Sep 1, 2009

Drake: Fader Magazine

On September 7, 2008, Lil Wayne stepped onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards and then stepped decisively away from the words on the lyric sheet circulating in the audience with the following lines…

I’m on my Disney thang, goofy flow/ I’m Captain Hook on the beat and my new car is Rufio/ Damn where my roof just go/ I’m somebody that you should know/ Get to shakin’ somethin’ cause that’s what [deleted] produced it fo’/ I make mistakes that I don’t ever make excuses fo’/ Leavin’ girls that love me and constantly seducing hoes/ I’m losing my mind like, Damn where my roof just go/ Top slipped off like Janet at the Super Bowl

Then, as Leona Lewis launched into the hook of Nina Simone’s “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” he croaked, “Drizzy Drake: I love you, bwoy!” That namecheck was the only clue to most attendees that Wayne had just blatantly violated the unwritten rules of his own freestyle game by spitting another artist’s words. Though almost lost in host Russell Brand’s commentary on promise rings and presidential politics, it was a coronation moment rarely seen in the arena of rap, and with one verse, Wayne introduced the name of his protégé to the mainstream in dramatic fashion. Amongst those already familiar with the various Wayne-affiliated rookies collectively known as Young Money, the lines sparked a fierce debate over whether Drake was in fact ghostwriting for the master (he and Wayne both still claim he never has), but by the time the rap blog drama blew over, one thing seemed clear: Drake was the next big thing, heir apparent to Wayne’s multi-platinum throne and Young Money’s most likely flagship artist.

The buzz was confirmed by the radio phenomenon of “Best I Ever Had,” a soft rock-sampling mixtape track that hit #1 on numerous charts without major label support or even a record deal in place. But a second look made this passing of the torch seem like an unlikely proposition. Drake shares with Wayne a certain manchild vocal tone, but their styles are almost antonyms. Where Wayne rides his stream-of-consciousness through drug and gunplay into Freudian—almost hallucinatory—nursery rhymes, Drake hews rigorously close to the guidelines of rap formalism, pumping an incredible volume of two- and three-syllable schemes out of the same subjects: girls, multi-colored whips and his skill in the booth. He seems to depart from this formula only to talk about his emotional state, an introspection that usually happens when he shifts from rap mode into catchy and sometimes haunting R&B. On his own records, he abandons Southern double-time to push genre boundaries more like Kanye, rapping over chopped-and-filtered snatches of Coldplay, Lykke Li and Peter Bjorn & John.

The differences only get starker if you compare Drake’s bio to his project-raised, tattooed and codeine-addicted mentor. Though born in Memphis, Aubrey Drake Graham was raised in Forest Hills, an affluent enclave of Toronto that is about as far in mood and geography from New Orleans as you could get without a land bridge. Before he ever considered being a rapper, Drake was a child actor, portraying athlete Jimmy Brooks on the Canadian teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation. His father, Dennis Graham, was a drummer for Jerry Lee Lewis, and he is nephew to both legendary bassist Larry Graham and Teenie Hodges—a guitarist best known for co-writing some of Al Green’s ’70s classics who’s played with everyone from Talking Heads to Cat Power.

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