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Now, let’s be honest: we’ve all been guilty of poking fun at Aubrey Graham for wanting to be a “roadman” (he, too, thought it was funny), but it’s safe to say the Canadian rap star has since silenced critics who thought his penchant for British music, culture was merely a passing phase. Many were right to show concern, though: having previously had flash-in-the-pan interest from some of hip-hop’s top players, questioning Drake’s motives would be the natural thing to do.
During a 2011 interview with British radio presenter Max, an enthused Drizzy explained how he’d been surfing the ‘net and popped up on the London rappers Johnny Gunz, Ard Adz and Sneakbo—the latter of whom he said inspired him on his album Take Care. At the time, these artists were still trying to build strong foundations so they could make that leap from street-hustling to a full-time career in music. And as someone who has worked behind the scenes for a number of years, I can tell you: certain eyes that wouldn’t have batted an eyelid prior to Drake’s co-signs started to pay attention to what was going on.
Back in 2010, Sean “Diddy” Combs—as part of his R&B-rap collective Dirty Money—released a “grime remix” with Skepta of the song “Hello (Good Morning)”. It was a huge moment for grime and up until that point, there hadn’t been anyone as big as Diddy shining a light on this proudly British sound. Following this collab, UK music fans were hopeful said link up would grow into something much bigger—with maybe even a signing to Bad Boy Entertainment—but of course, that never transpired.
No one—especially at his level—has shown a genuine interest in UK lyricism like Drake has shown over the years.
Shade 45’s DJ Whoo Kid also tapped into the culture early on, dropping now-classic projects with the likes of Giggs (Take Your Hats Off) and Skepta (Community Payback). But no one—especially at his level—has shown a genuine interest in UK lyricism like Drake has shown over the years. US rap fans have always had a strained relationship with British rap, and you’d only have to go back to 2017, when More Life dropped, to see how weird it’s actually been. The memes ran wild (some were pretty LOL), with a large amount of US fans not understanding the connection Drake had with UK legends Giggs and Skepta, arguably two of our biggest exports. But you can go to most clubs in the world today and tracks “No Long Talk” and “KMT” are guaranteed to pop off.
He sampled a UK funky song and got his first No. 1; he’s helped to bring back Top Boy, one of the most authentic depictions of UK street culture ever; and, from Lord Of The Mics to Link Up TV, has shown genuine respect to the culture. So to call Drake a UK “beg”, at this point, is downright disrespectful. The guy wears Stone Island like us, talks in slang like us, because he’s a fan of who we are and the greatness on our shores. You don’t honestly think that Kanye would’ve called on half the grime scene for that Brits moment had he not seen Drake constantly big-up the UK, do you?
We don’t owe anyone anything. No one forced Drizzy to show all this love—and acts like Giggs, Skepta, Dave and Little Simz (the latter two are new additions to the Top Boy cast) have put the work in to get global looks, regardless—but we should be grateful for the fact that he’s used his platform to uplift British talent the right way.