I get a text from Drake at 12:34 AM.
“Where you at? Come to my crib.”
The Boy—as much of his team refers to him—is having a party tonight. The guard at the entrance to his gated Hidden Hills neighborhood tells me that Drake has reached his limit on guests for the evening. Even with an invite, access to Drake’s home requires effort.
“Fuckkk. Man, I’m coming for you.”
Seconds later, a black, heavily-tinted Escalade arrives at the gate. The driver rolls down the window and calls out my name.
The SUV makes it to Drake’s estate and pulls into the driveway. I see a basketball court, foreign cars sitting in a garage and a crowd of women standing by a side door, waiting to check their phones with security. I get out and prepare to do the same when a member of security calls out my name, escorts me to the front of the line and into the house.
I walk up a single flight of stairs to the kitchen. The aesthetic inside is warm—earth tones, with lots of wood. The lighting has a neon glow that makes reds look orange and blues look purple. There’s Drake, posted up against a nook in the corner of the kitchen. He’s wearing an all red OVO sweatsuit with gold owl embroidery. Individuals famous for their own work within or association with this operation—40, Chubbs, OB O’Brien, Ryan—are in the vicinity.
Drake greets me like he’s known me for a decade. It’s a casual weekday night, but the spread on the counter adjacent looks like the catering at a Fortune 500 company’s holiday party. Raekwon is sitting at the island that holds all of this food. He’s rolling a blunt. When Drake is surrounded by friends, the vibe is a bit like the “funny guy” scene in Goodfellas. Rambunctious laughter is intermittent. Drake might rap, “I haven’t had a good time in a long time,” but you wouldn’t know that from looking at him tonight.
He offers me a drink and we make our way into the next room, across it and to the bar. The energy of the space follows Drake. He is the energy. Bystanders are visibly thrilled when he walks past. His presence is always noted. His needs are always tended to. This night really puts “I use a walkie-talkie just to get a beverage” into perspective. Drake is the boss.
We saunter behind the bar and talk for a while—20 minutes or so. This feels like an eternity in Drake World, where seldom a moment passes that someone doesn’t try to get his attention. There’s business to discuss. There are people to meet. There are women lingering nearby who jump in to introduce themselves whenever they sense a lull in the conversation, but there aren’t many. I’m downing Jack Daniel’s on the rocks. Drake is drinking beer. I think it’s a Lagunitas IPA, but I can’t be certain. The point is, he’s keeping it chill. We’re not guzzling from vintage bottles of Dom, though several of those line one of the shelves at his bar.
“If Kanye wasn’t in Armenia, he’d be here right now. He comes by all the time. He just bought a house, like, five houses down from me.”
The last time I was at Coachella, I saw Kanye. Four years ago. It’s the stuff of legend by now. Yeezy wore a Céline women’s blouse, absolutely destroyed the festival and gave one of the best performances of his career. The pressure is on Drake to do exactly that this weekend, since he currently occupies the number one spot that Kanye did in 2011. His own headlining Coachella gig is in four days. Everyone expects a career-defining set.
I’ve been watching Nirvana’s Reading 1992 performance a lot lately. It’s the one where Kurt comes out in a wheelchair, wearing a hospital gown and bodies everything. Drake is a fan of the performance too. I tell him that this Coachella set has to be equally transcendent. What’s his 2Pac hologram going to be?
“We’re bringing out Madonna.”
His excitement is palpable. He sort of half-punches the air with confidence when revealing the news. I’m one of twelve people who still likes Madonna, so it sounds like a great idea to me. Admittedly, the Weekend 2 surprise that he shares sounds much better.
Spending time at Drake’s residence feels how I imagine spending time at Neverland Ranch felt in 1991. Like Michael Jackson that year, Drake is working on his eighth musical project, Views From The 6. If the implicit paranoia of his most recent opus, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, is any indication, Drake knows that this is a crucial juncture in his career. He’s reached the level of fame when the audience’s enthusiasm can lead to fatigue.
