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Stacy-Ann Ellis / VIBE

NEXT: Meet Tiwa Savage, One Of Afrobeats' Leading Ladies

It's a Tuesday afternoon and there's a golden hue shining over the Manhattan skyline. The 82-degree heat can be felt swarming through the busy streets of Manhattan's Flatiron district. The time is slowly creeping towards half past the hour and at any minute Roc Nation's newest member Tiwa Savage will walk through the door. From the looks of it, today seems like the perfect day to chat and get familiar with one of Nigeria's biggest Afrobeats artists.

The Nigerian-born and London-bred singer quietly strolls into the office decked in a black, adidas track jumpsuit with a small four-person entourage. Her afro-puffed ponytail and hoop earrings give off "chill girl next door" vibes, which is quite contrary to the diva-licious attire she wore during her performance at the inaugural One Africa Music Fest at Brooklyn's Barclays Center over a month ago.

After a brief introduction, she breaks the serious ice that often lingers for about three seconds during first meetings with a simple, pleasant smile. With her far from American accent, Tiwa softly greets everyone with a purposeful handshake, making sure that not a single person is left out of the mix.

It was not too long ago that the singer-songwriter was just starting to make a buzz on the radio (and party) airwaves. Within six years of her solo career, Savage has managed to release two studio albums, rack up numerous award nominations (including one from BET and MTV Africa Music), walked the green carpet of the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, starred in a hit international television series aimed at educating the masses about the realities of HIV/AIDS  (by the way, don't sleep on MTV Shuga), and served as an ambassador for global brands like Pepsi and Pampers.  But after digesting all this information, one can't help but wonder how she got to this very point in her life.

"I'm the only girl. I'm the last-born. I have three older brothers. Life was beautiful. I had two loving parents; my brothers were always very protective because I was the only girl. Because I grew up with only boys, I was very tomboyish and a lot of people don't see that," she says. "A lot of people see heels, makeup and being glammed up, but 90% of the time, I like sneakers, track suits and being cool and relaxed. Growing up was fun and [had a feeling of] being free. Strict at times, but fun."

Music, however, was something that would enter her life at a very young age, thanks to a boy she found to be cute in secondary school. "I played trombone. Don't ask me if I still play [laughs], but I literally picked it up because I had a crush on a boy in high school. He used to hang around with the cool kids, the musicians and dancers." She chuckles to herself as she recalls how it all started. "Here I was: this kid fresh from Nigeria, strong accent, my mom shaved my hair off. I tried to get his attention. I went to this music teacher and said that I really wanted to do music. He looked to the corner of the room and said the trombone was the only instrument left. I picked it up, but eventually got bullied for it because it was always getting in the way on the bus. That was having the opposite effect of what I wanted because this guy's now laughing at me instead of falling in love with me. So, I gave up and joined the choir."

"[My sound is] African, pop, soul. When I say soul, I don't necessarily mean soul music. I mean it has some grit."

From that moment on, singing stuck with her, just as it did while performing in the church choir. When she wasn't listening to or singing Christian music, she'd listen to the Afrobeat king and originator Fela Kuti, before learning from some of gospel, hip-hop and R&B's greats. But if you were to ask her if she always thought she'd become a professional singer, she'd confidently nod, 'yes.' "I always knew I was going to be [one], because I was very creative. As a young girl, I used to make clothes and I used to do dances with other kids from the estate. But I never actually thought that music would be my thing until that moment."

A college bound Tiwa decided to break the news to her parents that she wanted a career as a musician. "When I did tell my parents that I wanted to do music, my dad thought that I just wanted to sing in the choir," she recalls. "I told him I wanted to be a musician and initially he wasn't really for it, so he told me to go to school and study in either business, engineering or be a doctor or a lawyer." She obliged and agreed to earn a degree in Business Administration from Kent University. But after she graduated, that itch for music was still there. "I wanted to do music and he said that I have to go and study music. I'm glad he did because I ended up going to the Berklee College Of Music and I studied jazz and music business. It really comes in handy when I have to look at music contracts."

