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Drake Wants to Stretch Your Mind Like a Canvas
Lynn Hirschberg expands on the greatness that is the art of Drake.
In August, a war of words broke out between Meek Mill, a rapper best known as Nicki Minaj’s boyfriend, and Drake, the superstar hip-hop artist, whose If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was the first album to sell a million copies this year. On Twitter, Mill accused Drake of having used a ghostwriter for a song they had worked on together. Drake, who is an unorthodox rapper—he doesn’t just rhyme, he sings; he’s melodic, confessional, and romantic, as well as militant—responded to the charges with a brilliant, manifesto-like retort. Instead of lobbing equally incendiary tweets, Drake rose above the feud, saying, “I signed up for greatness. This comes with it.”
That higher calling/larger ambition has been a theme throughout Drake’s life. Born Aubrey Drake Graham to a biracial couple in Toronto, the musician, 29, has been performing since childhood. At 14, he landed a role on Degrassi: The Next Generation, the long-running, hugely popular, emotionally complicated Canadian teen soap opera. At the same time, Drake was already making music. “That was part of the reason I was kicked off the show,” Drake told me, calling from Los Angeles in late summer. He was there recording his next album, Views From the 6, and would be performing the next night in Las Vegas. (A surprise album, What a Time to Be Alive, recorded with fellow rapper Future, dropped September 20 and immediately went to No. 1 on iTunes.) “Back then, I’d spend a full day on set and then go to the studio to make music until 4 or 5 a.m. I’d sleep in my dressing room and then be in front of the cameras again by 9 a.m. Eventually, they realized I was juggling two professions and told me I had to choose.” Drake laughed. “I chose this life.”
Although Drake burst onto the scene as a unique musical force, he remained a kind of multi-hyphenate: In 2014 he hosted the ESPY awards and Saturday Night Live, and was sharp and funny on both. “I can’t wait to get back into acting,” Drake told me. “No one ever asks me to do movies, and, although music is my focal point now, I’d love to do a film. That was the life that I lived before, and it would be interesting to live it again.” Recently, Drake has become involved with the art world: He was commissioned by Sotheby’s, in New York, to create a soundtrack for an exhibition and private sale of works by important African-American artists, including Theaster Gates, Wangechi Mutu, David Hammons, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, at the auction house. “The art at Sotheby’s moved me like a song would,” Drake said. “I saw music in those paintings. I now try to treat each single as a piece of art. I try to attach the sound that I’m making to an image in my mind.”
Lynn Hirschberg: What was it like being a muse for this project for W?
Drake: It’s the first time I’ve ever been a “muse,” but I’m used to collaborating. Curiosity is the best part of working with any kind of artist. You want to see how somebody else’s process works. It’s like learning a secret. My mother was a teacher, and she brought all kinds of things into our house. So I learned early on that inspiration could come in many forms, from many people.
Were you raised around art?
We didn’t really have paintings on the walls, but I grew up with album covers! I loved the Marvin Gaye cover for What’s Going On. It made me want to hear the music, to be in that world. I liked anything visual that pulled me into the music.
You still live in Toronto. Most people leave…
Really? Most people I know stay in Toronto. I plan to spend the rest of my life there. The talk, the smell, the sound that comes out of that city is home to me. When I think about the girls I want to get romantic with, it’s a girl from Toronto who knows what I’m talking about when we drive around the city.
When you wrote, “I signed up for greatness,” what exactly did you mean?
Realizing that I had a larger purpose was one of the most comforting, peaceful feelings. With music, especially, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a vessel to deliver emotion to people. I want to provide the background music to your life as you live it. I’m there for you in heartbreak and tragedy and joy. The thought of being remembered is what keeps me going. What I was trying to say is, the negatives don’t matter—it’s history that counts. At 19, I was just really, really excited to be in the room. Everything was romantic then. Now, nearly a decade later, it’s a bit different. I have to speak against negativity and conflict. There’s so much bullshit that you’re forced to address, but it’s okay. I’m afraid I sound boosie.
What does “boosie” mean?
It’s a Toronto word. It means “talking that talk.” So, I should stop being boosie…let’s go back to art!
Okay! Do you sing in the shower?
I don’t really sing, but I do practice answers to questions in the shower. I talk to myself. I use my shower time to figure out how to respond to the world.
Water is an antidote to the pressures of your life.
Actually, I love pressure! I’m always thinking, How do I top what I’ve done? How do I make this thing stronger? I ask myself, “Why does Adele’s album go diamond, and how do I do that? How do I create art that makes minds stretch further?” I want to give many, many people many, many moments before I’m gone. That’s truly the art of what I do. It’s the only goal.