Toronto, ON – Aubrey Drake Graham has got the potential to achieve Will Smith or Nick Cannon type of success; and if you pay attention, he’s definitely making the right moves to get that notoriety. With acting, Drake stars as the crippled Jimmy Brooks on the new generation of Canada’s cult classic Degrassi. He’s appeared in movies with Mekhi Phifer and Omar Epps, and received two Young Artist Awards, the Shaw Rocket Award, and a Teen Choice. He is currently working on a new feature film which we ask about in the Q&A session below. Drake has already received media attention in media outlets like MTV, The New York Times, TeenNick, Teen People, Elle Girl, Pop Star Magazine, and 17.
Musically, Drake has a very digestible appeal as a rapper touching topics like relationships, family and everyday life [with beats similar to that of Kanye West]. He began writing at the age of 10 and is now at a point where he is working with the likes of Little Brother, Slum Village and The Clipse (to name a few). Just recently Drake released the Room For Improvement.
But in spite of his commercial friendly persona and the big budget names that he collaborates with, he still can’t seem to land backing from a major record label. Drake doesn’t have to try to sound American, because for him his background comes from both sides of the border. One would think he could take his music career in all sorts of directions, but he says otherwise. What does it take then? He explains it all.
HipHopCanada: Why did you take on the name Drake?
Drake: My father gave me that name. My full name is Aubrey Drake Graham. His reasoning behind it, I am not sure. My dad is a character so it could be anything. I just really loved the name and I embraced it my whole life. I use Aubrey more for the acting, which is how I separate myself. I like the fact that I have two names because I find that in this industry you have to have dual personalities [especially] being a transitional entertainer [being an actor going into music]. It’s not that I’m pretending to be somebody else but it’s just that the people that I act with, the Directors, Producers and Agents, can’t really relate to what I talk about. [In terms of music] Drake is me in my everyday life, Drake is who I am and Aubrey is more of a separate, sort of proper individual.
HipHopCanada: What’s going on with you right now Drake?
Drake: Just progressing and working on this upcoming album. I’m trying to land a situation and I’m searching for some new inspiration for this project. I want it to be on a grand scale so I am leaving my previous project, my mixtape, and start from a completely fresh place. That’s where I’m at right now.
HipHopCanada: So when you say you need some new inspiration, how are you going about getting that?
Drake: My life has just been a cycle lately. It’s been just interviews and I’m filming two movies right now. I have not been immersed in music and life. I’m inspired by the simple things in life. I’m going home to Memphis to see my family, [because] I kind of forget what it’s like to be a dude who grew up in the south sometimes. I want to refresh my memory and remember why I love it [there] so much. I was doing the mixtape and finding out that The Clipse and DJ Smalls were interested got me to a whole new level. It motivated me to start banging out songs because I was really excited about it. Right now I need that push again because it has been too much paper work, and I just need to focus on the music right now.
HipHopCanada: Like an artistic block . . .
Drake: It’s just sort of a process. Once you make something that people enjoy then you are forced to promote it. Instead of just going right into the next project, you have to be where they need you to be and do what they need you to do. The radio interviews, the press interviews and filling out paperwork and [attending] label meetings and stuff like that. Shit like that can drain you. I like it because I love everything to do with the entertainment industry but at the same time that’s the most tedious part.
HipHopCanada: Would you actually say that you need some inspiration because you may actually at this point be jaded with what you’re going through right now?
Drake: It’s not like I’m not writing great music anymore, it’s just that I want to take it another level. I can make a record like the [previous] one I put out, but I don’t want to do that because I want to set the bar so high for myself. I don’t want to do it like everyone else. I want to make original songs and call it a mixtape. Some people were telling me to call it an album, and I liked that they were shocked to see me put 22 original records on it. I could do the same thing again, but I want to go higher. When I write I like to just say everything that people think about but never express vocally. I just get deep into it; I’m a bit obsessive about music.
HipHopCanada: I want to get some clarification. Maybe it’s just a misinterpretation on my part, but a journalist was quoted saying in an intro to your interview, that you have been rapping for several years about things that you can relate to. But then they go on to say and I quote ” . . . For the last several years, he’s written for some of today’s top hit-makers, like Cash Money, and Yo Gotti, and Al Green, but he has yet to pipe his own written lyrics.”
Drake: That interview is like four years old. At that time, I was probably working on my own project. When I was young I was working with a lot of people being out in the south. My uncle wrote for Al Green and I was around Al a lot. Cash Money, Yo Gotti, that just came about from being in Memphis. It was just little affiliations I had but I know [that interview is] old.