"I would love to work with Kim Burrell. Her voice is like an instrument."

After completing her education at the prestigious U.S. college, the singer decided to test the waters of the music industry in America and take a stab at making her mark in the music business as a solo artist. Little did she know, her life journey would take her to New York City and down the career path of a songwriter.

"Songwriting kind of happened. I was in the studio trying to create a demo for myself. I finished the song and went back home. The next day, I was supposed to come and do some ad-libs on it and learned that when I left, Fantasia Barrino heard the song and liked it. Long story short, she took the record and I got a publishing deal. I had to start writing songs for other people, which is a learning process for me because usually I write songs just for myself. When you are submitting [music] for other artists, they make like the song, but they might say tweak a certain part. I had to learn how to tailor a lot of songs to different artists, but the beauty about being an artist now is that I can say what I want say and how I want to say it."

The song that Fantasia ended up taking out of her hands was "Collard Greens and Cornbread," which ended up on the Barrino's third studio album, Back to Me. From there, the rest is history. Savage would then relocate to Los Angeles, California and go on to write for the likes of Mary J. Blige, Mya, Monica and more through landed studio sessions with hit-makers like The Underdogs, James Fauntleroy, Frank Ocean and Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds. She even went on to singing background vocals for "I Look To You," one of last songs from the late and legendary Whitney Houston.

But, again, those accolades were not satisfying either. Coincidently, Savage would run into former Interscope A&R executive Tunji “TJ Billz” Balogun, who would eventually convince her to take her talents back home and take a stab at bringing something new and fresh to the Afrobeats music scene in Nigeria. Shortly after heeding his advice, Savage released a fresh, lady anthem called "Kele Kele Love," and indirectly contributed a spark to the rising smoke of the emerging "funky, and hyped, and energetic" Afrobeats genre of today.

"You can't please everybody, all of the time."

Unfortunately, after receiving much positive feedback for her debut single, while receiving airtime on Nigerian radio (amongst fellow artists like D'Banj, PSquare and Tuface), the negative criticism came on just as strong the song's fresh, yet sexy visual. During another sit-down with Pulse, Tiwa admitted that the far-from-pleased response to her video was "heart-breaking" and influenced her decision to take a break from the Nigerian music industry.

"You get this acceptance and then you're seeing all these headlines. Now I'm a really immune to it. I don't care who you are, when you first start, there's no way it will not affect you, so I ran back to Los Angeles. I was like, 'I am not doing this anymore.'"

Shortly after regrouping and changing her perspective, despite the opinions of others, Savage marched on and released a music video for her next track, "Love Me, Love Me, Love Me" (which ended up getting banned from Nigeria's NBC network) and eventually teamed up with Mavin Records founder and super producer, Don Jazzy. As time progressed, Tiwa eventually released her debut album, Once Upon A Time (2013), featuring fan favorites like "Eminado," and "Without My Heart."

Three years later, the mother of one debuted her sophomore effort, R.E.D (2016), where she expressed her strength amidst the negativity surrounding her personal life or career decisions. Not only does she classily exhibit her "no f**ks" given stance to the naysayers, she comfortably experiments with fusing the popular Afrobeats sound with the waist-winding vibes of reggae and dancehall. And because of the buzz Tiwa has unintentionally garnered over the last six years, Jay Z's New York City-based company has added the Yoruba songstress to its roster of domestic and international artists to manage (thanks in part to Mr. Carter's right hand man and living trend tracker, Briant "Bee-High" Bigg).

"I stand for every strong woman. Someone who typically doesn't take 'no' for an answer. Someone who would go out of their way to prove you wrong and break the mold of what you think she should be."

As many international artists have attempted to cross over or garner ears and structural business of the American country, one can't help but wonder: Why take the risk with your brand?

