Drake Was Apprehensive About His 'Degrassi' Character's Wheelchair
Writer James Hurst: "He's like, 'All my friends in the rap game say I'm soft because I'm in a wheelchair'"
Published Oct 14, 2021Long before he was a Certified Lover Boy, Drake appeared on Degrassi: The Next Generation as Jimmy Brooks, a basketball star who was famously paralyzed after being shot by a classmate in the fourth season of the teen drama. The Canadian has since immortalized his time as "Wheelchair Jimmy" in well-loved lyrics, but was apparently apprehensive about his character's paralysis.
The revelation comes from The A.V. Club's oral history of Degrassi: The Next Generation, in which cast and crew share reflections in celebration of the show's 20th anniversary. They share that in addition to the heaviness that came with telling the story of a school shooting, a young Aubrey Graham had some challenges getting used to his new wheels.
"I think [Aubrey] struggled, just physically with having to all of a sudden do everything confined to a chair. That was really hard for him," castmate Lauren Collins shared. "I definitely have a few memories of him toppling the chair over and falling off of makeshift ramps that they'd constructed for him."
Actor and director Stefan Brogren recalled, "There was always a conversation: 'Is there a surgery that Jimmy can have? Can we somehow get him out of this?' The idea was played with a lot. In the end, we started having him getting up on his feet and walking with crutches."
The greatest glimpse of Drake's initial reservations comes from writer James Hurst, who told The A.V. Club that he remembered receiving "an odd letter" from a Toronto law firm stating that "Aubrey Graham will not return to Degrassi season six as Jimmy Brooks unless his injury is healed, and he's out of the wheelchair."
Hurst shares, "I said, 'Get him down here.' He came in and was like, 'What letter? I don't know about that.' And I said, 'All right, I understand. But how do you feel about the wheelchair?' He's like, 'All my friends in the rap game say I'm soft because I'm in a wheelchair.' And I said, 'Well, tell your friends in the rap game that you got shot. How much harder can you get? You got shot, and you're in a wheelchair.' He was like, 'Yeah, yeah.'"
Of Drake's change of heart, Hurst continued, "He was so nice and apologetic about everything. He instantly backed down. I was very passionate about it, and I said, 'Aubrey, there's some kid somewhere in a wheelchair, who's completely ignored, who's never on television, never gets represented.' I need you to represent this person. You're the coolest kid on the show, and you can say there's nothing wrong with being in a wheelchair."
Through the worry of being seen as "soft," and all the memes that followed, Drake has kept it rolling. As BlogTO points out, last month saw him lend a hand to a Toronto family by gifting them a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.
Read The A.V. Club's oral history of Degrassi: The Next Generation here.
This year saw Drake partner with Live Nation to found Toronto concert venue History, which had its grand opening delayed.