Does the Drake Effect apply to singer-songwriters, too? Brooklyn artist Gabriel Garzón-Montano is about to find out. On Drake's latest
mixtape album, If You're Reading This It's Too Late, the rapper samples Garzón-Montano's "6 8" on "Jungle," the most emo track the album has to offer. Garzón-Montano's crooning in the beginning is the perfect blend of tenderness and vulnerability, two qualities we know Drake loves. Even the lyrics, "Rock me real slowly/Put a bib on me/I'm just like a baby drooling over you," read like something out of Drake's Blackberry. Who is this artist who found Drake’s phone in Cabo, and is he automatically nominated for a Grammy now?
Garzón-Montano grew up in New York City and is a musician in the purest sense of the word. His mother is a classically trained singer (she was in the Philip Glass Ensemble), and he started playing violin at the age of 6. Although he's put the violin down, he now plays drums, bass, keyboard, guitar, and sings, too.
His most recent, and only, release, Bishouné: Alma del Huila, features him playing every instrument and writing all of the music, too. The six-track EP fuses neo-soul, pop, and funk seamlessly, and is one of the catchiest independent releases of last year. It even caught Lenny Kravitz’s ear, and the rock legend invited Garzón-Montano on tour with him. Now with Drake and Kravitz’s co-sign, it’s only a matter of time before the common folks catch on.
We caught up with the young artist to talk about “6 8” and “Jungle,” touring Europe with Lenny Kravitz, and which Drake he likes most.
Drake using “6 8” wasn’t your first big break so to speak. You toured Europe with Lenny Kravitz last fall. How did that come about?
I've been very close friends with Zoe, his daughter, for 10 years now. We met at the Rudolf Steiner School. One day she brought him to a show, and he was really feeling it. Sometime after that he gave me a call to play in his band, actually. Then he kind of went back on that and called me again to see what type of stuff I'd be playing if I opened for him. So I sent him the record [Bishouné: Alma del Huila], and he said, "Let’s do it."
What was that experience like?
The experience was thrilling and invigorating in lots of ways. And then it was also a look into certain realities that you're not aware of, unless you've gone through it. So, I experienced highs and lows.
Ultimately, when you're a musician [there] is this romantic idea of what it's going to be like when you're on tour, and it's like a dream. Then, once you get there, you realize how much of a grind it is, and how much you have to focus to stay healthy, well rested, and to feel comfortable when you're never at home and always moving. It kind of tests you.
How about the actual performances?
From the performance and music angle it's very interesting because you're traveling 10 hours at a time to play a half-hour set. It's all of this preparation just to be up there for a half an hour. There's no luxury of rehearsal studios in between. We had a little sprinter van. But we got really tight because of the ritual of doing the same thing over and over. I think it brought the music to the next level. Vocally it brought my performances to the next level because I was under the scrutiny of 8,000 to 10,000 people a night. I had to rise to the occasion.
Where were you when you heard that Drake wanted to use “6 8,” and what went through your mind?
I was in Berlin, on the tour with Lenny Kravitz. It was so strange because I had been listening to "How About Now" and "6 God" a bunch. It was around the same vicinity when he dropped those two things.
You know, it was really motivating me. In the morning, when I was getting dressed or whatever, I would just put it on and feel good about myself. That's what I think he does very well: make tracks that boost your self-confidence and give you a powerful voice to sing along with. In general, great hip-hop music is motivational in that way. So it was really weird because I had been spending time with him as a fan, and then to know that he was spending time with me as a fan was just really cool.
it was really weird because I had been spending time with [drake] as a fan, and then to know that he was spending time with me as a fan was just really cool.
“6 8” is a very Drake-y song, too. Is there a specific person you’re singing about?
There is. Somebody I dated in college. We got together, and early on she expressed a lot of emotion that kind of scared me given how early it was, so I backed off. Then, basically, I became aware of how serious I was about this person. By that time it was too late.
The lyrics don't really speak to that arch, but I was just trying to find the most crucial way of expressing how everybody feels about someone they’re in love with.
Hearing that from you, and the fact that Drake chose to use it considering the back story, it adds a lot of color to both songs.
Lyrics are very physical. It's all kind of like a sexual thing, but it's very emotional. It doesn't just feel like straight carnage. "Rock me real slowly," like, let's make love. And the baby line gives it this kind of render-me-useless vibe, drooling or whatever. And then the things you do. [Laughs.] Those are the only lyrics in the song.
Did he personally reach out to you, or was it someone in the OVO camp?
Him and Noah, I don't even know what they did. Maybe they downloaded a FLAC or maybe just had an MP3. They didn't even get stems from me. They made the track before I ever even spoke to them.
So really what happened is they called you, said they used “6 8,” it's fire, and you’ll love it.
Yeah. They sent a test version and were like, "Are you down with this?" And then my manager started working out the rest.
Did Zoe slide him that EP?
Yeah. They were chilling, and she was like, "You got to hear my boy." Then she played it for him, and he was like, "What the fuck!" Then he kind of ran with it.
What's crazy about the whole situation is “Jungle” is the title of the short film, and your voice is really the first time we hear new Drake music for an elongated period of time. “6 8” was kind of an introduction to If You're Reading This It's Too Late.
Yeah, it's fucking insane. It was very telling that he put me out there to that degree, and that it was the soundtrack to the tape.
I know, through Zoe, that it's his favorite track on the tape, too. I've seen a lot of people echo that sentiment on Twitter, and I think it's one of the top three tracks on the tape, in terms of people downloading on iTunes or whatever. I can't help but feel very responsible for that given that the basis for it is my song.
Have you ever heard of the Drake Effect?
It's basically that once Drake taps you for a song, or jumps on one of yours, that you're catapulted into rap superstardom. Of course, you're not really a rapper, but it may still apply.
I think part of what makes this cool is how different we are as artists. Our mission statements are just completely opposite. He definitely sets himself in a modern vernacular that's very specific to everything being very current with references to social media and just his immediate world. He's very much speaking about directly what's happening around him. I'm more abstract and interested in kind of creating another world.
I don’t want to be the guy that got sampled on "Jungle." I don't want that to give me my value. But I don't think it is because people are getting turned on to the record and realizing they love this whole other world. I would love for it to do as much good for me as it can, and I think it will. After this, the rest is just depending on the strength of my releases, which I'm ready to share with the world.
If you, 40 and Drake went in the studio, what would that record sound like? Would Drake be on his rapping shit, or would it be a softer song like "Jungle"?
I would love to create something harder with him, because I'm just such a fan of when he gets that attitude. You know, his flow on "Used To," "6 God," and "0 to 100," that's my shit. But if he wanted to get on some smooth shit, you know, that would be cool, too.
I think it's remarkable that the guy who's been singing everyone's hooks for the last five years chose me to sing a hook for him. That's very cool.
Brian Padilla is a writer living in New York. Follow him at @NYCbros.