We’ve all been guilty in the past of poking fun at Aubrey Graham for wanting to be a “roadman” (he, too, thought it was funny), but it’s fair to say that the Canadian rap star has since silenced critics who thought his penchant for British music and culture was simply a passing phase.
Many were right to show concern, though: having previously had flash-in-the-pan interest from some of rap’s major players, questioning Drake’s motives would be the natural thing to do. Taking it back to his 2011 interview with UK radio presenter Max, an enthused Drizzy explained how he had been surfing the ‘net and came across 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 take that leap from street-hustling to a full-time career in music. And as someone who’s 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-sign 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 collaboration, UK music fans thought this link up would grow into something bigger—with maybe even someone getting signed 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 Brit-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 funny), with most not understanding the connection Drake had with UK vets Giggs and Skepta, arguably two of our biggest exports. But go to any club in the world today, and cuts like “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.
— BBC Radio 1Xtra (@1Xtra) April 5, 2019
On Friday 5th April, four days after bringing out DigDat and Unknown T, and debuting the new Netflix trailer for Top Boy 2019 on stage, the British music scene exploded as J Hus stepped into London’s O2 for Drake’s Assassination Vacation tour. There’d been whispers that morning that J Hus was released from prison after being sentenced to eight months for carrying a knife for fear of his life (the Common Sense star went through a random stop and search), and that he would be hitting the stage to perform that night.
With the help of Drake’s tour DJ, Tiffany Calver, this became a reality: J Hus, dripping in Dolce & Gabbana, entered the arena to deafening screams and cheers and performed the hit-songs “Spirit” and “Did You See”. Drizzy said of the event: “These are the type of things in my career that I’m just blessed to even be a part of. This is something I’ve wanted to make happen for the whole week—and I’m just glad I could make it happen with this group of people in this building because y’all been going crazy all night... If anyone’s sitting down right now, I need you to stand up ‘cos we’re about to celebrate one of our brothers tonight.” Now, which other platinum-selling rap superstar do you know, that would care enough about a 22-year-old kid from East London (with culture-shifting hits, mind you) to let him stand next to him and take all the glory?
All rappers think they’re the best at what they do and, to be honest, so they should. But with that train of thought, being selfish is something that comes with the job. Aubrey, however, has proven countless times that not even serious rap beef can stop him from sharing his stage and seeing the next black man win. Must be a Canadian thing.