"I know a lot of artists have gotten international deals, but for me the genuine passion for Africa was just there and it started with me and Bee-High and just him taking time to come to Nigeria several times. That speaks volumes," she replies. "For someone who is not from there, coming and spending time and learning about the culture and saying that this can crossover, it made me feel really comfortable. When I went to the Roc Nation office here in New York, there was a genuine interest and genuine love. It was the same feeling when I met Jay Z. He was genuinely interested in the African culture and you can even see from some of the artifacts he has in his office. It was a no brainer for me. I didn't have to shop around and see what my options were. There are some things that when it just comes, you know it's right. That was just the situation. You hear a lot of times when people sign after a month, they're on their own. With Roc Nation, it seems their day-by-day support is only getting stronger."

As for any of her fans concerned with her decision to jump management boats, Savage offers nothing but assurance that Tiwa will still be Tiwa, and that who she is and what she stands for will not change.

"I'm still very pro-African and you can't take that away from me," she points out. "There's nothing you can do to change that. I think only time will tell and they need to be rest assured that Roc Nation is really trying to introduce the African culture to the world, not even just America. When I say culture, they're not just interested in the music, they're interested in the fashion, in the culture and in the movement. I think that is because everybody is kind of reconnecting back with each other. A lot of the Africans in the diaspora are connecting back home and they see that buzz and they're just trying to assist in building that bridge."

Although her latest album was released 10 months ago, there is no doubt that her third studio album is on the way and will have more in store for fans around the world, as well as those just getting familiar.

"It all starts with great music," Tiwa says. "I love that at Roc Nation they're giving me the liberty to create great music. Mentally, I'm just trying to create something that crosses over, but appeals to Africa. Once we get the right music, I think the music is going to determine what we do. Obviously, the press, the plugging in to radios, the strategic collaborations, all of that is in the works. It depends on the music that we determine which artist I collaborate with."

Before we wrap up, we can't help but ask one last question, a question that many Nigerians (whether born and raised in America, London, Lagos or elsewhere) often debate on: What is the difference between Afrobeat, Afrobeats and Afropop?

"I don't even know how it came about," she admits. "I know Afrobeat is from Fela and the reason why I guess people wanted to start a new genre of Afropop was because a lot of the music we're doing now is influenced by hip-hop, R&B and pop. You can't really say it's just Afrobeat, because Afrobeat has a sound. When you hear it, you now it's Afrobeat. I think that's where the argument is." She ends with a smile. "I think at the next forum we have in Nigeria, we should have this discussion."

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Stacy-Ann Ellis

Meet Koffee, The Rising Jamaican Star Who Is Hot Like A Thermos

Back in 1962, a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Robert Marley recorded a song called “One Cup of Coffee” and went on to take reggae music around the world. Fast forward 55 years to 2017, when a 17-year-old Jamaican singer/songwriter named Koffee dropped her first record, “Burning,” setting her on a path to become the most talked-about new artist in dancehall reggae right now.

Koffee got her big break when veteran singer Cocoa Tea invited her onstage at the January 2018 edition of Rebel Salute, Jamaica’s biggest roots reggae festival. “She name Koffee and me name Tea,” he quipped, calling her the “next female sensation out of Jamaica.” The artist born Mikayla Simpson doesn’t actually like coffee though—she prefers hot chocolate.

After graduating from Ardenne High, the same school dancehall star Alkaline attended, Koffee turned her focus to music. She shot a live video with new roots superstar Chronixx at Marley’s Tuff Gong Studios, then dropped her breakout single “Toast,” produced by Walshy Fire of Major Lazer fame. That video has racked up 10 million+ views and made the artist, who stands just over five feet tall, a very big name on the island. Now signed to Columbia UK, Koffee will release her debut EP Rapture next month.

