Jacob Banks Jacob Banks
VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

NEXT: If You Like Good Things And Sounds That Stir, Allow Us To Properly Introduce Jacob Banks

"Hi, my name is Jacob Banks and I sing songs."

On an aggressively hot August day in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, 26-year-old Jacob Banks emerges cool as a fan. Taking up residency at Hotel Rivington, the singer-songwriter dons a burgundy button-down that appears to have been thrifted, along with sweatpants and pair of black and white Nikes. Per usual, Banks offers up his trademark introduction: “Hi, I’m Jacob Banks and I sing songs."

When he’s feeling a little wild, he’ll throw an adverb into the mix.

“I’m Jacob Banks and I predominantly sing songs,” he says with a mischievous smile, showing off his one gold tooth.

It’s not that Banks is short on vocabulary, it’s just that the Nigerian-born, Birmingham, UK-raised artist would much rather keep things simple, a practice he’s brought to his lyrics for all three of his EPs The Monologue, The Paradox and, most recently, The Boy Who Cried Freedom. Banks learned this lesson giggin’ around London at open mics. Quickly Banks, the oldest of four, realized open mics were open season for anyone wanting to make fun of you, and an artist only has the first few bars of a song to capture someone’s attention.

“People can’t wait to find out that you’re s**t. They can’t wait for it. They’re nudging their friends like, ‘Look at this guy.’ So you just learn how to earn people’s attention,” Banks reminisces. “What’s simple and what’s the truth, they just know. It’s not the phonetics or the acrobatics of your voice that people care about. I think people are looking for a little bit of them in you every time. I found the simpler it was it just worked, even if your voice was shaky or whatever.”

Stage fright wasn’t something Banks had to overcome, nor is shaky an accurate word to describe the harmonious, yet soothing growl of his voice. Standing at 6'4, Banks sings with the ferocity of a man tired of being tired; like you owe him money and he’s done asking kindly. Banks’ voice is the church pew and the choir robe. It’s the pastor’s thunderous reading of John 3:16. If Otis Redding wore Converses and a skully, he’d be Mr. Jacob Banks.

It took Banks taking the scenic route to jumpstart his career, and by scenic route, he means earning a degree in civil engineering. As Banks recalls, he did so to please his agriculture father and nurse mother, but music was always hovering nearby. One day, Banks says he randomly bought a red guitar named Mrs. Robinson, simply because it looked good. About two weeks later, the flat he shared with friends had been robbed and the one possession the thieves didn’t take was his red guitar. With nothing else to do in a house that had just been ransacked, Banks decided to put Mrs. Robinson to good use.

“It was like, ‘Well this guitar’s here, we have Internet, we should learn to play,” he says nonchalantly.

Banks wrote poetry in his downtime and after taking guitar lessons via YouTube, it only made sense he venture into songwriting.

“I think the natural progression for me was to try and express myself and at that point, I had heard a John Mayer record from the album Continuum and I wanted to have the same avenue to express myself in that way. So, I started writing and I wrote a song called, ‘Let Me Love You’.”

As a devout fan of the Irish boy band Westlife, Banks says he “stole” some chords from one of their songs and began humming a melody that came to him to create the guitar ballad.

“For me, it was purely for expression. Going through what I was going through at the time, studying what I didn’t want to study to impress family, I think I lacked self-love. Looking back at it, I guess these things in the moment you miss what your mind is trying to tell you, when you look at it again it’s so obvious what the song was about. The song was about self-love.”

Banks recorded “Let Me Love You” on his friend’s iPhone 4, who then entered it into the ADIDAS Mobo Unsung Regional competition. About six months passed without any word from officials and then in the summer of 2013, Banks got the call. He's all cool and collected about it now, but says when he learned he won a nationwide competition for the very first song he wrote he was beside himself, to say the least.

“I sounded like such a wimp,” Banks says smiling. “I was screaming on the phone like, ‘No! No!’ You have to understand we entered the competition and in that time in between, I’d fallen head-over-heels for music. I was so besotted with it to be able to express myself like that. I had never experienced anything quite like it. So hearing the first thing I ever did, actually the first song I ever wrote, won that competition was a lot.”

As his prize, Banks worked with a UK artist and became the first unsigned singer to appear on BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge. Banks, 22 at the time, also later made his informal musical debut with the release of The Monologue.

Banks knew music was his path but it was a matter of getting his mom and dad to agree that was the challenge. With traditional Nigerian parents, Banks understood why the idea of civil engineering seemed like a more secure option than singing, so like most 20-somethings unsure of how to get their parents on board with their dreams, Banks bent the truth a bit.

“If my mom ever reads this she’s going to f**king kill me. I told my mom I was moving to London for a placement in a civil engineering company. But, I wasn’t,” he laughs.

VIBE: So you lied to your mom?

“I didn’t say that.”

VIBE: Mmmhmm…

After graduating college in 2014, Banks moved to London to perform around the city and, as he puts it, “to make a name for myself and to see if I belonged here.” On stage, Banks would either do a rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” or Floetry’s “Say Yes” and a few self-described "mediocre" songs he wrote. To survive, he either worked retail or pocketed a pound or two from the shows he booked. Banks gave himself a year and claimed if nothing came from his musical efforts he’d simply find a new occupation. At the end of 2014, Banks' hard work paid off when he signed with Atlantic Records, but things didn't go as smoothly as he hoped.

