On April 30, 2007, I gave my mother a daunting task. Drake, the rapper formerly known as Aubrey Graham, was set to debut his first-ever music video, “Replacement Girl,” on BET’s 106 & Park, my lifeline to the hottest hip-hop and R&B music out. I was a 17-year-old stan of Degrassi, the show that made Drake popular as Wheelchair Jimmy, but I was facing a problem: I couldn’t catch the video debut live myself—I had band practice. But it was very important to me that this momentous occasion be documented.
Said documentation came in the form of a VHS tape, one of dozens I had amassed that housed everything from Trey Songz Christmas specials to Pretty Ricky Spring Bling performances to episodes of Access Granted, BET’s series of behind-the-scenes video clips.
This major first for Drake—he was the first unsigned Canadian rapper to have a debut music video aired on BET—deserved to be in fine company, right alongside the rest of my teen heartthrobs. My mom, God rest her soul, nailed the taping and I’m only half-ashamed to say that I watched that video many, many fucking times.
Thus began an attention-seeking relationship between Drake and me. When I say attention-seeking, I don’t mean me. Simply put, Drake’s relationship with fans is give-and-take: He gives us music and we take it, gladly. But Drake expects just as much from us as we expect from him, if not more. We give him life.
Drake loves rapping, speaking and Instagramming about energy because he seeks it, constantly. One of the earliest instances of Drake putting feelers out for his fanbase’s energy came just a couple of months after the release of his second mixtape, Comeback Season. I was in my freshman year of college, and officially venturing into music discovery that existed outside of BET and Music Choice. As a result, I was exclusively listening to Drake’s mixtape and literally whatever Lil Wayne was offering at the time.
Drake was an early adopter of social media. His MySpace page featured a now-defunct Gmail address that encouraged fans to “talk to Drake” and send him feedback. Precocious as ever, I decided to hit the email address up with some commentary. It was all good tings; I just wanted to let him know that “Share” was one of my favorite songs from Comeback Season. I went into detail—a young music critic in the making—telling Drake what exactly I liked about the song. I reread, revised, pressed send, and waited.
It only took a few days to hear back. I eagerly opened the response: “THANKS!!”
Excuse me? I scanned from top to bottom, looking for something, anything resembling a proper feedback loop. My fingers lit up the keyboard as I fired off my own response, asking Drake what was the point of even asking for feedback? “Are you just gonna send back a big THANKS again??” I wrote. Much to my surprise, Drake replied personally the same day, with his proverbial hat in his hands. Using my first name, he apologized for not taking the time to send a more meaningful response. His time was precious, you see, but he didn’t intend to disrespect me. In so many words: He just needed my energy.
There’s only one of me, but there are countless fans of Drake and combined, that power of supportive energy must be nothing less than intoxicating. In the days before So Far Gone dropped in February 2009, many a Drake stan, including myself, camped out in the comments of the still-upkept October’s Very Own Blogspot page, gassing Drake up every step of the way. It was on Blogspot that we fans got to know each other, but it developed beyond that. We became Facebook friends and followed each other on Twitter, some of us creating accounts just to be side-by-side as Drake took a leap into mainstream.
I can’t even front: I’m not embarrassed, nor mad about my dedication. I'm not even mad at the lack of reciprocity. I wouldn’t be a Drake fan today if I didn’t understand the dynamics in a fan-to-artist relationship like ours. But I did learn how to temper my sky-high expectations of what was possible. I would say he taught me how to live with unattainability, but I experienced a few key moments with artists near his level of popularity—hat tip to J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, who I rapped with during concerts and spoke to afterward—but Drake was still the only one out of arm’s reach. I would eventually find out just how far away he truly was.
Drake’s May 2009 So Far Gone concert in Austin, Texas was my first concert ever (yes, really). He brought out Southern rap royalty Bun B and performed to an overstuffed crowd that was already teetering on slabs of broken concrete behind a shady-ass club. It was dangerous, and I couldn’t see over the uneven levels of attendees, but it was memorable, to say the least. Drake moved on from that shit show—and I went back to my dorm room. There, I unpacked the night and came to the quiet realization that this artist, who I supported so fervently, was not mine. No matter how long I had been supporting him, I had to share him with everybody.
Just because I was mature enough to realize that, doesn’t mean I was happy about it.
How could I be mad at the fact that he’s figured out his formula, perfected it, and weaponized it?
I went from being a Drake stan to a Drake hater overnight. It bothered me to my core that he had become so popular, so swiftly. It took time for us to develop this thing together, this relationship that wasn’t quite real but at the same time, couldn’t be any realer. How could he just sweep all these new fans into the mix without making meaningful connections with them first? Before you even say it: Yes, Drake was my first realization that I was/am a hipster. And he didn’t just need a bunch of hipsters to prop him up; he needed hypebeasts, too.
Drake is where he is today because he lends himself to every fan possible. It’s why we all feel some level of ownership of his success, and why we’re so quick to support him. (Exhibits A and B: back-to-back No. 1s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.) His goofiness married with an individualized tenacity and Oscar-worthy versatility are what draw people in. How could I be mad at the fact that he’s figured out his formula, perfected it, and weaponized it?
While I’m not a hater anymore (*whispers* growth), I don’t feel as strongly about Drake as I did at 17. If I did, it would honestly be weird as fuck. But in the process of watching Drake flourish over the past 10-plus years, I’ve learned that this distancing is natural maturity. A decade served us well. We're both exactly where we need to be. The good thing about music is there are plenty more artists to fall in love with—artists who will grow with me into the next stage of my life, until we outgrow each other.