For Drake to avoid backlash, his next album must mark a departure from the sound that's brought him worldwide acclaim. It’s similar to what Jackson did by embracing hip-hop and new jack swing on Dangerous. This is a fact Drake acknowledges on Too Late's "No Tellin," rapping, "I had to switch the flow up on you niggas, shit was getting too predictable."
The topic of our talk switches to Drake’s upcoming fourth album. He only has two songs finished that he likes. One is a collaboration with Beyoncé that he recorded a while ago. The other is a song that he expects to inspire a paradigm shift. His days of releasing lay-up bangers that everyone loves right away are over. For now.
Views From The 6 needs to shock listeners just as much as it needs to impress them. I compare it to what Kanye did on his own fourth album, 808s & Heartbreak. Drake agrees and, as if to reinforce that notion, he tells me that Boi-1da said he needs to listen to the non-Beyoncé song a few more times before he can decide whether it’s good or not. It appears that Drake is ready to deviate from his winning formula and get a little weird.
The rest of the night is a blur. We talk about the Jungle tour. We talk about not calling our mothers often enough. At some point, I stand on his grand piano to rap the first verse of “Energy.” Winnie Harlow approves. Security does not.
Drake has impossibly high expectations to meet at Coachella in a few days, and with his next album in the months after that, but I don’t sense any trepidation on his part. Massive speakers fill the house with a steady stream of Future and Rae Sremmurd, next to practically every song from If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and some unreleased Drake records.
Observing an artist while their own song is playing is fascinating. At times, he raps along like there’s a fire burning inside of him. Other times, he seems oblivious. I’m looking at Drake the Person while simultaneously listening to Drake the Rapper. As notoriously honest as he is in his music, it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins, if there’s any distinction between those two personas at all.
This, more than anything else, is what makes Drake the most thoroughly modern of all rappers. He is the manifestation of the dilemma of the person you present to the world, and the person you are at home, or in your head. The guy who walks around politely checking on everyone at his party is the same one who can’t wait to let his new Beretta go.
Soon enough, it’s 5 AM. I have to go create content for a multi-billion dollar tech company in Culver City in a few hours. After work, I stop by the OVO pop-up in the Undefeated space on La Brea and get a hat. Drake’s in Indio doing his Coachella soundcheck. Later that night, I send a text telling him to check out “Broke Boi” by Playboi Carti, then I pass out on a couch.
Coachella is the Finesse Olympics, and the artist wristband is its gold medal. Without one, you’re forced to mingle with neon basic bros. With one, the world is yours.
I’m on the road to Indio early this Friday morning to claim mine. My friend who’s driving is on the same mission. He secured an artist wristband last night by direct messaging Lil B. I have a general admission wristband that I got for free at SXSW, but I anticipate charming a will call employee into giving me an artist wristband like I did the last time I was here. Drake says he'll get me one, but I don’t feel like calling in that favor just yet.
I quickly find out just how much Coachella’s increasingly high profile has hindered the finesse. Without my name on any list, my attempt at charming festival employees is a failure and I watch with envy as my friend gleefully tightens the cornflower blue artist pass around his wrist. I immediately fall into a pit of depression. It isn’t my character to put so much stock into this type of faux important nonsense. I prefer to be with the masses at 99% of shows, but backstage Coachella FOMO is the worst kind of FOMO. If the opportunity to cross paths with Kendall Jenner is within reach, I’d like to capitalize on it.
To combat this disappointment, I pop a pill that a New York friend gave me earlier that morning when I dropped off my bags at the crash pad that I'm staying at this weekend. I try to remain optimistic. Perhaps I'll just be the anti-exclusive rebel who swags out GA.
By the time I get into the festival, I have zero reservations about not having an artist pass. I’m rolling face, the euphoria of all the patrons is contagious and I’m immediately watching excellent sets from Vic Mensa, Action Bronson, Azealia Banks and, best of all, Lil B. Moshing to “Like A Martian” with a thousand eager teens is worth the price of admission alone. Like the great prophet Ja Rule once said, "Let's get the party crackin’ right here; fuck VIP.”