“Mi only spit lyrics, don't really talk a lot,” she states on the track “Raggamuffin.” But when Koffee turned up to VIBE’s Times Square headquarters, bundled up against NYC’s February chill in a hoodie, thermals, and Nike x Off-White sneakers, she opened up about her musical journey, the power of gratitude, her surprising inspirations, and how she plans to spend her birthday.

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VIBE: I haven’t seen you since your EP listening in Kingston. Congratulations on an impressive body of work. Koffee: Thank you. I feel humble and proud at the same time. I really put a lot of thought into the EP, the way I structured it, and the content, the lyrics. It really means a lot to me, so I appreciate you saying that.

It’s amazing how much you’ve accomplished since Cocoa Tea brought you out on Rebel Salute. Yeah, and that was only a year and a month ago!

So how did the link with Cocoa happen? Actually, it happened through Walshy Fire. After my very first single “Burning,” Walshy reached out and sent me some riddims, in hopes of us working together, which we ended up doing. We were supposed to meet up at a studio in Florida and when we went there Cocoa Tea was already in the building. We were like, “Wow, Cocoa Tea!” Because Cocoa Tea is a reggae legend for us in Jamaica. Walshy actually introduced Cocoa to some of my music, and Cocoa was like, “Wha? Mi gonna bring her out on Rebel Salute next month!” This was in December, and Rebel Salute was in January.

Timing is everything. Rebel Salute made a huge difference. It opened me up to a lot of opportunities. Even today a lot of places that I go, people remember me from there. I was doing music before. I’d done a few shows here and there, but the audience at Rebel Salute is very important. It’s an epic stage to present yourself.

Were you nervous? Just before going out on the stage I was backstage pacing back and forth. I was trying to keep warm as well because it was chilly that night. But I was really nervous because it was my first time being in such a light.

Do you think being so young has helped you? Like, you may not overthink everything. I think you have a point. Because I’m young, my mind is a bit more pure, or uncorrupted. Experiences do have a way of taking away your mental space and the things you’re willing to try. Staying in “the comfort zone” is the most comfortable thing, but sometimes pushing yourself to step outside of that will help you overcome your fears. That, and just the drive and motivation. I definitely try to keep challenging myself.

Reggae has always been a male-dominated industry, but female artists are definitely on the rise. How do feel getting catapulted into that category? I feel like it’s a big responsibility, and “to whom much is given, much is expected.” So I don't look at it as, “Oh, I’ve made it.” But I acknowledge that I’m in a position where I have a responsibility now to fulfill and to pull through. It just pushes me to work harder, make more things happen, and just keep it going.

I love the line in your song “Raggamuffin” where you say, “Mi give them heart attack inna mi halter back.” Was that inspired by Althea & Donna’s “Uptown Top Rankin’” from the ‘70s? Yeah, I love that song. That’s the thing, I would say that every artist is an influence to me. Growing up, I would hear these songs being played by people next door, down the road, all around. Just in the Jamaican environment on a whole. So those songs definitely do have an influence on me, the messages from those times. Once you hear it, it’s in your head. You know it now and it really makes a difference in how you think, how you speak, and everything.

When people think of a female dancehall artist they usually think of colorful hair, long nails… But you seem to have your own swag. How would you describe your style? I would definitely say unique, but at the same time, it is natural to me and not calculated. I don't put a name to it and say, “I’m gonna be this way.” I just kind of flow and whatever you see is me doing what I feel. Like, I’m not sure what these pants are, but I bought them in Berlin. I got this hoodie in the UK—I’m not sure what brand this is either. I was just trying to keep warm. My friend Ayesha from the UK styled me with this top recently for a shoot.

There’s a line on “Burning” where you talk about “Koffee pon di street, tank top inna di heat / Jeans pants an’ Crocs / No socks pon mi feet / Knapsack mi a beat / Well pack up an’ it neat.” Was that your real-life dress code in 2017? Yeah, I remember at that time that’s how I used to roll. You know in Jamaica it’s hot, so I probably had my tank top and my jeans on, or my shorts. And I had this one pair of grey Crocs that I just wore everywhere. And I always have my knapsack. So yeah, that was my reality at that moment.

