King In the North

Photo by Matt Barnes

BY Erin LowersPublished Mar 29, 2016

Whether you call him Drizzy Drake, the Boy, 6 God, Do Right and Kill Everything or one of the several adopted names he's cooked up, Drake has adopted, adapted and already carried Toronto culture on his back for a decade. Whether it's his vocal respect for veterans who came before him, like Saukrates and Kardinal Offishall, shaping Toronto's newfound moody and ambient sound with his in-house OVO Sound producers, or his insistence on highlighting new talents like Majid Jordan, PartyNextDoor or Halal Gang, the 29-year-old actor-turned-rapper has carved out his own lane in Toronto's music industry and is inviting the city to join him for the journey.
That doesn't mean it's always been a smooth ride, nor does it mean well-wishes were sent by everyone he encountered along the way, but his perseverance and dedication took him from Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation to hometown hero and global household name. Most importantly, the October's Very Own leader has transformed Toronto's hip-hop scene from archaic clutter and isolated infrastructure into an entertainment hub where the world seeks new talent, new sounds and of course, new Views from the 6.
1986 to 1999
Aubrey Drake Graham is born on October 24, 1986 in Toronto. His parents Sandi Graham (a white Jewish Canadian) and Dennis Graham (a black man from Memphis, TN who helped Al Green write "Let's Stay Together" and "Love and Happiness") divorce in 1990. His mother raises him in Toronto's west end, where he attends a Jewish day school and plays minor hockey for the Weston Red Wings while spending summers in Memphis. Aubrey and his mother move to a rental property in the affluent Forest Hill neighbourhood in 1999; he has a traditional Bar Mitzvah and begins attending Forest Hill Collegiate Institute.
2000 to 2005
Through a high school friend, 15-year-old Aubrey meets an entertainment agent, who lands him the role as Jimmy Brooks on the long-running Canadian television series Degrassi: The Next Generation. Shortly after the show premieres on October 14, 2001, Aubrey, who's now enrolled at Vaughn Road Academy, drops out of high school.
After his father is incarcerated, Aubrey takes an interest in rap music when Dennis Graham's cellmate, Poverty, raps for him over the phone. Together, the two strangers exchange verses until his father's release from prison.
During this time, Aubrey also meets Oliver El-Khatib at Toronto clothing store Lounge. Oliver, who was a part of the DJ collective Lebanon Dons with Noah '40' Shebib, takes on a managerial role in Aubrey's newfound rap career. Aubrey appears on Degrassi for seven regular seasons, and as a guest star in season eight. When his Degrassi character is paralyzed from a school shooting, he becomes known to fans as "Wheelchair Jimmy" — a name that would carry over to Drake's newfound identity. Drake will be let go from the series in 2009.
On February 14, Drake releases his debut mixtape Room for Improvement, which totals 22 tracks, including 17 original songs, and is hosted by DJ Smallz of the infamous Southern Smoke series. The mixtape also includes production from Boi-1da, Frank Dukes and guest features from Slakah the Beatchild, Nickelus F and Voyce, the latter with whom he abruptly parts ways shortly after the mixtape's release. A diss track toward Voyce entitled "Exposed" surfaces, as well as an additional diss track aimed at Halifax artist Aristo entitled "Good Riddance," which features JD Era, Jonny Roxx, Ken Masters, Bishop Brigante and Young Tony (aka OVO Hush). The dust settles on both disagreements, and Room for Improvement goes on to sell 6,000 copies.
Serving as the first single from the Comeback Season mixtape, Drake releases the video for the Trey Songz-assisted "Replacement Girl" on April 30. The video, which becomes a "Joint of the Day" on BET's influential music show 106 & Park, leads Drake to become the first unsigned Canadian rapper to be featured on the American network. On October 24, a 23 track version of the Comeback Season mixtape is released on the unofficial October's Very Own label. It includes features from Phonte, Elzhi and Little Brother, as well as local veteran Kardinal Offishall, with whom Drake previously had a disagreement over Drake's lyrics dissing a former Black Jays-affiliated artist on the remixed song, "City Is Mine." Ultimately, "The Last Hope," produced by Rich Kidd and also featuring Andreena Mill, becomes the peace bridge between the pair. Kardinal suggests Drake should sign to Akon's label, but no further movement is initiated.
Jas Fly, son of Rap-A-Lot founder James Prince, introduces Drake's music to Lil Wayne. Drake received a call from Lil Wayne while sitting in the barbershop chair, inviting him to Houston, and on November 18, Drake flies down to Houston and meets with the rapper. He secures a strong connection with the rapper, and records several songs with, including "Ignorant Shit," "Ransom," "I Want This Forever" and a remixed version of "Brand New." During Lil Wayne's performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, instead of performing his own lyrics to "Misunderstood," he performs lyrics written by Drake and shouts him out, launching him from obscurity into a whirlwind of media attention. Drake also stars in a 14-minute short video titled "Us & Them" by the production company by Any Means Necessary, who'll eventually direct future videos "Marvin's Room," "Headlines" and "The Motto."