HipHopCanada: You have a strong background in music with your father Dennis Graham drumming for Jerry Lee Lewis, and your uncle Mabon “Teene” Hodges a rhythm guitarist. Mabon “Teenie” Hodges from Memphis, co-wrote hits like “Here I Am,” “Come and Take Me,” “Full of Fire,” and “Love and Happiness” with Al Green. Before taking the time to put together your mixtape Room For Improvement, and your current debut album Barely Fitting In, did you take the time to research your family roots to become more cultivated when it came to putting together your own material?
Drake: Research wasn’t really necessary because I was always around it. I always knew my uncle was doing big things in the Soul/R&B genre. There are accolades that I probably couldn’t even tell you right now. But we [my family] have a very deep musical background. My grandmother who passed away in Memphis, used to baby-sit Louie Armstrong and my dad like you said was a drummer for Jerry Lee Lewis. My dad used to live it up back in his day and was friends with many people in the industry as well as people like Mohammed Ali. And all of that sort of ran in that circle of great musicians, and my dad has many stories . . . that is why I love sitting with my dad. He comes and picks me up from Memphis every year and we drive back together and talk throughout the whole trip. On my mom’s side, it’s a white, Jewish, very structured and conservative family. There are a lot of accolades on that side of the family too. I am aware that I am not the first person [in the family to embrace music] but I would like to become the first one to be an icon.
HipHopCanada: You have collaborated with a lot of highly credible producers and music artists’. Can you name some more of them for the upcoming album?
Drake: On the upcoming album I got 9th Wonder [and the whole] Little Brother. I am working on a Neptunes track and getting it worked out. Dwele, Elzhi from Slum Village and Trey Songz amongst many others. I have a couple of other people but I won’t mention their names yet.
HipHopCanada: I also understand that you’ve starred in a feature film called Charlie Bartlett. When you’re finished making these movies are you going to give the TV/film business a break and focus specifically on perfecting and marketing your craft as a rap artist?
Drake: It’s possible that I might do that. I’m not sure if it calls for it. I have a couple of situations on the table right now and if we go through talks and they say well, “We need you to dedicate this amount of time to music”, I’ll do it because as an actor I’ll just keep myself on my toes and probably take some acting classes. I never plan to stop acting, I take it very seriously. To be a part of Charlie Bartlett is an amazing thing because there are a lot of phenomenal actors in that movie. Being the only black actor in the film lets me know that I’m doing something right. I never really landed the hood roles, and liked the bang-bang, shoot-em-up 50 Cent Get Rich or Die Trying shit. I want to strive for these more established and more prestigious projects. I want to make good films; I don’t want to make films for the moment. It’s not that the 50 Cent film was bad, but I personally don’t enjoy films that bring black people down. I find that a majority of the films that black people are starred in nowadays, are ones focused on gang violence or dancing. I don’t know why everyone is making dance movies. I auditioned for three dance movies in the past two months and for one of them I just couldn’t do it.
HipHopCanada: Yeah. either that or dating movies like Two Can Play That Game and The Player.
Drake: Well Two Can Play That Game is one of my favourite movies of all time. That’s me being really honest with you right now. I don’t mind movies like The Best Man and The Wood, those are great black films. I mean, they’re as good as we’re going to get right now. We’re not going to have films that are going to make us look any better than that unfortunately. Films portraying successful black people getting married are great, but films that only show one aspect of our culture, bother me. I now like to watch people that I look up to like Jay-Z, who is regarded as the best rapper of all time and is one of the greatest media personalities of all time. If you track his entire career, he’s made very little stupid moves. Like when Damon Dash was making stupid movies, Jay-Z would make a two second cameo just to be safe. But he never did a Cribs [episode], or exposed his life [like that]. You have to pay attention to stuff like that . . . I do anyway.
HipHopCanada: I heard you were going to put out a clothing line called A&S . . .
Drake: That’s old [news] too. It was a project I had wanted to start with a friend of mine named Shawn Allen, who at the time used to work at a clothing store named Jaydees. We lost touch after high school though. Right now I am actually working on some promotional t-shirts with a company called Dream Design. I want to put some tees out to support the movement, and have some really cool ideas about it. I know clothing very well and I’m sure I will get into fashion eventually. But right now it’s just a lot to make my music work.
HipHopCanada: So it’s just an idea considering everything that’s going on.
