In February 2009, Drake had a date with destiny. And it wasn't a one-night stand. Ernest Baker reflects on that one time Drake got rich off a mixtape
2009 was a weird year. I had a year and change left in college, and it wasn't that fun anymore. I mean, sure, I had some good times still, but the basis of my time on campus was no longer defined by aimless debauchery and blow-off electives. Responsibility had seeped in. Business school classes had become entirely focused on my ill-advised major, Accountancy. Having a girlfriend was no longer this cute, novel thing but instead a relationship was something that I had to dedicate time and effort to, both of which I failed at miserably. The light at the end of college's tunnel had begun to appear, and it was unnerving.
I needed an internship, then I needed a job after that. I didn't want to go back to Indianapolis and work in the finance center for Rolls-Royce like I had done the previous summer because between the business casual dress code, my general incompetency at anything math-related, and the overall depressing nature of the Rust Belt, I almost certainly would've killed myself. I wanted to go to New York, where me and my friends were making 14-hour drives across the country to visit at every chance we got. I wanted to write, like I was spending entirely too much time doing on a now defunct personal blog, and fucking up my grades as a result.
So you can imagine the connection I, and a lot of people in my position, felt when Drake's So Far Gone hit the Internets. The artists who we’d been worshipping for years were still a relevant, major factor in our music libraries, but they were also moving on to a different page. Kanye West was dealing with heartbreak, but a very adult, unique heartbreak over having to leave weddings before they cut the cake because he's so busy and famous and shit like that. Lil Wayne was riding the wave of his most successful album into an experimental rock phase.
Then there was Drake, full of millennial angst, existential brooding, and satisfaction with cheap, nihilistic thrills. He filled a void. Right when we were at the height of our disillusionment with school, you had Drake rapping lines like, “I quit school and it’s not because I’m lazy/I’m just not the social type and campus life is crazy.” In a matter of months, he’d come a long way from the guy who we thought was pretty dope on “Ransom,” but ultimately got his verse skipped over most of the time so we could hear Lil Wayne rap the alphabet again.
I remember exactly where I was when So Far Gone dropped. It was a Friday, I was in the student union attempting to study for an exam I had a couple of hours later, but really just working on a blog that pretty much nobody was reading. I’d been impressed by some of the stuff I’d heard from Drake up until that point, but I was skeptical. He was still the Degrassi guy. His hype just seemed like an industry swarm type of thing. So many rappers put out bullshit mixtapes and try too hard and his little conceptual cover art and the rampant dickriding of a guy who had yet to prove himself had me propped up for disappointment. It took all of 30 seconds to realize that wasn’t the case.
“Lust for Life” legitimately shocked me. That Tears for Fears sample. Raps about women and alcohol and nightlife that weren’t one-dimensional and actually all deep and pensive and shit. It was clear that this wouldn’t be an ordinary listening experience and it was exhilarating. With each track, the doubt was shedding and it was cool to be pleasantly surprised like that. I mean, literally every single song was crazy. It was a moment. And for the brief amount of time that you could ask someone if they’d heard of Drake and they’d say, “Who?”, and you had to explain that he was this new rapper (who used to act on Degrassi) but was down with Lil Wayne and actually had a really sick mixtape, it felt like you were in on some type of secret.
By the summer, “Best I Ever Had” would be the No. 2 song in the country and Kanye West would be directing the video and Drake would be featured on several hit songs and touring and on magazine covers and already a superstar, and it was great because he was an artist who you wanted to see ascend. There hadn’t been a new rapper whose stock had risen so quickly in years, so it was exciting to witness. No one ever really thinks back to the So Far Gone days because Drake hasn’t given us a chance to do so since then. Even today, on the anniversary of his breakout project, everyone’s discussing his comments from an interview.
But every once in a while, especially on a day like today, those memories come back. Quitting my job as a barback at a sushi restaurant and peeling off from the lot with the windows down blasting “Ignant Shit” at ignorant levels. Mobbing out to “Uptown” with friends at college parties in that annoying way that people at parties who are obsessed with rap do. Sitting in my apartment, smoking blunts with my roommate, bumping “Successful,” plotting on how we were going to get rich and take over the world. It was a special time. Remember? —Ernest Baker