Drake may be the first rapper to talk about how his mom disapproves of his car. The former Degrassi: The Next Generation star used his acting money to lease a Rolls-Royce Phantom in order to fit into the world of hip hop—and he’s not too proud to admit, in his song Say Whats Real, that that kind of thing doesn’t go over well at home. “And my mother embarrassed to put my Phantom out / So I park about five houses down / She said I shouldn’t have until I have the crown / But I don’t wanna feel the need to wear disguises around / So she wonder where my mind is / Accounts in the minus / But yet I’m rolling round the f–kin’ city like your highness.”
For Drake, who is being hailed as the next hip-hop superstar, it must be difficult to reconcile a blinged-out lifestyle with home—which is Forest Hill, a tony, predominantly Jewish neighbourhood in Toronto. Born Aubrey Drake Graham (he goes by Aubrey Graham when acting, and Drake when singing), his parents split when he was young. His father is an African-American musician who lives in Memphis, and his mom, who is white, raised him in Toronto, where he was bar mitzvahed. “I didn’t go to Hebrew school though,” he told Peter Rosenberg, a popular Jewish hip-hop talk show host. “I cheated. I collected the money.”
At 13, he landed on the Canadian teen melodrama Degrassi: TNG playing Jimmy Brooks, a wealthy kid and basketball star who ends up in a wheelchair after a bullied classmate—whom Jimmy had befriended—shoots him in the school hallway. Not exactly the kind of bullet wound he can brag about to his hip-hop peers, like his mentor Lil Wayne, who has a few weapons arrests and claims to have shot himself accidentally with a .44-calibre when he was 12.
Drake acknowledges his less-than-thug upbringing, joking to Rolling Stone magazine that he has to overcome the three strikes against him: “Being an actor, light-skinned and Canadian.” So far, it’s all been easily surmountable. Record companies Universal and Atlantic are rumoured to be jockeying for him, with a $2-million upfront figure being thrown around. His coming-out show at S.O.B.’s in New York City had all the big names in the crowd, including Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Bun B and Talib Kweli—and was positively reviewed by the New York Times, the Village Voice and Rolling Stone, who named him the “hottest MC in the game” and a “22-year-old prodigy.”
While Canada has never produced an A-list international hip-hop star—sorry, Maestro Fresh Wes—neither Drake’s Canadianness nor his years on a teen soap have deterred legends like Dr. Dre and Jay-Z from collaborating with him. And famous, beautiful women are none too bothered by the hue of that handsome face. Just check the tabloids for gossip about how Drake is the new man in the dramatic life of young R & B star Rihanna. Despite PDA sightings at bowling alleys and celebrity record release parties, the official word is they’re just friends, and he’s writing some new material for her. It almost seems justifiable when he boasts on one song, “Buzz so big I could probably sell a blank disc.”
Up until now though, he’s recorded and self-released four “mixtapes” over the Internet—also bankrolled by all that Degrassi money. The last one, So Far Gone, came out in February and the Toronto release party was hosted by NBA superstar LeBron James. The album itself, according to Rolling Stone, was “critically lauded for its mix of melody and deft lyricism. But some derided the work as a knock-off of Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak due to Drake’s crooning and female-flavoured numbers.” The next album is already titled Thank Me Later, and the hottest collaborators have been lined up—Drake just needs to decide on a label.
While his Forest Hill neighbourhood isn’t synonymous with black music, Drake did have some pretty heavy-hitting influences in his life. He spent summers in Memphis with his father, Dennis Graham, who was a drummer for Jerry Lee Lewis and friends with Muhammad Ali. His grandmother, he says, babysat Louis Armstrong. One of his uncles, Larry Graham, was the bassist in Sly and the Family Stone and played with Prince. Another uncle is guitarist Mabon “Teenie” Hodges, who co-wrote Take Me to the River and Love and Happiness with Al Green.
And then there’s Drake’s story of how he started rapping, which, as told to the Complex blog, almost sounds too “legit” to be true: “My dad was in jail for two years and he shared a cell with this dude who didn’t really have anyone to speak to. So, he used to share his phone time with this dude and at the time I was probably 16 or 17, this dude was like 20 or 22, and he would always rap to me over the phone—it was Poverty, that was his rap name. I started to get into it and I started to write my own s–t down. He would call me and we would just rap to each other. And after my dad got out I kept in touch with the dude and eventually I accepted the fact that I wanted to be in music.”
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