[This week, we’re gifting you with a throwback from June 2012, when legendary journalist — and RESPECT.’s former Editor-In-Chief — Elliott Wilson spoke to Drake about music, relationships, his career and more. The Canadian superstar has definitely come a long way.]
Despite the constant criticism, there’s no denying that Drake is one of the best hip-hop artists our culture has to offer. He did Take Care his way and triumphed. To the victor go the spoils.
“F*** you all, I claim that whenever. I changed rap forever.” — Drake, “The Ride”
Is Aubrey Graham’s music hip-hop? Is Lauryn Hill‘s Miseducation? Is André 3000‘s Love Below? Is Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak? Great MCs have often been criticized for singing instead of straight rapping. Damn, can 16-bars mic wreckers throw a lil melody in the mix? It’s music, y’all. It’s an old, tired debate that looms like a cloud over Drake’s hit-making rise of the past few years, as the Toronto-bred trackmaster continues to top charts, break hearts, and grow and evolve right in front of our eyes.
Simply put, there’s no one like him in the game. He’s a rare breed. A special talent. An artist with an amazing ability to craft powerful music that challenges the conventions that close-minded critics fail to place him in. Being authentic. Being real. That’s being yourself. And you can tell while speaking to him, out on his international tour, that like he says in “Crew Love,” he likes the man that he’s becoming. L’chaim.
Where you at right now?
In Berlin. I’m at that point, man. Been gone from everything I love and everyone I love for too long. I’m doing the Xs-on-the-calendar-type s***. I feel like I been out here for three months. I’ve only been out here for, I think, it’s going on four weeks. It’s long, man. This s*** is just different. Dealing with different cultures and places that don’t speak English at all, cities where if you had time, you’d go see…but you really don’t, so it just ends up looking gray and rainy. It’s just wild.
You don’t Tweet a lot, but you did one that said “Second home sick,” because you’ve been touring back to back. There was the little break between domestic and international, and then…
I could’ve taken two months off, or a month off between tours, but that would’ve had me on the road until like August, September. [But] I want it to be done the way I’m doing it now. I can be done touring by June 17. That’ll give me a solid month to work on music. And I really want to start putting out some new s*** before OVO Fest, so I can get the city excited. Kind of like how I did last year with “I’m On One” and “Marvin’s Room,” how I had little floaters out there, little feelers. I’m excited for that.
Let’s talk about the first leg — A$AP Rocky and Kendrick. Why’d you pick them to open?
I just kinda been really paying attention to the cycle, and how rap changes over. I never s*** on, like, “Oh, these old rappers.” I’m not that guy. I have respect always for anybody doing their thing. I don’t ever think age is a factor. But I’m more paying attention to the changeover, the momentum shift, what’s exciting to these kids, who they’re gravitating toward, who’s shaping up to be an icon, who’s fading away. I have my eyes open again, as a fan as well as an artist. I’m able to digest it from a point I’m happy with. I’m confident and happy with my career, which allows me to listen to people without bias, without feeling any kind of way.
With Take Care, I sort of solidified my lane, what I do, and the artist I am. So in just keeping my eyes open, I found two guys that…I enjoyed their music, and then I got to meet them, and I enjoyed their movement and had respect for the people that they are. I like what they stand for. I said to myself, “It would be great to embark on a nice, young, refreshing journey with these guys — as opposed to teaming myself up with somebody who could sell me some tickets.” But luckily — and I do say “luckily” because it is a blessing — I don’t really need anybody to sell me any tickets. A lot of the shows had been sold out before I added anybody. It’s not to say A$AP and Kendrick didn’t sell tickets…or that people weren’t excited, but I got to pick artists I actually liked. It wasn’t like a label or Live Nation telling me, “This is who you need to pick so we can sell these shows out.”
It felt real organic.