Drake: I guess you can say the fame from the show is there, but I am right at the bottom compared to everybody else with press kits and demos and trying to get meetings. That’s what I love about music and hate about it. That’s why I respect people that are successful in the music business because you really have to build it from the ground up. It’s not like acting where it’s more like you’re dependent on other people to bring the project together and once the project is together, the director has the funding and your agent sets everything up for you. Acting is sort of laid out for you whereas in the music business you have to make the phone calls, go through the pressure, go to the studio make sure all your shit is on point. It’s a real process and it’s taking a lot of my time right now.
HipHopCanada: So you’re not on a major record label right now . . .
Drake: I’m getting great radio play and a lot of Internet buzz and attention. I have a fan base that some people say is equal to that of signed artists’ maybe even more. Degrassi is shown in 40 million homes in the US and spectators say that I would be the perfect person to sign because I have a large fan base. I feel like if I was to come out with an album with the right publicity and of course the great music, I could not see it failing. But record labels nowadays don’t see that; they see numbers. I still just like everybody else need to meet quotas with my spins, with my buzz and make my way into the office. It has to be undeniable; the world has to know about you before Jay-Z makes a call.
HipHopCanada: I would figure that major record labels would think it’s easier to push you as an artist. Unless there’s conflict because of what you want to talk about might not be what they want you to talk about . . .
Drake: Yeah, I mean the package is very appealing to them but they just don’t know about it for some reason. I have a buzz but I personally don’t feel that I have a big enough buzz to make them want to take me on at the moment. I know Atlantic expressed interest but it’s not the type of interest that will fly me out there. It’s the kind of interest that they want to sit on and think about. Everyone just wants to see what you can do for yourself. A&R’s are not taking risks anymore. People think that just because I have some big ridiculous number on my myspace page that it’s all easy for me. I have been treated very well by Flow [ 93.5], and Much Music, CTV, MTV have been begging me for a video for the longest time. People are interested but I don’t come home to labels waiting outside my house.
HipHopCanada: With all of this diversity that makes up your persona (being bi-racial, American and Canadian) don’t you think it will make it a lot easier to become a mainstream hip-hop artist? You can promote yourself in a lot of different angles . . .
Drake: I think it’s great and it’s part of the whole image. I want everybody to feel comfortable with vibing with Drake. I don’t want to limit my music to people based on their race and/or age. That’s why I don’t really put a lot of swearing in my music. I want everybody to be able to enjoy it. Being bi-racial and being young along with being American and Canadian [allows me to] try and cover all the bases and expand my fan base to a level that has yet to be seen. I think with the right person and the right music, people from all walks of life can come together. I know that’s what my life was about. I’ve seen it all, so that’s what I want to bring to the table.
HipHopCanada: What is the greatest verse you have ever heard in your life, and why?
Drake: That’s such a tough question. I think greatest verse I ever heard, or the realest verse I ever heard was Phonte on this Little Brother record with Darien Brockington called “Slow It Down” and Jay-Z’s ” Lucky Me.” I liked the Phonte verse because I had never heard somebody describe exactly the way I think about the women that I deal with in life, and with “Lucky Me,” it was an eye opener as a young dude to really see that it’s not all glitter and gold once you get to where you’re going.
HipHopCanada: Reading past articles and interviews on you, your influence derives from a lot of other artists and profiles in the entertainment industry. So now, in the most intelligent and articulate way possible, I want you to tell the readers of HipHopCanada.com what makes you unique as a rapper and a personality.
Drake: I feel like I’m truly and genuinely proud and unafraid. I’m not scared of who I am. I know that Aubrey Drake Graham is not hood. I’m not a gangster, I don’t have no desire to be hard. I will talk to you about real situations that I have really been through. I will give you pieces of my life, hoping that you will give me time in yours . . . you know, take the time to listen. I’m not afraid to go to the States and say I’m from Toronto. I could say I’m from Memphis and I may have grown up over there, but I was born here [Toronto] and I lived here, and I love it here. And I’m not afraid to say a lot of people can’t do that. They just don’t have what it takes to really carry a city because it takes a lot to carry a city. It’s not necessarily saying I own the city, or I’m the king . . . I’m not trying to say that. But this is my city, and I feel like I can do it and I really believe in this city and myself. As a rapper, what you’ll always get from me is a variety of emotions. Whenever you listen to my CD, whether you’re the hardest dude or the bitterest cat, I’ll give you a real story to think about. Just to sit back and be like, “Damn yo, that’s a trip.” I really put a lot of and emotion into my project in order to evoke emotion.