How far away does that feel, now that you have a stylist and travel the world? That’s amazing. It’s a transition that’s really beautiful and something I really appreciate.

I have a feeling you’re going to re-introduce words like “appreciate” and “give thanks” into pop culture. I hope to start a wave of gratitude. Even by writing that song “Toast,” when I say “We haffi give thanks like we really supposed to,” it reminds me to be grateful. I aspire to be humble and I pray and ask God to help me be grateful. I try to maintain it and I hope that will inspire other people to do the same.

Let’s talk about “Toast.” On the chorus, you say “We nah rise and boast.” But then again, a lot of reggae and dancehall artists are very “boasy.” That’s part of the culture. When I say “Wi nah rise and boast” it means that no matter what happens along the journey, we’re still gonna remain the same. We gonna big up we friend and hold a vibes. I’m just making it clear that we never come fe hype.

You can spit pretty fast, but I feel like some people may be missing some of the things you say. But if you listen carefully you’re talking about real things. Thank you for noticing that. When I wrote “Raggamuffin,” a lot of my musical influence came from artists like Protoje and Chronixx. Chronixx has basically been an advocate for the youths, so his message had an impact on me. When I was vibing to the beat, I wanted to cover myself, cover my country where I come from, good things and bad things, and the music, reggae itself.

Growing up, did you see inner city kids not being looked after by their own government and their own people? Most definitely. I wouldn't say that the government is responsible for the lives of everybody as citizens. But there are some general things that need the government’s attention and they don't pay the attention that they should. They'd rather focus on things that can garner income. There are roads that need to be fixed in places that tourists don't necessarily visit. And nobody cares about those roads. Minor injustices, major injustices—just things that really need to be spoken about so that people can think about it and look into it.

BDP used the term Edutainment—education and entertainment. Is that something you present in your music? Yes, it’s definitely something I aim for. I think that it’s important to keep people interested enough to want to absorb what you are saying. And then it’s equally important to present something that is worth absorbing. Something productive, something inspiring, motivating. Just mixing both so that you have their attention and you’re also delivering something that’s worth their attention.

You were still in school when you did your song “Burning.” As a new artist did you have to convince the producers to work with you? Gratefully, no I didn't have to convince them. Because I did a tribute to Usain Bolt before that. I wrote a song with my guitar titled “Legend” and posted a video of me performing it with my guitar on Instagram.

Usain came across it and reposted it, so that garnered a lot of attention. People from the music industry reached out to me, and in that group of people was Upsetta records with their Ouji Riddim. They sent it to my first manager like, “Let’s see what she can do” and so forth.

There’s this thing in Jamaica called Sixth Form. It’s like you graduate high school and there’s an extra two years that you can do as like a pre-college. I applied for it and didn’t get through. Right after that, I did the tribute to Usain Bolt and then Upsetta sent me the Ouji Riddim. I was in a state of mind where I felt disappointed. I felt the need to motivate myself, so I was like “Come with the fire the city burning!”

How does your mom feel about all of this? I started writing lyrics at 14 years old, but she didn't find out until I was 16, when she saw me perform at a competition in school. I invited her there and she was taken aback, like, “Wow! So this what you've been doing?” (Laughs) She wanted me to do academics like every parent wants. And she was little disappointed when I didn't get through to Sixth Form. But over time, as I wrote more and performed more, she began to trust my talent and just trust the process. So she started appreciating the music and now she's fully on board.

What did your mother think of “dancehall pon the street,” like you sing about in your song “Raggamuffin”? As you know I’ve been living with mommy since I was a baby up until I was 17, so being under her roof I didn't go out much. I was always in the house just chilling and stuff. I know that there’s a dance on like every corner. lf you are driving, you always hear music playing. You have the oldies dancehall, you have the new dancehall—everybody just hold a vibe. That’s basically where that line comes from.