Drake's third project, So Far Gone, is digitally released on February 13, and is downloaded over 2,000 times in the first two hours. The mixtape peaks at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, led by the single "Best I Ever Had," making Drake the third Canadian artist to have a song chart on the Top 100. Drake also becomes the first artist to appear on both the Hot R&B/Hip-hop Songs and Hot Rap Tracks charts simultaneously, and sells over 300,000 units by June. In May, Drake finds himself in the infamous "Blackberry" scandal, where it's alleged that during a freestyle on New York's Hot 97 radio station, his freestyle was actually read off a Blackberry, drawing negative press and fuelling authenticity claims.
Drake's bad luck continues — he's robbed at gunpoint later that month, which he asserts was a setup, and he files a police report. With tensions already high between local rapper Page and Drake following the unauthorized release of Page's song "I'm Still Fly" earlier in the year, Page turns to Twitter to denounce Drake as a "snitch" — having already called him out for being from Forest Hill and not "hood" — igniting a feud and fallen friendship between the two rappers.
Drake denies all label-signing rumours, but shares with Complex magazine that he's signed to Hip Hop Since 1978's management. On June 29, following a concert in New York, Young Money Entertainment confirms Drake as their newest signing. The two-million-dollar deal serves as a joint venture between Young Money Entertainment and Cash Money Records, and also includes a distribution deal from Universal Republic. Drake's signing becomes known as one of the last best deals in the rap industry, as it allows him to retain full ownership of his masters, and he will only have to share 25 percent of sales with the label.
In July, while performing with Lil Wayne in Camden, NJ, Drake falls and injures his knee; he undergoes surgery two months later. On September 15, So Far Gone is re-released as a seven-track EP that debuts at #6 on the Billboard 200.
Drake releases moody mid-tempo single "Over" in March, followed by "Find Your Love" in May. Both singles are immediately compared to the sound of Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak, and while he praises Kanye's talent, Drake shuts down those comparisons, insisting he's in his own lane. Despite losing his first Grammy nominations for "Best I Ever Had," Drake wins Best Rap Recording of the Year for So Far Gone at the Juno Awards on April 18, followed by Canadian Hip-Hop Single of the Year at the Stylus Awards. During his acceptance speech, Drake says, "If you're not here in this room, you're doing something wrong," energizing more rumours of his disdain for Page.
Drake embarks on the 78-date Away From Home North American tour in April, which features k-os, Francis & the Lights, Clipse and Tyga, as well as P. Reign on Canadian dates. While on tour, MTV follows Drake for two months leading up to the release of his debut album, Thank Me Later. In the June-aired documentary, Drake: Better Than Good Enough, Drake reveals that his mother is suffering from health issues, and he postpones the European leg of the tour when she undergoes surgery in July. Drake also reveals that producer Noah '40' Shebib suffers from multiple sclerosis.
Introspective coming-of-age tale Thank Me Later is released on July 15. It debuts at #1 on the Billboard 200, sells 446,680 copies and will be certified platinum in Canada. By summer, "Best I Ever Had" and YMCMB (Young Money Cash Money Billionaires) collaborative single "Every Girl" hit the Billboard Hot 100 at #3 and #10, making Drake only the second artist to ever have his first two top ten hits in the same week.
Although technically launched in 2009, Drake introduces the world to the "first" annual OVO Fest in August, featuring Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Eminem and Jay Z. As the Away From Home tour concludes in November, Drake announces his second studio album, Take Care, as well as an OVO-Canada Goose collaborative limited-edition bomber parka. With only 400 coats in circulation, the jacket sells out at $900 a piece.
Drake releases Take Care's lead single "Marvin's Room" in June, as well as "Dreams Money Can Buy." Pusha T, one of half of the Clipse, freestyles over the latter and a feud ignites between YMCMB and the Virginia group over the harsh lyrics. Drake also gets into a feud with rapper Common following the release of "Sweet," in which the Chicago rapper takes very direct lyrical jabs. Ironically, Drake is an avid supporter of the battle rap scene — he co-hosts Toronto battle rap show King of the Dot's Flatline event, and he puts up $3,000 of his own money for the winner.
The minimalist but candid Take Care is released on November 15, selling 631,000 copies in its first week. Drake and Rihanna collaborate for the commercial hit "Take Care," and Drake officially introduces the world to the Weeknd through the release of "Crew Love." At the end of the year, Drake releases "Make Me Proud," alongside fellow YMCMB member Nicki Minaj, creating a spate of rumours about a likely romantic relationship. He follows it up by releasing "The Motto," which secures his co-title with Jay Z as the artist with the most number one hits on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart, as well as mass media coverage surrounding the phrase, "YOLO." (You Only Live Once.)
