to stop. He can’t because he knows that the fans want music. And if he knows the fans want music, he’s trying, he’s working, he’s in a studio. You know what I mean? Like, there will be no negative impact on him. Him? He doesn’t know no different. He’s just hungry. He just wants to work. He just wants to make the music.
But for me, who’s in a bit of a different position because I’m not actually the artist but I’m still deeply immersed in the project... I sometimes stop, and I’m like, "Man, it’s unfortunate." Because I don’t want to feel rushed. Like, let’s make music because we want to make music. Let’s never make music because we’re feeling the pressure of the world. You know?
But there’s two sides to that story. One is to look at it from that point of view. And the other is to look at it from the point of view of, like, Man, he’s so driven, and he feels that pressure, and it drives him, and he makes better music.
When he sees some stuff on the internet, it’s like, Man, he goes to the studio and works. And that’s where that comes out. And it’s the greatest feeling in the world getting that stuff back.
So whatever the case may be, it’s all motivation at the end of the day. It drives him to work harder and to develop his music faster and more powerfully. But just as a fan moreso, that’s what I’m saying.
I hate that the industry has done that to everybody, to all artists. I wish people could take more time. I came from the days of, like Metallica put out an album every five years. They were touring man. They don’t go right back to the studio like that.
As someone who stands back as a fan, it’s almost like, "Man, I hate that the industry has done that to everybody, to all artists. I wish people could take more time." I came from the days of Metallica putting out an album every five years. They were touring man. They don’t go right back to the studio like that.
Yeah, world tours. They were living life.
It’s a different genre of music, but it’s a great case in point.
What are the differences in the process of making Take Care versus Thank Me Later?
Frankly, we had a little bit more of an opportunity to stay home this time. And that made it feel a little bit more like So Far Gone as far as the process was concerned. Also Thank Me Later being our first major-label project, we really were more restricted than we are now.
We have a lot more samples and a lot more sort of brazen things we’ve done with this record than we did on Thank Me Later—and made it again closer to So Far Gone as far as the fact that we really didn’t have any limits. Like we could kinda do whatever we want.
With Take Care, we kinda got ourselves in the place where we can do whatever we want again. Not to say we didn’t do what we wanted on Thank Me Later. But you know, it wasn’t in our interest to make a record like Take Care at that point.
What kind of record is Take Care?
I really think it’s part of Drake’s story. And it’s such a moment in our journey. You know? Like, it’s another segment. I listened to it for the first time front to back the other day and it’s a real experience. It’s a real story. Something you can really pay attention to. There’s a lot of substance and context to it.
So what it is to me? It’s like, it’s us. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s just us. It’s what we feel. That’s the reason we make music. It’s rare that we make music because we’re trying to accomplish something. Moreso we’re just in the studio just sort of saying what’s on our minds if you will. So that’s the best way for me to describe it. Maybe on Thank Me Later we were more making a little more music. I think this one is just us.