Do you go to dances now? I’ve been going to a few parties and getting out, but I haven't been to like a dance dance. I’ve been to Dub Club, you get some really good music there. But Dub Club is like a relaxed kinda vibe.

You recently performed at Bob Marley’s 74th birthday celebration in Kingston. Do you still listen to his music? Most definitely! Bob has set such a great and amazing foundation for the music, the industry, the genre itself, the country, the youth... He’s set such a great example that you haffi really learn from it and take a lot from it so that you know where you’re coming from. You haffi understand how to execute in honor of such people.

What are some of your favorite Bob songs? Well, I performed “Who the Cap Fit” that night, so that’s one of my favorites. And I like “Is This Love” and “Natural Mystic.” That’s just a few.

I know that’s a hard question. What about a dancehall legend like Super Cat? Hmm… “Mud Up” woulda be my favorite Super Cat.

Really?! Yeah, because of the flow he has on it, not necessarily the content. See, I’m from Spanish Town. Jamaicans on a whole, we like vibes. We like lyrics that, as we would say, “it slap!” It touches you, and really hits that spot. So I listen to a lot of different things, and the lyrics that I listen to aren't always conscious. But what I derive from music is not necessarily the message. Sometimes the flow that you’re hearing, that’s the wave for the moment. It may not be the best for the youth, but that’s what people like to vibe to. So you take that vibe, put a positive message to it, and that’s the spin. So I listen very widely.

One of my favorite songs on your new EP is the “Rapture” remix. It was dope that you got together with Govana on that. When I first wrote “Rapture,” Govana had recently done a song called “Bake Bean” that took off in Jamaica. When him drop that, it’s like the flow really resonate with me. I was like, “This is dope.” So when I did “Rapture” I was listening back to it and thought I should probably try to get Govana on this track. And it turned out so sick!

That’s cool to have the credibility where other artists respond to you like that. Because I'm sure it’s not always that easy. No, it’s not always easy. Me haffi give thanks for the way people have been responding.

So no one has kissed their teeth and said, “Nah man”? (Laughs) No, not yet. (Laughs) But what I have to appreciate is just when another artist really listens and pays attention. Sometimes an artist can be good and they don't get the response or the attention that they deserve. Some people don't want to listen, so I give a lot of respect to who is willing to listen.

Well Govana has given you that “crown” in his verse, which reminds me—how did the song “Throne” come about? I remember Walshy sent me that riddim in the first batch of riddims that he sent me. The riddim for “Toast” was also in that batch, but I started with “Throne.” It was basically like a challenge for me. I was like “How am I gonna spit on this?” Because the riddim sounded so dynamic. I was like “mi haffi mash this up!” Hence the fast spit-fire kind of vibe.

What music are you currently listening to on your phone? I don’t listen to my own songs that much. I’m vibing to Mr Eazi. I’ve been going in on the Afrobeats. Burna Boy. Smino the rapper. And I’ve been going in even more on Bob Marley.

Well, it’s reggae month right now. So there’s lots of legendary birthdays—Bob Marley, Dennis Brown. That makes the month even more significant! By the way, I’m born in February also. (Laughs) February 16th.

Happy Earthstrong! Were you keeping that quiet? I just remembered. I’ll be 19!

Wow—you’re gonna be out of the teens soon. What you gonna do on your 19th birthday? Wowwwww—I dunno. I’m gonna see when I get to Jamaica which party. I’ll probably just try and go to a dance or something. That ah go be mad!

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Solitary Alignment: 5 Self-Affirming Reads For Single Ladies On Valentine’s Day

Ahh, the Feast of Saint Valentine—the Hallmark holiday that strikes us with its arrow each year, for better or for worse, depending on your bae status. While the romantic holiday is adored and celebrated by many, if you’re still reeling over, say, your ex’s refusal to commit, chances are Feb. 14 is more of a heartache for you than anything.