Affectionately named after the Toronto strip club, Drake starts the 65-date Club Paradise world tour in February, which features Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Meek Mill. The tour grosses over $42 million in revenue. Collaborating with Director X, Drake celebrates his Jewish upbringing by reliving his Bar Mitzvah in the video for "HYFR," which receives multiple video accolades.
While he revisits his teenage years in the video, Drake also revisits his studies, and finally graduates from high school, and delivers the commencement address at Jarvis Collegiate Institute: "I reached a point in my life where I realized there aren't material things that can give me the excitement that I'm looking for. There's a void in my life that I need to fill and I need to sit and think long and hard about what that was. It was the fact that I had left a gaping hole in my story of following through." He dedicates his diploma to his mother.
Musically, to the dismay of many fans, Drake announces a posthumous album with Aaliyah. He releases "Enough Said" in August, which contains unreleased Aaliyah vocals and production from '40.' Like the announcement of the album, the song receives mixed reviews, and ultimately, the project is scrapped. Instead, attention moves to establishing October's Very Own as an official label; Drake and '40' sign a distribution partnership with Warner, and officially sign new act PartyNextDoor.
In June, Drake and Chris Brown are involved in an altercation at a New York club, and shortly after, Brown fires shots at Drake on Chief Keef's "I Don't Like" remix. This incident ignites hostility between the two, specifically concerning Drake's relationship with Rihanna. He finds refuge from the drama in his new $9 million Calabasas, CA home.
By 2013, Drake has sold more than 4.5 million albums. Take Care is shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. Days before Take Care wins Drake his first Grammy for Best Rap Album, he reconnects with Toronto's Director X to deliver the very Canadian video for "Started from the Bottom," in which he transforms an everyday Shoppers Drug Mart in Binbrook, ON, into a massive party. On a sombre note, Drake joins Snoop Dogg for a PSA against guns, mentioning the victims of Toronto's Danzig Street shooting that occurred the previous year. By spring, Nothing Was the Same is announced, and following the fourth annual OVO Festival, Drake debuts "Hold On We're Going Home," introducing the world not just to new in-house producer Nineteen85, but also R&B duo Majid Jordan.
With the release of NWTS fast approaching, Drake appears on the cover of Billboard magazine, as well as the 150th issue of XXL. Back home, Drake takes over several hi-rise billboards with the album's artwork, which has become a staple in his album rollouts. A week prior to the release of NWTS, Drake appears on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and premieres "Too Much." NWTS is released on September 24 and sells 658,000 copies in its first week. Six days later, Drake is announced as the Global Ambassador for the Toronto Raptors, which will include events such as "Drake Night," OVO-exclusive merchandise and a hand in designing team merchandise and alternate uniforms. That fall, Drake embarks on the two-year world tour, Would You Like a Tour?, and rings in the new year with the hearty anthem, "Trophies."
In January, Drake returns to late night TV to host Saturday Night Live and appear as the musical guest; unveiling his inner theatre nerd on the show garners him critical praise. Nothing Was the Same wins Album of the Year at both the Juno Awards and the BET Hip-Hop Awards, and is shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize.
At a hometown Raptors game, Drake gets caught in a wave of social media memes after he's seen lint-rolling his pants courtside while play continues in front of him. (He'll embrace the clip and feature it at that summer's OVO Fest.) Drake is invited to host the ESPY Awards in July, during which he squashes his beef with Chris Brown.
During a break from Would You Like a Tour?, Drake co-headlines another tour with Lil Wayne, hitting 31 cities over the summer. He also announces the title of his fourth studio album, Views From the 6, effectively putting an end to Toronto's T-dot era and giving the city a global rebrand as "the 6." The term is not Drake's, but was coined by another Toronto rapper, Jimmy Prime. "As I view the 6 from my balcony, I pray to God she'll look out for me," Prime raps on his 2014 EP In God We Trust. While the term is used in the nooks and crannies of Toronto's hip-hop community, it's Drake's Instagram post "I miss the 6!!!" that launches it into ubiquity.
Despite not having released an album, Drake secures two Grammy nominations for the single "0 to 100/The Catch Up." He also engages in a minor beef with Jay Z, which he addresses in a Rolling Stone cover story and which quickly dissolves. Adding to a list of already buzzing OVO upstarts, Drake signs ILOVEMAKONNEN in September, and "Tuesday" is never the same. Through Raptors player Demar DeRozan, the world finds out Drake has plans to release a mixtape in January 2015, but no further details are revealed. Instead, attention is shifted to the December opening of OVO's flagship Toronto clothing store.
