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.
Talking to Drake, I told him there seems to be this underlying current of the “The Real.” Like, "Fuck all the other shit that’s going on in the rap game. What we’re doing is the real shit." Even on “Headlines” there’s that line, “The real is on the rise.”
Fuck them other guys.
Yeah. What constitutes “real” to you guys?
“Real” for me is the music. That term can be interpreted so many ways. When “keeping it real” goes wrong. [Laughs.] But I think for us, when we say “real,” or when Drake says “real”—of course I can’t speak for him. But what I interpret that as is the music.
The music is real. We’re really saying shit that’s happening, it's really his life. He’s really honest. It takes balls to say the shit Drake says. And people might think he’s funny or he’s a really great writer. That’s his life. It’s not a joke. That’s the real to me.
Drake rarely cares about money. I’m constantly letting him know, “Are you sure you wanna do that? I mean, we’re gonna lose a lot. They’re gonna charge us this much for that sample. And this for this.” I don’t give a fuck. I’m making this shit the best I can make it. That to me is the real.
That’s what gives the music some sort of genuine quality. We’re not making it to satisfy a demographic. We’re not making this to please the marketplace or to put money in the bank. Drake rarely cares about money.
I’m constantly letting him know, “Are you sure you wanna do that? I mean, we’re gonna lose a lot. They’re gonna charge us this much for that sample. And this for this.” I don’t give a fuck. I’m making this shit the best I can make it. That to me is the real.
Can I tell you that when your A&R delivers you a record that’s been produced and written by someone else, and you cut it and it goes number one, that that’s the real? No, I can’t.
When me and Drake and Boi-1da or T-Minus stumble into the studio at one o’clock in the morning, and we’re sitting there shooting the shit, laughing and having fun because we’re great friends, and we fire up some instrumental and make a piece of music in a couple hours and have it mixed a couple hours later, and it leaks onto the Internet 30 minutes after that—that’s the real to me. That’s what it means to me.
Let’s backtrack a little bit. How did you and Drake first met?
What’s funny is you’ll hear me tell these stories, and you try to tell them in a way that’s really neat. You have to figure out a way so people can interpret it. Some of these stories just float around.
Even like the story I did with Fader. In that article, I tell the story of the “Replacement Girl” video shoot, which is a very true story. That was really the first time I went to go sit with Drake, play him music and talk to him about working with him.
But the first time I shook his hand and met him was in 2004 at Gadget’s—who mixes our music to this day—studio in Toronto. I was working on a record for an artist named Divine Brown. She appears on “Headlines” singing back-up vocals, which is completely ironic and funny.
I actually got my first gold record with Divine here in Canada, which sold 50,000 units and was a really big record. That’s like selling 500K in the U.S. Boi-1da had produced the remix to the song that I produced for Divine Brown called “Twist My Hair.”
Saukrates—another rapper from Toronto—who produced the Divine record with me, knew Boi-1da and got him to do the remix. Boi-1da was just a kid. He must have been 18 years old. He does the remix and throws Drake on it. Drake and Boi-1da came to the studio to drop off the files for the remix so that Gadget and myself can put them all together and get the mix done. I met Drake and Boi-1da that day.
Oliver had a run-in with Drake over a girl, and they thought they hated each other. They even had a stand-off outside of a club at one point. It’s the best story ever. They realize that they don’t even know each other, and that they’re potentially friends.
Oliver and I went to the same high school and sat next to each other in homeroom, and we both had Lebanese last names, so we instantly became friends. Their story is hilarious. He’d had a run-in with Drake over a girl, and they thought they hated each other. They even had a stand-off outside of a club at one point. It’s the best story ever.
They realize that they don’t even know each other, and that they’re potentially friends. So Drake and Oliver kind of made a connection and a relationship. Oliver kept telling me, “Yo, you’ve got to link with Drake.”
I had been the biggest Drake fan in the world. The first time I heard him was on the radio on a song called “Do What You Do” featuring the Clipse, and I was working on Divine and Jelly’s album in 2005, and I had heard the song on the radio, and I lost it. I was like, “This kid is unbelievable. Who the fuck is he? I can’t believe he’s from Toronto. I’ve got to find him.”
Eventually, he walked in the studio with the Boi-1da remix situation, and I got to meet him. Then we didn’t have that much communication, and it must have been six months to a year later when Oliver had run into him and stated to me, “You have to link with him.”
So Oliver gave me his number, and I called him a few times, and he may have called me back, and we played phone tag and missed each other. Another month goes by and Oliver’s like, ‘Yo, did you talk to him?” I’m like, “Yeah, I called him twice. He never called me back.” He’s like, “What the fuck yo? Swallow your fucking pride and call the fucking guy!” I’m like, “I’m calling him, what the fuck. I want to work with him. I’m calling him. What can I do, you know?” [Laughs.]