This enthusiasm fades once the MDMA wears off and enough people hit me up asking if I'm backstage. I have to finesse, so I swallow my pride and the Drake text goes out: "Everyone I know has an artist pass. I'm stranded in GA like a bum. Any way your people can put me down." He responds promptly:
"Yeah full name on ID"
An hour later, I'm back at will call and the artist pass is mine. Finesseeeeeerrr. I slide it onto my wrist with glory. The squad I'm rolling with has theirs. "Glo up" and its derivatives are used incessantly. We go to this beautiful desert crib that Chance, the Rapper's manager, Pat, is staying at and drink a few beers while blasting music. The term “it’s lit” is overused.
Back at the festival, I run into Ezra Koenig and Alana Haim on the VIP lawn during AC/DC. The fourth Vampire Weekend record is coming, so Ezra relates to the dilemma Drake is facing with Views From The 6. We’ve spoken about it before. To be honest, I stole the Michael Jackson analogy from Ezra. He brought it up at dinner in NYC several months ago.
(Which, by the way, doesn't it seem like Dangerous is MJ's fourth album? I don’t feel like his solo career really starts until Off The Wall. It's kind of like the debate about whether good kid, m.A.A.d city is Kendrick Lamar's first album, or his third.)
We make more small talk about fourth albums and Drake, then I say something embarrassing about Taylor Swift to Alana before waltzing over to Alesso's set. The EDM scene is alive and well. This Swedish motherfucker has the Sahara tent turnt. Day one of Coachella is a wrap.
I sneak onto a shuttle bus with aforementioned New York friend on my way out. Me and her squad smoke a joint in their hot tub when we get back to the crib. Everyone drifts off to bed.
The next morning, I take a bunch of shrooms before noon and hop in an Uber. There aren't many acts that I want to or need to see until later, so I post up on a couch in the artist lounge area. I mooch weed from 50-year-old rock dads. I trip balls. I charge my phone.
Like every great mushroom trip, there's a moment of agonizing stomach pain where I overanalyze the fact that I'm poisoning myself for leisure, but it passes and I head off to see some live music.
I watch Hozier from side stage. I lose my mind at Run the Jewels and kick myself for sleeping on them. I meet up with old college friends and mob out at the Do Lab. I meet up with current New York friends and mob out at Tyler, the Creator.
I have vague plans to meet Drake at The Weeknd, but I'm high, with friends and I don't feel like wearing out my welcome and texting this dude every five minutes, so it doesn't happen. I check out Axwell ^ Ingrosso and, as I’m leaving, I have one of those moments that makes artist passes worth the thousands for which scalpers are able to sell them.
I pass a woman in an ankle-length, powder blue coat. She's wearing sunglasses, smoking a blunt and her specter is intoxicating. I perform a very thirsty 180-degree turn when I realize that it's Rihanna. I walk up and tap her from behind: "Yo, you're a goddess." She assesses my general desperateness with one glance, silently ashes her blunt on the palm tree between us, turns back around and walks off without saying a word.
I’m scheming on my next move. Some homies text me about a dinner with Drake. They slide the address. I have a plan.
Uber and cab lines are insane. By the time I get in either, the dinner party will be over. Here's another situation I have to finesse.
I walk at least a mile up the road outside the festival looking for stray cabs while trying to order an Uber. Neither method is effective, but I spot a Papa John's delivery guy driving out of a gated community and wave him down. He's down to whip me over to the restaurant Drake's at for some extra money.
The place is called The Nest. Escalades and security line the entrance. It's well after midnight, but OVO has clearly taken over the establishment for an after-hours, "tell 'em I'ma need reservations for 20" type of setting. Thankfully, security remembers me from the other night.
I don't even see Drake at first. My homies are aux cord DJing and I ask them to play "Broke Boi." I've met Oliver, one of the masterminds behind OVO, several times and we catch up for a minute. Then someone gets my attention and points over to Drake. He motions for me to come over. I pull up a seat next to him, OB, Ryan and a woman who shall remain nameless.