Drake shocks the world on February 12 with the surprise release of If You're Reading This It's Too Late, which is preceded by the release of a Toronto-inspired short film titled "Jungle" earlier in the day. Although heavily debated whether it's a mixtape or an album based on its retail positioning, Drake refers to it as a mixtape. IYRTITL breaks streaming records with over 15 million streams in the first week of its release. By summer, the album sells over a million copies, and Drake becomes the first artist of 2015 with a platinum album, the fourth of his career. IYRTITL is released April 21 with two additional songs, "How About Now" and "My Side." Despite the project's success, Drake fails to excite critics at his Coachella performance, and subsequently announces the ten-city Jungle tour, which features Future.
Inspired by Virginia Beach artist D.R.A.M.'s "Cha Cha," Drake and Nineteen85 draw from it in creating chart-topper "Hotline Bling." The accompanying video, which is released in the fall, receives widespread attention for Drake's dance moves — which he adopts from Regent Park artist, Mo-G. As a surprise to many, "Hotline Bling," which captivates the attention of Erykah Badu and Adele amongst many others, fails to be nominated for a 2016 Grammy. It's revealed that it was not submitted due to a clerical error at Cash Money Records.
In July, a disgruntled Meek Mill calls Drake out on Twitter for not tweeting about his album, and accuses him of using ghostwriters. Drake responds with "Charged Up" and "Back to Back"; the latter's title refers to the Toronto Blue Jays defeat over Meek Mill's hometown Philadelphia Phillies in the 1993 World Series. In the same song, Drake also raps, "Is that a world tour, or your girl's tour?," referencing Meek Mill's new relationship with Nicki Minaj. The feud continues publicly, and New York DJ Funkmaster Flex releases audio recordings of original versions of soon-to-be Drake songs, written by (and credited to) Quentin Miller.
All is soon forgotten as Drake and Future release their collaborative mixtape, What a Time to Be Alive, which debuts at #1 on the Canadian Hot 100, and marks Drake's 100th entry on the Billboard charts, behind only the Glee Cast, Lil Wayne and Elvis. Fans also start to flock to Beats 1's newly created OVO Sound Radio show, which becomes the hub for OVO artist mixes, announcements and premieres from new OVO-affiliated artists and other local talent. Despite scoring the cover of Fader's 100th issue, as well as W magazine in 2015, Drake receives the accolade of "Toronto's Most Influential Person" from Toronto Life; he calls it, "My most important magazine cover to date."
A casting notice is put up on January 10 for a Rihanna single titled "Work," featuring Drake. The single is subsequently released on January 27, followed by images of the two artists filming at The Real Jerk restaurant in Toronto, which is released at the end of February.
In a January episode of OVO Sound Radio hosted by Drake and Oliver — who now introduce themselves as October Firm — Drake reveals the rapid-fire cut "Summer Sixteen." Following the premiere of the single, Meek Mill takes to Twitter to release "War Pain," a track that references the very new single, including its alleged shots towards Tory Lanez, suggesting that someone leaked the song earlier. In the same episode, Drake announces that Views From the 6 will be released in April.
With Toronto serving as the host for the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend, Drake coaches in the celebrity game alongside Kevin Hart, as well as the celebrity party House of Tingz, equipped with hip-hop karaoke. After Drake earns writing credits on Kanye West's album The Life of Pablo for "30 Hours" and "Facts," he takes a break to perform at a Bat Mitzvah in New York, as well as with Rihanna at the Brit Awards, and with Section Boyz and Skepta at a London after-party. Views From the 6 is expected to end its two-year journey into public life in April.
Essential Drake
Comeback Season
(OVO Sound, 2007)
Drake didn't really "come back" from anything, but propelled his entire career into the spotlight. Gifted with features from Trey Songz, Little Brother, Kardinal Offishall and Lil Wayne, the 23-track project balances freestyles and original content, putting Drake's diversity on full display, allowed him to become the first unsigned Canadian artist to have a video aired on an American network, and ultimately set him up for his multi-million dollar record deal with YMCMB.
Take Care
(Young Money/Cash Money, 2011)
Take Care gives insight into Drake's neuroses and the melodramatic voices that find refuge in his thoughts, which by default, are relatable at a very intimate level. Through its production, "Marvin's Room," "Headlines" and even the Weeknd-starring single "Crew Love" lead the way to re-imagine what's now become known as the "Toronto Sound," one that's moody, but multi-layered — much like the lyrical content itself.
If You're Reading This It's Too Late
(Young Money/Cash Money, 2015)
Through all his success, there's one thing that Drake has never lost sight of — the city that raised him. Self-described as a mixtape, If You're Reading This It's Too Late consummated the marriage between Toronto as a respected hip-hop city and the outside world. Although coded in language, places and references that almost exclusively communicate to Toronto, IYRTITL created a street fairytale in which every city envision their own hometown heroes.

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