But as a wise woman once said, “If they liked it then they should’ve put a ring on it.” So whether V-Day has you scared of lonely or sulking over a lost love, as another wise woman once said, they “would be SUPER lucky to even set eyes on you this Valentine’s Day. That’s it. That’s the gift.” Shout out to The Slumflower.

Sure, having a bae on Valentine’s Day is cool, but so is reminding yourself why you’re just fine without one (cue Webbie’s “Independent”). In fact, single folks have better relationships overall, according to the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. You know how the old adage goes: love yourself before loving someone else.

For this Valentine’s Day, VIBE Vixen rounds up a nourishing list of books for our sisters doin’ it for themselves. Consider this your reminder of how badass you are—because you are! Oh, oh, oh. *Beyoncé voice*

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Johnny Nunez

'So Far Gone': Re-Reviewing Drake's Iconic Mixtape 10 Years Later

“Draaaake?! Draaaake?! Aubrey Graham in a wheelchair... Draaaake?!”

Soulja Boy’s viral rant, while hilarious to 15 million viewers who watched The Breakfast Club interview, seems almost silly to contemplate now in a musical climate so easily dominated by the OVO frontrunner. But in 2009, at the release of Drake’s breakout mixtape, So Far Gone, Soulja’s questions of Drake’s influence and placement on the hip-hop spectrum actually mimicked the inquiries fans may have been asking at the time. Even Drizzy seemed to share those same contemplations on the project as he reflected his newfound stardom and the future that would unfold as a result.

So Far Gone, however, diminished those ounces of doubt. Ten years later, the 18-track project still comes together as one of the most cohesive mixtapes of this decade and has become the building block to one of the sturdiest foundations of a hip-hop artist to date. Revisiting So Far Gone and taking its temperature anew, we get a glimpse of how the personas of the emotional rapper came to be such inescapable and successful forces within the music industry at that time.

 

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@futuretheprince a decade ago you were Dj’ing all ages [email protected] a decade ago you were scared to share your [email protected]elkhatib a decade ago you worked at a clothing store selling someone else’s [email protected] a decade ago you were in a basement with pink insulation walls figuring out fruity [email protected] a decade ago we were handing out flyers promoting club [email protected] a decade ago you were working the makeup counter at Beverly [email protected] a decade ago your moms house was my safe place and we really ran through the 6 everyday [email protected] a decade ago you were a legend and you will remain that [email protected] a decade ago you promoted me as if you were getting a cut of my [email protected] a decade ago you were the first person to recognize potential and give me a [email protected] a decade ago you came to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and laid a verse for an unknown artist from [email protected] a decade ago you emailed me the cover art for something that would change my life [email protected] a decade ago you came to my release party at 6 Degrees and made me the biggest artist in the city off your presence [email protected] a decade ago I rapped over your beat cause you just made the best shit and even though you stay wildin on twitter these days I will never forget what you contributed to the game and my career...Portia I don’t know your IG but a decade ago you told me to rap over June 27th and bonded me and Houston Texas [email protected] a decade ago you took a chance on MySpace and introduced me to [email protected] a decade ago you took me out of Toronto and gave me the biggest blessing anybody has ever given me...I will never forget anybody involved in this journey even if you don’t fit in this caption...So Far Gone streaming everywhere for the first time ever Thursday. 🙏🏽

A post shared by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on Feb 13, 2019 at 3:27am PST

With his follow-up to Comeback Season (2007), Drake interrupted the hip-hop landscape with introspective songs that played up relationships instead of violence and street life through a healthy mix of confident raps and charming vocals. The idea of “emotional rapping” was so novice that it seemed uncool or too feminine in a male-dominated genre (Lil Wayne’s No Ceilings, Nicki Minaj’s Beam Me Up Scotty, and J. Cole’s The Warm Up also created noise at the time), but Drake’s ability to reach his female audience while still resonating with the masses was irrefutable. The somber tone of “Sooner Than Later,” sung in his lower register, perfectly conveys his efforts to reach an estranged lover before she’s gone for good. “The girl or the world? / They say someone gotta lose / I thought that I can have it all, do I really got to choose,” Drake ponders on the record.

