In terms of the most anticipated albums of this year, Drake's second, Take Care, was already one of the most talked about. However with the rapper announcing the tracklisting - and crucially the guests - for the record this week (31 October) things have shifted up a gear as Rihanna, Andre 3000 and the mysterious The Weeknd have all been recruited to appear. Today (2 November) he upped the stakes again, posting online The Motto featuring Lil' Wayne (below).
So how has a man from hip hop cold-spot Toronto, who once appeared in the kids TV series Degrassi: The Next Generation, become one of the most powerful artists on the planet? Al Horner investigates, you can thank him later...
He is one of the most talked about artists of the year. Justin Bieber, Florence Welch and countless others are queuing up to work with him. Rihanna, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj and Lil' Wayne are all working for him on forthcoming album Take Care (out 14 November). Kanye West picked him out to guest on his last single and there is even a Twitter account solely dedicated to his eyebrows. Which begs two simple questions: why? And perhaps more importantly: how?
Growing up in Toronto, Drake's - full name Aubrey Drake Graham - first brush with fame came as he landed a role in teen drama re-hash Degrassi: The Next Generation, so far, so credibility killing you'd imagine - you can't see the average rapper respecting too many teen stars - yet Drake almost effortlessly became a musical hot property with a mixtape uploaded to his Myspace page in 2006. With cheesey teen stardom easily hurdled, a deal with Lil Wayne's Young Money label soon followed.
What marked Drake and his 2010 debut album Thank Me Later out beyond his unlikely background, was like his rise to prominence, his blend of R&B and hip hop is also equally uncoventional. Yes, he knows how to deliver big pulsating beats, slick production and some velvety smooth vocals, but unlikely his contemporaries, he does not rely on radio-friendly choruses or focus group-built hooks. Drake's songs just seem to unfold, as he introspectively raps about his anxieties and insecurities rather than the size of his talent or sexual prowess.
"While all my closest friends out partying I'm just here making the music that they party to" he noted on debut album track Light Up, while recent single Headlines broke with hip hop's convention for bling and charted the downside of success, as he glumly admitted: "I guess it really is just me, myself and my millions."
His blog meanwhile, Octobersveryown.blogspot.com, seems equally personal. Regularly updated it goes out of its way to demystify Drake as a rap icon, as he personally writes about clearing samples, and apologises for release dates changes.
If it sounds like a hip hop artist straying into the angsty territory normally occupied by indie and emo bands, then that world has as been quick to give its approval. The xx, Best Coast and SBTRKT are fans while Girls frontman Christopher Owens recently told Q: "People are whacking off about this Watch The Throne thing, which I think is garbage, while there's this wave of new artists pushing the boundaries of what is expected of young black men. They're supposed to be aggressive and macho but artists like Drake, Lil B and Tyler The Creator are saying: It's okay for me to be sensitive and weak, you know?"
It's a lead that has already been followed by one of this year's most exciting new talents, The Weeknd who Drake has not just vocally tipped in interviews, but also guested on his latest album, Thursday, which was given away for free.
With the release of Take Care in a couple of weeks, 'Drizzy's (already not inconsiderable) international fame and success finally looks set to match the artistic respect and acclaim he enjoys.
Teaser single Headlines was posted online to considerable buzz, with Rolling Stone suggesting that the tracks laid back approach might be "the clearest sign that even with booze, cynics and fame buzzing about, hip-hop's great hope isn't overeager to please", while Pitchfork noted that Marvins Room - previewed via Drake's own blog in - is "a shrewd reminder of what sets Aubrey Drake Graham apart". Lil' Wayne who has heard more tracks than most added his endorsement telling MTV: "I don't know nothing else out there that can touch it, including my stuff. That kid is on another planet."
And as if to prove those comments, today's release of The Motto reveals an equally slick, yet equally different track, as rather than outdo each other Drake and Lil' Wayne seem to be locked into a 'who can be the most stoic' contest .
With hopes clearly high for Take Care and with its impressive guestlist, Drake's refusal to play the standard R&B/ hip hop game has put him on the verge of becoming a truly global star - expect the onetime child actor from Toronto to be making Headlines for some time to come.
Al Horner, @Al_Horner
Head to Drakeofficial.com for more.
9:50 AM | 02/11/2011
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