“They just saw me as a 6-foot-4 black pop star and I said, ‘Good luck with that.’ That’s just not going to work,” he says matter-of-factly.

VIBE: And you’re a 6-foot-4 black, what?

“Guy.”

Atlantic Records saw Banks in one light, yet despite his talent Banks is still a black man who admittedly has endured more racism stateside than he has touring the world. While in California, Banks recalls having been called the n-word from the most unlikely of places.

“It was intriguing to me. I see this homeless dude on a bench, I stay in Santa Monica, and I see him on the same bench every day. Even as low as life is to you, you still see yourself higher than a black person. That’s mad weird to me,” Banks says. “So this is what happened. I was walking and he was arguing with this white homeless lady. I was walking past them and in that moment he looked at me and pointed at me and said, ‘Not even that n****r over there can help you.’ I was like ‘What the?' ”

According to Banks, a confrontation ensued and a plethora of insults were slung. The homeless man eventually apologized, but for Banks, defending himself as well as his music is second nature.

After a few meetings with Atlantic Records, it was clear the partnership wasn't going to work and Banks asked if he could be let out of his contract. Feeling as if he had something to prove, Banks (who also parted ways with his management at the time) moved to a small village outside of London to create his follow-up EP The Paradox, which spawned his single “Monster.”

“That was what ‘Monster’ was for me. It was like you forced me out my chair. I didn’t want to have to have these conversations. This is you. I was cool on my side of the fence. You pissed me off,” Banks describes of what inspired the tribal-infused song. “Like, you’ve awakened a beast. I’d rather be sleeping. I’d rather be chillin,’ eating jerk chicken, living life lavishly and look what you’ve done. That was what ‘Monster’ was about, just me and that relationship. Asking for the basic of things became a challenge.”

Success would belong to Mr. Banks when “Monster” was used as the promotion for Season Four of the Starz scripted drama Power, as well as “Unknown” at the end of Season Three. The heartbreaking piano ballad depicts a lover giving his partner one final chance to say the things they never said out of love, fear of simply keeping the peace.

If you listen to Banks’ music you’ll get the feeling of – as the elderly say – “he’s been here before.” Musically his soul is old, but Banks is still 26—or a British 26, if that makes sense. He uses words like “exquisite” to describe his alleged globally renowned parallel parking skills and “lavish” to denote how fancy he is now that he’s purchased a Dyson Hoover vacuum for his birthday. As a Nigerian, he must say his Jollof rice is a notch above the rest, but the verdict is still out on that according to Banks himself. In his photos, Banks looks serious and philosophical, as if he responds to the most basic questions in Haiku. But in person, Banks is thoughtful, clever, welcoming and funny.

He’s a big Disney and Cartoon Network fan and loves watching Steve Carell and his awkward gang on The Office. He doesn't drink or smoke and calls himself a grandpa for not desiring the club. When he’s not talking to his siblings or in the studio, he’s coolin' with his two cats, Prince Lord Zuko, first of his name and Mustafa Biscuits, a love that’s apparently stronger than the very real allergies he has to them.

“Like really, what’s an allergy?” Banks says with a laugh.

After the release of The Paradox it didn't take long for Banks to find a new label home at Interscope Records, where he created his latest EP The Boy Who Cried Freedom, led by the politically-charged video he directed for “Chainsmoking.”

Looking back on it, it took Banks about four years from winning the competition to now gearing up for his debut album, The Village. Being released in three chapters beginning in October, Banks isn't interested in playing the traditional album release game, which he deems unfair to new artists. He wants his fans – whom he refers to as friends or “My Gs” – to hear it in their own timeframe.

“These songs mean a lot to me and I want people to be able to ingest them at their own time and their own pace because I believe as a new artist, if you’re asking someone to give you an hour and a half of their day, you’re asking a lot.” Banks explains. “I just want to change the way the system is. It doesn’t work for artists of our generation because we always fall short of whatever standards somebody else has set. So yeah, I just want to run my own race.”

The first chapter of his full-length record will have six tracks and be reflective of his African roots. The second will encompass British culture, which will have a heavy Caribbean dosage, and the third will be a mix of the two. “Unknown,” the first single from the album, which originally appeared on The Paradox, received a facelift of sorts when Banks re-recorded it at the top of the year. He says he’s a better artist now then when he initially made the song, but maintains it didn’t receive the marketing effort it deserved.

“When ‘Unknown’ came out, I knew it was an amazing song and it connected with a lot of people but there was no real push. It didn’t really get a chance to show itself, but it really connected with the people who heard it. When it went on Power it charted in the U.S., it charted in the U.K. and that’s off a TV show. There was never any real push. I just wanted people to have a chance to hear it and I’m a better artist now than I was then and I’d feel uncomfortable putting it out again as it was.”

His publicist gives us the cue it's time to wrap up. We chat for a bit about his tattoos (he has three) and the extents to which he’ll travel for jerk chicken. But when it’s all said and done, like his lyrics, Banks is just a simple man.

“I’m somebody’s son, somebody’s brother and somebody who’s trying to figure it out," he says.

Same, Mr. Banks. Same.

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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] 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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