DRAKE INVADED HIP-HOP AS A HUMBLE “EMO” RAP-SINGER FROM CANADA WITH THE USUAL DESIGNS ON “THE MONEY, THE CARS AND THE CLOTHES.” BUT WHILE YOU TOOK HIS HEARTACHE FOR NO-HEART, DRAKE CHANGED HIS GAME FACE AND FLEXED HIS BAD BOY MUSCLE. FROM THIS POINT ON, THERE IS NO MORE MR. NICE GUY –Lola Ogunnaike
TUCKED AWAY in the wings backstage at the American Music Awards is where you’ll ?nd Aubrey Graham, aka Drake, rap’s reigning prince. As members of his entourage quietly shuf?e about and two actresses from the ABC hit Modern Family prepare to introduce him, he’s practicing “Headlines,” the song he’ll be performing before the music industry’s preening glitterati in a matter of minutes. Though The New York Times has just de- clared him “hip-hop’s center of gravity,” he still has the nervous energy of a newbie. Hopping about like a young ?ghter eager to enter the ring—mouthing his lyrics, pantomiming with his hands—you don’t see much more than his silhouette until it’s showtime. And when it is indeed that time, the lights blaze, the crowd roars and he bounds onstage.
It’s a solid showing, but it’s far from a home run, which he admits the following evening over chips and dip at the Polo Lounge Restaurant at the Beverly Hills Hotel, an old-Hollywood-style eatery that attracts A-listers and D-grade strivers alike. Seconds before his performance, he was told that the elaborate light display that was supposed to accompany his set was on the fritz, which threw him off a bit. It’s not an excuse, he makes clear, but an explanation. “I’m very hard on myself,” Drake says. “I’m constantly striving for something beyond perfection.”
It’s the rare bump in an otherwise remarkable and meteoric rise for the Canadian-born phenom, who made a major breakthrough three years ago with an original backstory (half Black, half Jewish Toronto-based child-actor-turned- leading-MC) and an even more compelling mixtape (2009’s So Far Gone). Thank Me Later, his of?cial ?rst album, not only announced his arrival, it established him as one of hip-hop’s brightest stars and one of the T-Dot’s leading cultural exports. Lil Wayne’s imprimatur, as well as cosigns from everyone from Jay-Z to Justin Bieber, all but ensured his success. As he crisscrossed the U.S. with Weezy during the I Am Music tour, he played the humble student to Wayne’s wizened sensei. “[On the tour bus] I was this quiet ?y on the wall,” he told me at the time. “I was too scared to even ask for my own bunk. I would sleep sitting up in a little corner.”
These days, Drake sleeps in penthouses and it’s his name on the side of the tour bus. With his six degrees of Kevin Bacon-like connection to nearly all of music’s major players, the young grasshopper is now a ubiquitous presence on the radio. Crisp lyrics, adventurous melodies and collabos with up-and-comers (the Weeknd) and the fully arrived (Rick Ross) alike have cemented his status as one of music’s most important artists. His latest effort, Take Care, a sensuous 80-minute meditation on loves lost, dreams won and the colossal weight of success, is his most ambitious work to date. Sonically promiscuous, the album effortlessly mixes R&B, pop, electronica, neo-soul and a dash of the blues. The product ?nds Drake at turns boastful (“There’s some bills and taxes I’m still evading/But I blew 6 million on myself and I feel amazing”), thoughtful (“I’m hearing all of the jokes, I know that they tryna push me/I know that showin’ emotion don’t ever mean I’m a pussy”) and comical (“Sometimes I need that romance, sometimes I need that pole dance”).
He sings as much, if not more, than he raps. But T-Paining too much doesn’t bother him in the least. “One of my ?rst hits was a slow jam. I came out sounding like a lost member of Jodeci,” he jokes. “Like my name should’ve been Dra-kante.” His willingness to constantly push artistic boundaries has earned him high praise and a loyal audience. Take Care debuted at No. 1 on Billboard 200, moving 631,000 copies in its ?rst week alone. It’s since sold more than 1 million copies.