The first thing I ask Drake is what he thinks of “Broke Boi.”
Considering that his Coachella performance is less than 24 hours away, I follow-up with, "Are you ready?" He asks me the same. I let him know that I'd like to run on-stage and wild out for "Know Yourself" if that's an option, just like Dancing Tony did during Nirvana's Reading gig.
"I will literally dedicate a portion of OVO Fest to Dancing Ernest."
I'm holding him to that.
Tyler, the Creator actually gave me waves of Nirvana at his set a few hours ago when he intentionally goofed parts of "Yonkers" just like Kurt did with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" at Reading, and many other gigs. I don't know why I'm fixated on the Nirvana thing. I guess I just genuinely want Drake to have a moment on that level. Coachella is a big deal. It's an opportunity to make history. And that's cooler than seeing someone fuck up.
I've seen incredible Drake concerts before. Would You Like A Tour? Last year’s OVO Fest. Drake vs. Wayne. I've seen him perform an underwhelming set too. I tell him how, after Summer Jam 2010, I thought he was a better recording artist than performer. That’s changed. Five years later, he’s just as good on stage as he is in headphones.
I ask Drake why he isn't streaming the performance. He's going to now. It will be announced tomorrow. I won't go into the details, but essentially, he wasn't getting his way over something with the festival organizers, so he held out and from the expression on his face it’s evident that this victory brings him immense satisfaction.
Drake asks me if they’ve announced the Jungle tour yet. They haven’t. I realize how insulated he can be from minor details like the timing of tour announcements. The boss doesn’t know what’s happening minute-to-minute with every racket. He just calls the shots and collects the money. I tell him that I plan on writing about my experiences around him this weekend.
“That’s cool. But you have to do one thing. Make sure to mention that I had chicken in my pasta, not Italian sausage. I’m kidding. I just hope you like the show.”
Drake’s uncle shows up. I never ask if this is the uncle from “Look What You’ve Done,” “Started From The Bottom” and “Too Much.” Instead, I spend the rest of the night loitering outside around P Reign, bumming Belmont cigarettes off Ryan. I haven’t had these Canadian exclusives since the last time I was in Toronto. They’re really the best thing I’ve ever tasted.
It’s late. Drake is leaving. He takes photos with restaurant staff, shares goodbyes with everyone in the room and gets ready to rest up for one of the most important days of his life. I keep the party going and Uber over to this house party Jeremy Scott is throwing a couple of miles away. The door is stupid, but I walk in like Ernest Baker and it’s fine.
Diplo and Skrillex are DJing. I talk to Virgil Abloh. I see Ezra again. I try to bum a cigarette from Zoe Kravitz, but she doesn’t have any left. I run into old friends. I run into new friends. I hear Katy Perry was here earlier. This is completely useless, but it’s awesome.
I get home at some ridiculous hour and spend the better part of Sunday passed out.
I wake up sporadically throughout the day, mostly when the people I’m staying with rally and head out to the festival. All of a sudden, it’s 7 PM and I’m still in boxers on the couch. Last night, Drake mentioned the possibility of linking up before the show. In the first attempt to get my life together, I shoot a text to see what he’s up to.
“I’ll see you after the show. I’m just in that zone.”
I’m at Coachella by 9 PM. It’s fully dark outside. It’s a different, more debaucherous festival at night. Drake is scheduled to go on at 10:15. I spend the first hour sneaking some friends into the artist viewing area so they can watch Drake’s set close up. Then I ditch them because I’d like to at least try going to backstage for Drake’s set, even though I don’t have the special whatever the fuck you need. I spot some more friends on the way over and we stand around with Chance, the Rapper, Vic Mensa and their respective entourages, plotting. Everyone wants to go backstage, but it almost doesn’t seem worth it. I decide to try my luck.
My luck has run out. No amount of texts or selfies with Drake that I show festival security convinces them that I’m supposed to be backstage, but I wait it out and look for an opportunity to finesse because that’s what you do in these situations.