So I call him again and he says he’s got the video shoot. That’s when I go by the video shoot for “Replacement Girl.” I remember I had a CD with 10 beats on it. I think I still have some of those beats. They’re probably all terrible. Some of them aren’t even cool. I was an engineer and a mixer.
So he listened to them, and I remember him being very impressed with the quality of it. He was like, “Wow. Sonically, this sounds great.” Some of the stuff was cool. There was a couple Ark beats in there. So he was like, “I want to work on this mixtape.”
Drake came to the studio a couple days later, and I charged him to work with me for a couple days, and we sort of made a pact and decided we were going to take over the world.
We started discussing it and from that point, it was an engineer relationship. So he came to the studio a couple days later, and I charged him to work with me for a couple days, and we sort of made a pact and decided we were going to take over the world.
I had a studio and could record and mix him, and he could rap, and we could get a beat from Boi-1da or whoever we needed it from, and we just sort of kept it running. I worked my day job and stayed up all night making music with Drake.
That’s the full of it. That’s everything, all the encounters. From originally me listening to him on a song at Jelly’s house to hearing him on the radio, then meeting him at Blacksmith with Gadget and Boi-1da and the Divine song, and then Oliver having his run-ins with him and Oliver being my best friend, and then those guys connecting, and Oliver forcing me to connect with him, and then me and him finally connect, and me—I mean, I had really been trying to get with him since I heard that song.
Then we got in the studio just for some money for a couple days to track him and then from there it was just off and running. That was it. That was the entirety of our connecting.
When I talked to Future, one thing he was stressing was that before Drake, Toronto didn’t have a sound. Atlanta has a sound, Texas has a sound, New York has a sound—but there was no sound for Toronto.
I would strongly disagree with that. You’d be crucified for saying that shit. I strongly disagree with that.
He was saying there wasn’t a sound and there is a sound now. And you’re saying you disagree with that?
Oh yeah, strongly. I understand why he was making that statement, but I think the way it’s being worded isn’t correct. I think this is the first time the world’s heard Toronto’s sound. This is a new sound for Toronto, but there is another sound that came out of this city. And it was very significant, in terms of hip-hop and music, and what it was, and what it meant to Toronto over the last 10 to 15 years—that sound is from Saukrates, Kardi, and Choclair.
Those guys are all products of Gadget. Gadget is like the godfather of all hip-hop that’s ever come out of Toronto. He’s a mix engineer, and he’s the best in this country. He’s a Jamaican guy with big dreads, who just hides in his studio and is like a mythical figure, who owns more gear than you could even imagine and has the nickname Gadget.
He has more studio equipment and rack-mounted gear and flight cases than you could line a fucking mansion wall-to-wall. It’s insane. He has like three or four storage units around the city full of equipment.
This is a new sound for Toronto, but there is another sound that came out of this city. That sound is from Saukrates, and Kardinal Offishall, and Choclair. Those guys are all products of Gadget. Gadget is like the godfather of all hip-hop that’s ever come out of Toronto.
Gadget is my mentor. He taught me everything I know, hence why I had a very strong working relationship with Saukrates and K-Os. I sort of came through. He would literally drop off MPCs and ASR-10s in the hood to all the legendary Toronto hood crews.
Those dudes all learned how to make beats from Gadget. Saukrates is a mini Gadg, Kardi went through Gadg, Jully Black, every Canadian artist that has had any level of success in this country or abroad has come through Gadget.
To this day and over the last few years he’s worked with Chris Smith Management, and he’s had a part in Nelly Furtado’s career. That’s the company that represents Nelly Furtado. So Gadget’s taught me and is still involved in Drake’s music today. He mixed most of the songs on Take Care, and he mixed four songs on Thank Me Later, including “Miss Me” and “Light Up” with Jay and a couple others.
I always keep him involved, so on and so forth. But the sound that came with Saukrates and Jully Black and those legendary Toronto hip-hop records, that to me was Toronto’s sound. It was sound that I grew up with and that we all grew up with, and Drake won’t argue that. He’ll agree with me on that comment right away. What he’s saying is that this is the first time the rest of the world has heard the sound of Toronto.
This is the first time the rest of the world has been exposed to it, and we created the new sound of Toronto in two ways. One was with Boi-1da, and I think one was with myself and Drake. Me and Drake have sort of created a niche that we make music together in a certain way, and people can recognize it pretty quickly.
Boi-1da has a pretty specific sound to his beats, which T-Minus also borrows from and is a part of. I mean, T-Minus came from learning from Boi-1da. Back in the day they were tight friends. They made “Replacement Girl” together. It’s all very closely connected, and they’ve all been together for a long time.
T-Minus did a lot of stuff on Take Care, and Boi-1da did as well, and on Thank Me Later. So I think that sound for Toronto is attributed to me, Boi-1da, and T-Minus, and me and Drake and this R&B somber sound that we’ve committed to.