It was. Every night was exciting. I stayed out there and watched those guys as much as I could. I enjoyed seeing them in the cities where people erupted when they came out onstage. And I don’t want to exclude Chase — he did a great job. It was something that we were all equally passionate about. We all get along and respect each other’s direction and craft. And we’re all so different, which allowed us to get out there and embrace each other just on some young, revitalizing s***. It was the best tour I’ve been on to date.
“I’m confident and happy with my career, which allows me to listen to people without bias, without feeling any kind of way. With Take Care, I sort of solidified my lane, what I do, and the artist I am.”
I remember the first album, with the MTV special that showed you still developing your live show.
I’ll be open with you — I think I was really just finding myself, across the board. The other day was like the first time I really found myself from a visual standpoint…in releasing those two videos…I have a lot more confidence on camera. I know what to do. I don’t feel awkward. I look stronger, and my movements are more definite. There was that side of it, and that was packed with the one-two punch of a treatment I wrote completely, an idea I saw from inception all the way to the finish line. Me and X really directed that video together. I casted the video by myself. It was a confidence booster for me.
And on this tour, I’ve also found myself, as far as pushing my own physical boundaries, seeing how much energy I can pack into an hour and a half. And having that singing coach with me on the road every single day, as opposed to just prepping me for a tour and then leaving me there to fend for myself. I take it very serious. And I have her in my ear telling me when I’m making a mistake, because I don’t want to make mistakes anymore. I’m trying to raise the bar for myself in every area, and all it really takes is a little more of me. It takes a bit more of my own confidence in saying, “You can get out there and deliver one of the greatest rap shows of the year, for sure. And you can give people a great video despite what people have said in the past about certain visuals that you put out.” It’s never too late. And I’m definitely going to start taking things into my own hands, just seeing the results of the last six months. I’m very proud of myself.
People loved that “HYFR” video. It silenced a lot of your critics.
The more I just embrace who I am as a person — and I don’t even mean culturally, or the fact that that video had anything to do with Judaism — it’s just more like that’s me, man, that’s the video that I wanted to make for that song, a hundred percent. It wasn’t anyone else’s vision. And…it’s evident that things like that really resonate with people. They can tell when it’s your vision, and you’re having fun, and it means something to you.
Let’s go to Take Care. I remember when we talked — you were candid about what you liked and didn’t like about your first album. And I remember you’d begun recording, and you did some stuff with the 9th Wonders and the Q-Tips, but it seemed by the time you got into the heart of Take Care, it went to a whole other place. Like, “F*** it, this is my lane, nobody does it like me, I’m going to deliver.” Am I accurate?
Yeah…I’m human. I often get baited into the hip-hop debates. And I often feel that I don’t get enough credit as a bar-for-bar MC because of the fact that I choose to take musical risks. And I also feel like when other people take musical risks, they get a lot more credit than me. With that being said, I found myself and my sound when I went back home. And Take Care, much like So Far Gone, sounds like our city. If you spend six months there and get to know the people, and you find yourself a girl there, and you end up going out there — it really sounds like our city. It was inevitable. It had to sound like that. But yeah, at first I guess I was trying to be like, Oh, I’m gonna make the rapper’s rap album, and I’m just gonna rap, and I’m gonna prove that I’m one of the best. And then I realized, like, You know what? Fuck you. Like, I can prove that I’m one of the best without…without the names. The names don’t mean anything. If the songs aren’t good, they’re not good. If me and so-and-so don’t make a bunch of music like me and 40 would, or me and Jamie xx would…that moves people, that I can come to Berlin and do for 8,000 to 9,000 people, or go do 30,000 people in London. If it’s not going to work, then what’s the point? Who am I doing it for? I’m basically doing it for your website.
