Toronto rapper Drake is on top of the world. With one EP, So Far Gone, he’s already dominating radio and magazine covers; he’s collaborated with Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy, received two Grammy nods and was referred to as rap’s “saviour” by Mary J. Blige. Not bad for a 23-year-old who got his start on Degrassi: The Next Generation.
With his debut, Thank Me Later, about to hit stores, there’s a lot riding on his shoulders. Buoyed by guest spots from the likes of Jay-Z – who jumps on the infectious “Light Up” – the LP mixes booming beats with Drake’s now-signature drawling singsong rhymes. Will it be a hit record? No question.
The real question is: how did Drake not only break into the American market but also conquer it? As it happens, Aubrey Drake Graham was born for this life. His father, Dennis Graham, is a Memphis drummer with siblings tied to the likes of Sly Stone and Prince. Taking cues from his dad, Drake forged his own high-profile alliances.
Beginning in 2001, he played a role on Degrassi, which, by 2006, generated him enough money to fund a mixtape. As luck would have it, that tape made its way down south and right into Lil Wayne’s hands. The rap star recognized Drake’s ear for melody and thoughtful rhymes that strike a chord in both the hood and the burbs.
Two years later, Weezy, on stage at the 2008 MTV Awards, spit out a Drake-penned verse (“Damn, where my roof just go/Top slipped off like Janet at the Super Bowl”). Soon enough, Drake was everywhere – dating Rihanna, hanging with LeBron James, getting shout-outs from Jay-Z, building, as he puts it, a “buzz so big I could probably sell a blank disc.”
So, just how connected is he? Take a look for yourself.
FAMILY TIES Drake’s musical roots stretch back to Memphis, where young Aubrey spent his summer vacations with his father, drummer Dennis Graham, who once played the skins for legendary rockabilly piano player Jerry Lee Lewis. Music, it seems, is in the Graham blood; family members have ties to American music legends such as Sly and the Family Stone and Prince.
LOUIS ARMSTRONG Drake’s grandma used to babysit the famed trumpeter way back in the day.
AL GREEN Drake’s uncle Teenie Hodges penned some of the soul icon’s biggest hits including “Take Me to the River.”
DEGRASSI Drake scored a starring role on Degrassi: The Next Generation at age 13. And while some consider it Canada’s corniest show, it gave Drake the money to fund his first mixtape.
TREY SONGZ teamed up with Drake in 2006 on “Replacement Girl.” The song became so popular the video was played on BET, catching Lil Wayne’s attention.
LIL WAYNE tucked Drake under his tattooed wing, signed him to his Young Money record label and then began growling his praises to anyone who would listen. And by “anyone,” we mean Jay-Z.
JAY-Z It’s hard to imagine a more glowing endorsement than the Greatest Rapper Alive playing a concert in your home town, inviting you on stage – and then backing you on your biggest hit.
RIHANNA The Bajan beauty kicked it with Drizzy for a bit – stepping out clubbing and earning Drake the envy of every guy under the sun.
LEBRON JAMES How many rappers had their EP release party hosted by the best player in the NBA? Just Drake.
by Tara Henley