But to say that that’s the first time Toronto’s ever had a sound in hip-hop? That’s incorrect. We grew up with a very significant sound. It’s influenced by the West Coast, but still very New York—a sloppy, almost silly, sound that comes out of this city.
I really look to Saukrates as the father of it. When you ask someone about legendary Toronto hip-hop songs, if you ask a really young kid, you’re going to get the Drake records, but if you ask a lot of people, you’re going to get a record out of that sound that I’m talking about.
I can’t sit here and say that this is the first time we’ve ever has a sound. This is the first time anyone’s ever blown up.
If you were in the Toronto hip-hop scene or urban or black music in this city period, you’d have this conversation on a regular basis, and that conversation was, “Who do you think is going to do it? Who’s going to do it? Do you think it’s even possible? Do you think that a Canadian rapper could ever blow up in America? Is Sauks going to do it? Is Kardi going to do it? Is K-Os going to do it? Who’s going to do it?”
That conversation is not even had anymore. Nobody questions that anymore. No.
We grow up now seeing a kid from Toronto on the cover of The Source magazine or the cover of XXL. We did not see that when we were kids. I was excited to see somebody in the weekly newspaper, or maybe on the front of the local Canadian rap things you’d hear about. We weren’t getting anything. Maybe the inside of a Vibe, but you weren’t catching us anywhere else. That’s changed.
Drake himself is the first one to obviously change that. That’s not a secret, and the sound is obviously from myself and Drake, and now from Boi-1da and T-Minus, and now on a North American platform it’s the sound from Toronto.
But man, I can’t turn my back on the people who created a sound from the city before, and the people who taught me how to use an MPC and still mix Drake’s music.
What is the sentiment in the Toronto hip-hop community when it comes to Drake? How does everyone feel now that Drake is the one?
In the Toronto hip-hop scene, you’d have this conversation on a regular basis, and that conversation was, “Who do you think is going to do it? Who’s going to do it? Do you think it’s even possible? Do you think that a Canadian rapper could ever blow up in America? Is Sauks going to do it? Is Kardi going to do it? Is K-Os going to do it? Who’s going to do it?” That conversation is not even had anymore.
Well, it’s funny. Again, there’s a few ways to look at it. For me, I came from a tough neighborhood. We used to have those conversations like, “Fuck Kardinal! Kardinal’s a bitch. Kardinal can’t come to the hood. Fuck him. Rap’s about the struggle. I don’t give a fuck about that dude.” So me being someone who had that conversation as a youth, I can only imagine what people are going to say about Drake. I’m not naive to that.
There’s going to be some sentiment like that, but the thing is that Drake makes music that’s so honest and so real, his shit gets blasted in the hood. Blasted. People still connect to him and still show that love and support. He gets a lot of love and support.
But at the same time, there was this Canadian documentary that came out the other day about the history of Toronto hip-hop, and we didn’t come up in that once. It didn’t have anything to do with us. Like, there’s a big community here. We’re nine hours away from New York City.
We had Michie Mee and people like that that were significant rappers coming out of this city back in the day. Even someone like Snow—as funny as that is. We had a connetion to Dream Warriors. We had a connection, not long before, but as significant as the South did in the early years of hip-hop, when New York ran the game and L.A. was starting to come up. Toronto had a real hip-hop community.
We have real OG graffiti writers, who have been here for 25 years. We have shit that not a lot of other cities have when it comes to that culture. So that shit has been here for a long time, hence my quickness to contest that comment about us never having a sound.
That documentary that came out was focused on the early years of Toronto hip-hop and the upbringing of it, but after I watched that, and they didn’t mention us once in there, I feel like everybody’s bitter.
What was the name of the documentary?
It was on CBC. I don’t know. I think if you type in Canada rap documentary CBC it’ll come up. But like, when they did mention us, it was in a slick way. Maybe I’m being overanalytical, but I’m just like, “You motherfuckers.”
A lot of those guys don’t know how close I am to Gadget and the Sauks, and how close Gadget is to Drake, and how much a part of that we keep his [music] projects.
We work at Metalworks Studios in Mississauga, and that’s also Metalworks Institute the school, which is one of the biggest recording arts schools here in Toronto, and Gadget came from a school called Trebas, where he virtually developed the entire curriculum.
His studio still lets dudes from Trebas come in and use one of their rooms sometimes, so the kids from Trebas downtown are coming to school and there’s like this allure that Drake records are getting mixed just one room over. At Metalworks Institute there’s this allure that, “Whoa, Drake’s Maybach is definitely in the parking lot. He’s over there working on a song.”
A lot of these guys are a lot older and a lot of them never made it. So of course people are going to be bitter. It’s like, “Fuck, you guys get it now? And you’re not even from the hood? You’re fucking good kids? That’s fucked up.”