In the meantime, Usher and his people walk in. I see a lot of not-as-famous-as-Usher famous people getting denied. I understand why Justin Bieber had problems at this gate. I push my luck again and mid-argument with security, someone from OVO walks up and shouts, “Ernest is good!” and hands me an all-access laminate adorned with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late cover art on one side and the 6 God insignia on the other.
There’s a little pre-party going on in this private area off to the side of the main stage. There’s an open bar. There’s a lot of celebrities. At one point, Drake stands in the doorway of his trailer, surveying the scene, then disappears back inside. Security sweeps everyone except for OVO members out to the artist viewing area.
The team isn’t religious with it, but they form what you could call a prayer circle around Drake. Drake says some motivational lines about how everyone on the team is so good at what they do. For them, tonight is like any other night they spent preparing for this moment back in Toronto. There just happens to be thousands more people watching this time around.
Drake strolls to the stage like a boxer walking to the ring. Chants and cheers come from all directions. At side stage, another small huddle forms and he raps a few lines from “Energy” before the opening notes of “Legend” ring off and he walks out to resounding applause. Now, side stage is closed and most of us are escorted over to some type of extra special VIP. To put it into context, I’m watching the show next to Future, The Weeknd, Big Sean, David Guetta, will.i.am and Tyler, the Creator.
There’s a lurking suspicion that this isn’t going over as well as the past several times I’ve seen Drake perform, but it’s not going poorly by any stretch of the imagination. People are amped, it’s just not necessarily the historical moment that everyone wanted it to be. But I still like Drake’s music. And I’m hearing it live. And it’s fun. I’m not plugged into what my timeline is saying. I’m running up and down the aisles rapping “10 Bands.”
Later, at Drake’s post-Coachella bash, the atmosphere is intensely positive. A who’s who of the entertainment industry is at the home he’s been staying at in Indio, congratulating him on the performance, sheltering him from whatever criticisms are permeating thinkpiece drafts at this very moment.
Something tells me that Drake already knows the tone the media is about to take with his Coachella debut. Maybe he’s already caught wind of some hate. We have an interaction at the party where I give him a compliment about the set, but he isn’t totally receptive. No matter how many superstars tell Drake that he killed it tonight, there’s this hesitation in his mannerisms which suggests that he doesn’t totally believe that.
The tide is slowly turning against Drake. Every icon gets to this point. The top becomes more of a battle than a party, and for Drake to remain firmly supplanted in this coveted position, he will have to fight for it. If he survives, that’s what will make him a legend.
Moments like this—when the people get antsy for a regime shift—are why I assume Drake writes lyrics like, “I need you to take my mind off being in my prime.” Shit’s stressful. No one gets to enjoy unchallenged supremacy for too long. Drake rose to the top because he was the underdog and it was gratifying to see him succeed. Now, he’s the top dog and for many it would be just as gratifying to see him fall off.
I don’t want that. Being around Drake has reinforced that he is a real person, an actual human being—more than just a meme for public consumption. Maybe I’m empathetic because we share similar stories and background. Maybe it’s because he’s a young, ambitious black man. I relate to that. I can’t help but to be happy for the guy.
Yes, I’ve seen better Drake shows, but this weekend’s reality check was a welcomed one. Ladies and gentlemen, you have your arc. How will Drake redeem himself next weekend? Will the world still stop the next time he drops new music? The plot thickens.
Three days after Coachella, I’m at a house party in Malibu. It’s a celebration hosted by Drake’s tour manager, Jamil. As fate would have it, I cross paths with Drake in a crowded corridor. We’ve been texting about the performance. Going online must be part of his day because he’s read some of the takedowns. The consensus is his Weekend 2 performance needs to be better.
“I took an L for the first time. I just have to reassess what went wrong with my judgment.”
But legends don’t sweat. Drake doesn’t have to be more cautious, just more calculated. He hasn’t felt the pressure in a little while, but he hasn’t wasted any time getting used to it either.
This is where Drake’s story really gets interesting.
Ernest Baker is a writer living in New York. Follow him on Twitter here.