Why not be a hit-maker? [Laughs]
Yeah, and I mean just still doing it with the quiet, unspoken integrity that we all take pride in. Like the fact that I had Rihanna do like a Gil Scott cover. The fact that I essentially birthed The Weeknd within this whole cycle of Take Care. Things that I’m not going to throw in people’s faces…but at the same time, I’m proud. Every time we embark on a musical quest to finish a product, there’s a lot more than just the product that happens. People catch a lot of songs that trickle off and become something for the culture, and I like it. I really like the way I make music. I’m no longer in question. And if it’s not hip-hop to some people, or if it’s…obviously, there are people who dedicate their whole lives to saying how soft it is or whatever. It’s like, I care so much less every day because I see the results, and I’ve realized that the few comments are not the world. That’s not how the world thinks. That’s not the majority opinion, and therefore I have to keep doing it for the people who are actually showing up at these shows and actually buying this record in the first week, and coming up to me on the street, telling me how much that music means to them. It does mean a lot to people. And if there’s a certain person who doesn’t appreciate it, then that’s fine, that’s how s*** goes. That’s perfect. It’s supposed to go that way.
So unlike the first album, when you look back on Take Care, every piece is the way you’d like it? Is there anything, nitpick-wise, you’d change?
There’s this one point in the album where it goes, I think like “Cameras,” “Good Ones Go,” “Doing It Wrong,” “The Real Her.” I could have — had I had a bit more time, I probably would’ve shifted some of those R&B moments to bonus moments and put like one more potent joint on there. I don’t know. It’s silly for me to speculate on what I would’ve changed, but that’s the one thing that always stuck out to me, and structure-wise, I’ve always been great at staggering it. But we explored a lot of sounds, and I feel like 40 did incredible, and just the producers that we used, and T-Minus really came through with some big records, and…the thing is, as much as people try and say how somber an album it was, you didn’t go to the club and not hear Drake. “The Motto” was running. [“HYFR”] was running. “Headlines” was running. I had joints in there. So as long as I can keep doing that, I can keep doing the brand of music I love.
Did you feel “The Motto” didn’t fit the structure? Is that why you ended up making it a bonus?
No. Actually, “The Motto” was made two days after the album went to press. I went to Vegas for my birthday…and two days after my birthday party, I was at Mally Mall’s house, in his studio. We were all just chilling, drinking. T-Minus had just voice-clipped me this beat. I was like, “F***!” I played it over the big speakers. And it was so funny, there was this girl in the studio from the Bay Area, I think her name was Jaden, I want to give her credit — she just sparked the song off. She was like, “This is some Bay s***. This would go so stupid in the Bay.” DJ Franzen is from the Bay, so he was like, “Yeah.” I’ve always loved the sound, the tempo, the drums, the flows. But I never thought of myself doing something. So I was like, “Okay, a challenge. I like it.” I did the verse and I did the hook, and I remember just watching everybody in the studio like, “Wow.” I can always tell when it’s one of those things. I do my verse and I sit back, play it loud and get observant. Like, the girls that just walked in the room — are they going to start dancing to it right when they walk in? Do my friends already know the lyrics if I played it like six, seven times? Just little things so I know this might be one of those ones. From there I sent it to [Lil] Wayne, and when we got Wayne’s verse back, it was just…I was begging ’em, like, “Oh, my God, can I put it on the album? This is the joint that was missing!”
When Weeknd first played [it for] me, he played it to me as a beat. The Weeknd’s voice is so impressive that often, as opposed to sampling somebody, he’ll just sample his own voice. So when he played me “The Ride,” it was initially just a loop. I was just like, “Wow, this s*** sounds like a beat that I’d beg Just Blaze for.” There was no question that it called for…I even said to 40, “I have to do three verses. This can’t be like one long verse.” Oh, that’s the other thing, too. I wish that I would have done like two potent 16s on “Lord Knows” as opposed to a long 54-bar verse. What I’m starting to learn is that when you freestyle for the sake of the internet, and get people buzzing, it’s cool to rap as long as you want, but sometimes putting those long verses on albums, on such a beautiful piece of music, sometimes it gets lost. Not everybody can digest that much rapping. I told Weeknd right away, “I’m gonna end my album with this.” I kind of let the words find themselves on that record. It was very natural. That’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever done. It captures a moment for me.