In addition to lyrical content, Drake’s audacity to sing on heavily R&B-inspired tracks is unmatched. We saw that on “Houstatlantavegas”—possibly the genesis of his infatuation with strippers (“Hey there, pretty girl/You know, exactly what you got/And I don't blame you at all/You can't resist it/Especially when the lights so bright/And the money so right/And it's comin in every single night,” he crooned)—a seductive song that listens as an open love letter to a mysterious working girl. The romanticization of this woman is reminiscent of T-Pain’s 2005 single “In Luv With a Stripper,” but it seesawed back and forth between velvety refrains and confident bars that captured the allure in a way that felt both sexy and humanizing. The girl was no longer just a stripper, but one who dreamed of making it out of her hometown.

His singing may have seemed comparable to Kanye West, who had just released his predominantly auto-tuned album 808s & Heartbreak just a year before (Drizzy actually sampled Kanye’s “Say You Will” from the same album, flipping it to be a rap track). Even so, Drake dared to pair his vocals alongside talented voices within the R&B space, proving that he could sing just as much as he could rap. “A Night Off” was an incredibly bold and ambitious move. Drake had cojones to pair his sensuous crooning with the high notes of a certified songbird like Lloyd, but somehow it worked. This was the vulnerability that would give him his “Heartbreak Drake” persona, and he won for it.

While his vulnerability would be his gateway into the industry, Drake wanted to remind fans that he was still very much a rapper and a force to be reckoned with. In comparison to “A Night Off,” Drizzy flexed his flows on “Successful,” while Trey Songz held down the chorus. The materialism that was an undeniable 2009 rap music theme stood on the forefront as the eerie harmony led into Songz’s hook, fully encapsulating the desperation of a rookie attempting to overcome struggles and bolster from nothing to everything.

A seasoned Drake would surely not equate his success to simply h*es and cars, but its message, while simple, was honest and provided insight into a naïve conversation on what fame meant to a newcomer. Drake went harder on “Uptown,” though. The rapper had no choice to flex cocky bars over the Boi-1da-produced beat in order to keep up with its A-list features, Lil Wayne and Bun B.

This reminder of Drake The Rapper was also prevalent in his sampling. He demonstrated his understanding of hip-hop’s rich history on songs like “November 18th,” where DJ Screw provided the perfect assist with a chopped and screwed sample of Kris Kross’ “Da Streets Ain’t Right” (which also borrowed from Notorious B.I.G’s 1994 single, “Warning”). Although the track held a lot of weight in its instrumentals, Drizzy forged his own story by illustrating the day Lil Wayne called him, which in turn changed the course of his fate. Likewise, a purely-rapping-no-hook Drake over Jay-Z's original “Ignorant Sh*t” on his version, “Ignant Sh*t,” is quite nice. Yes, breaking away from the usual blueprint of breaks and harmonious choruses makes it teeter on the exhausting side, but the song’s lyrical content was a time capsule of the last decade (“Rest in peace to Heath Ledger, but I’m no Joker”).

The entirety of So Far Gone set the pace for Drake’s career in the years to come, but the tape’s final track, “The Calm,” foreshadowed his position in the landscape of hip-hop the most. “Leader of the new school, it’s proven and it’s known / I’m sitting in a chair, but in the future it’s a throne,” he prophesied. The electronic and muffled beat leads in to Drake’s reflection about a sense of alienation in the industry and his personal life that surely has continued well into the 2010s. While he is now one of the most commercially sought after talents in pop culture, his artistry has often been questioned by his musical peers. But even then, like the song said, Drake has always known that things were going to work out in his favor: “Everything will be okay and it won’t even take that long.”

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