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- Posted on Jun 25th 2009 12:20PM by Joshua Ostroff
You Oughta Know is your weekly introduction to a wide range of new Canadian artists who are either about to blow up ... or really oughta.
The Internet long ago changed the music industry's star-making machinery, but perhaps nobody has benefitted by the new bottom-up food chain quite as much as Toronto rapper Drake.
He's hardly an undiscovered nobody, having spent eight years as wheelchair-bound shooting victim (and, of course, aspiring rapper) Jimmy Brooks on the cult-smash TV series 'Degrassi: The Next Generation.' But over the past few months, 22-year-old Aubrey "Drake" Graham has ascended to the top of the hip-hop mountain -- including entering the Billboard charts with top ten hits with 'Best I Ever Had' and the Young Money posse cut 'Every Girl' -- without so much as a record deal, much less a commercial album release.
Now that the reportedly $2 million major label bidding war for his debut album has finally ended (he just signed with Lil Wayne's Universal-distributed Young Money imprint) Drake is poised to become not just Canada's biggest-ever rapper, but the biggest rap star of 2009 -- from anywhere.
A seemingly impossible feat, even without the 'Degrassi' baggage.
"I think there's a stigma about actors," Drake told Spinner while in Toronto earlier this year. "Rappers have to have some sort of edge to them, some sort of street history of drugs or violence. Even if that's not what you rap about, then you rep a hood like New York or Atlanta, a place that has clout. So to be an actor coming from Canada, to be as fair-skinned as I am and to have light eyes ... All these things play against me in that I don't look like a rapper. But it also works to my advantage because the girls love it. I'm not a wild dude. I'm a nice approachable guy. I think it was beneficial being an actor first, it taught me about being poised, about having class, how to deal with interviews and fans."
But even he admits, "Every [previous] actor-turned-rapper has been a product as opposed to a genuine artist."
So Drake -- who spent half his childhood with his Jewish mother in Toronto's wealthy Forest Hill and the rest in Memphis with his father, a former drummer for Jerry Lee Lewis, and uncle, Al Green songwriter and guitarist Teenie Hodges -- set out to prove himself with a series of free online releases.
There was already online buzz building in 2008 thanks to his rep as a Lil Wayne's protégé ("He looks at me like a little brother, somebody he looks out for in the game. We have a cool partnership, so I'm definitely blessed to have him in my life.") But Drake's real breakthrough came from February's moody mixtape 'So Far Gone,' on which Drake rapped and sang over original and borrowed beats. He courted indie kids with covers of Lykke Li and Santigold tracks, won over the hardcore heads with his Weezy collabos and then wowed the mainstream by outperforming Kanye West on one of his '808s & Heartbreak' tracks.
"If you believe in yourself you can always make more music," Drake says of his prodigious mixtape output. "There's no point holding onto records. It's always good to let the public hear -- that's how you get feedback, that's how you find out what works, that's how you make the best album for yourself."
This just-signed former child actor has independently garnered nearly 80 million MySpace plays. He toured all last winter with Lil' Wayne and recently sold-out his own solo headlining jaunt which attracted the likes of Usher, Talib Kweli and Kanye (who just directed Drake's video for buzz single 'Best I Ever Had') as well as the NY Times, MTV and Lyor Cohen, head of Warner Music. Then there are all those gossip reports of Drake making out with Rihanna (he's denied they're more than friends).
More recently Drake announced he'd be joining Lil Wayne on the 'America's Most Wanted' tour this summer and appearing on the first single from Jay-Z's upcoming 'Blueprint 3' album. And if that isn't enough, he spent some time in California working on Dr Dre's 'Detox' album.
Not too shabby for a dude who much of the population still doesn't know exists. But that will change. He was given a spotlight performance slot at the recent BET awards and his already in-the-works debut album, 'Thank Me Later' will no doubt top the charts across North America.
'So Far Gone' was about Drake "chasing all these things, chasing success, money and love," but the concept for his first proper full-length album remains top-secret. Though Drake did say, "I want every record to sound like a single, the potential to be a single, modeled after [Lil Wayne's] 'The Carter III,' where every song was fun and timeless."
Updated on June 29, 2009