Being part of this community of students, as far as this city’s concerned, I love that. But a lot of these guys are a lot older and a lot of them never made it. So of course people are going to be bitter. It’s like, “Fuck, you guys get it now? And you’re not even from the hood? You’re fucking good kids? That’s fucked up.”
But the thing is that the music is so good, and the people respond to it so much, that we get by. We don’t have to deal with little issues like that. We all knew what it was. We were walking into labels and people were like, “Huh? Light-skin kid? Child actor? Canada? Nah.” That’s not something I think we just don’t have to deal with anymore.
I mean, we’re going to find places where people don’t understand the music and because he’s the number-one guy, and the only guy to ever really come out of Canada in this regard, you’re going to be under the gun a little bit. But all things considered, the hood loves him out here and he has a lot of support. I never worry about that shit.
You seem to be like, “Fuck that. We make honest music. We make real music.” How do you feel Drake dealt with that in the earlier years and how does he deal with it now? Was he stressed by all the shit that was coming his way?
Nah, he’s pretty good with that stuff. I don’t think that stuff gets to him at all. At a certain point in life, you have to be smart enough to stand back, look in the mirror, and know who the fuck you are. Nothing else matters, that’s it. We all know what we are and what we do, and we’re happy and confident people at this point. I don’t think someone like that is going to be very disturbing to any of us.
Do you feel as though Drake has changed in any way a from So Far Goneuntil now?
The industry’s made Drake a little sharper. I mean, he’s gotten sharper. That’s all I can say. From the sense of, we’re really nice people, he’s a really nice Canadian kid, and it’s tough out there. After a while, you realize people are going to stomp on you. So you’ve got to kind of get your Spidey-senses going and make sure you protect yourself at all times.
No. The only thing I can say is that the industry’s made him a little sharper. I mean, he’s gotten sharper. That’s all I can say. From the sense of, we’re really nice people, he’s a really nice Canadian kid, and it’s tough out there.
After a while, you realize people are going to stomp on you. So you’ve got to kind of get your Spidey-senses going and make sure you protect yourself at all times. It’ll make you question things a little bit more and ask a couple more questions. So he’s sharper. He’s a little more on the ball.
He’s not as forgiving and vulnerable as maybe he once was as just a good kid from Canada. I think that’s a great change, and it’s something that has to happen to survive and remain a level-headed person in this industry. Otherwise, you’ll just get eaten alive. But the answer is no.
Going back to the sound, you mentioned that what you guys are doing is a new sound for Toronto. With Drake, you, and the arrival of The Weeknd, that sound is being replicated in American music now. How has it evolved? Where do you see your sound going?
It’s funny, it’s hard for me to even talk about that, because of course for me to tell you that we’ve done that is a hard pill for me to swallow. [Laughs.] Because I know who’s done it. I know when Pharrell did it. I know when Timb did it and did it again. There’s specific times when people have done it.
To say that I’ve been able to impact that? I can’t make that comment myself. [Laughs.] I can’t bring myself to ever have those words come out of my mouth or be able to admit that. So it’s definitely a difficult question for me to answer.
As far as where it’s going, I don’t know. Me and Drake are just always looking...I’ve always explained it to people, as to where it came from and how it was created, Me and Drake were just sitting and meeting with every producer in the world and doing this and that and everything we could to find these records that Drake was so tirelessly looking for, and after looking for those so much, it became clearly evident to me what they were.
Take Care is stronger and better. That sound that people have maybe distinguished is just us having fun. We’ll go in the studio to do some rap shit or a rap song, and like, yeah, those are our big records—and we have fun with them obviously. But if we have some free time and we’re just chilling, that’s when we’re going to make that music. It’s really honest. It’s the fun time.
We’d listen to five million beats that weren’t that, so it finally got to a point where it was like, “Well shit, there’s only one more thing left.” He had said no to fucking everything. Let me make you the last thing that you haven’t said no to. That became So Far Gone.
Then I started breaking rules, doing weird shit—just to make something significantly different. So that’s how it started, and I think this time around it’s grown a lot. Even with a record like “Free Spirit,” which I still feel had elements of the music we were making on So Far Gone, but now it’s hitting with some proper drum programming and it’s a different record altogether. I think there’s evolution there, and there’s more of those, as far as evolution, on Take Care.
Take Care is stronger and better. That sound that people have maybe distinguished is just us having fun. We’ll go in the studio to do some rap shit or a rap song, and yeah, those are our big records—and we have fun with them obviously.
But if we have some free time and we’re just chilling, that’s when we’re going to make that music. It’s really honest. It’s the fun time. It’s like, “Let’s do one of the records that we always do when we have some free time. That’ll be fun.” We’ll both enjoy it and it’ll literally make us happy. So to say where that’s going to go, it’s hard to say. That sort of drives itself. But it’s definitely grown on Take Care.