One of the guys you vibe well with is Rick Ross. Why does that chemistry work? He’s not in your camp, but all your records really…
I’d go as far to say, to me, Ross is in my camp. Ross is OVO to me. I’m MMG to Ross — I’d like to think, anyway. As far as the bond goes, with everybody around him — from Gucci [Pucci] to Meek [Mill] to, obviously, Ross himself, everybody on his label — we’re a family. It’s a bit past just an alliance. We’re out here trying to do the same things. Me and Ross vibe because…Ross is another guy who can hear it. He can hear himself, hear when a record is good. He can hear when he needs to call me up and ask me for something, and vice versa. Ross is my favorite person to rap with right now. We just have a great track record and a great bond every time we link up.
“The other day was like the first time I really found myself from a visual standpoint…in
releasing those two videos…I have a lot more confidence on camera. I know what to do. I don’t feel awkward. I look stronger, and my movements are more definite.”
I’ve been on the record saying “Stay Schemin’” is the best record that’s come out this year. Top song. Your verse is the top verse. I need to go from the beginning of that to the end. I need to know how that record gets made.
Well, okay, I’mma start like this: Ross is about to drop Rich Forever. I’m being the annoying little brother like, “Yo, let me hear it so I can prep myself. I don’t want to be caught off guard. I need to hear all the music, so I can be ready for this s***, ’cause I know it’s serious.” I like to be a step ahead of everything, hear the music, be able to say I heard it. I’m just one of those guys. I know, as an artist, that’s a lot to ask of somebody. Finally Ross was like, “All right, it’s in a good place. Come through and hear it.” I was like, all right, I know I’m asking a lot, so before I go to Ross’s house, I stop at Rolex. I buy Ross a Roley. That’s my dog. That’s my friend. I was proud of him. Happy for him. Plus, he was about to let me hear the music. I go to the crib and he’s vibing out.
By the way, watching Rick Ross talk about or listen to his own music is sometimes almost more epic than the music itself. He’s such a presence. Watching him function and record and talk about life, you can see how he comes up with the bars and the vivid lines. So anyway, he opened up his doors to me. I think his moms was there. Real family s***. I brought a couple of my boys. He opened up the studio to me. They started playing me records. I think he started with the finished version of “Yellow Diamonds.” He asked me, “What you think of this s***? You think we can rock with it?” I was like, “Damn, I love the s***, but I don’t know if I’m going to get on the record talking about ‘my dope is shining my yellow diamonds.’ There’s other s*** for me and you, but it’s hard as f***.”
He played me the actual “Rich Forever” record. He played me “Triple Beam Dreams.” Then he was like, “Yo, I got this joint with French [Montana]. He did the hook the other night.” He played it for me, and I just heard the hook, and I think he spit me his verse over that s***. He was trying to get me on “Party Heart” with Stalley. I was like, “Yeah, no, I’ll do ‘Party Heart,’ but let me do the ‘Stay Schemin’’ first, and see what I can do.” He was like, “All right, bet.” I was like, “If you make me a little CD…and some extra joints find their way on there so I can vibe…” He made me the CD. I went straight to the studio. My mind and heart was set on “Stay Schemin’.”
As much as I loved the Stalley record and loved all the records I’d heard, at the time, for where I was at in my life and what was going on around me, “Stay Schemin’” just really…I connected to it. I went in. Sent them back the verse, and I remember he hit me like, “Yo, this s*** is not fair. Man, you went in. We gotta shoot the video.” I want to say I sent him back the verse maybe the next night, and then a day later, two days later, we shot the video.
Sounds like the Rozay way.
Real MMG turnaround. We just mixed this s***, now we’re about to drive up the street and shoot this video. So French was there. Meek was there. We did it on some family shit. It was great, man.
“I really like the way I make music. I’m no longer in question. And if it’s not hip-hop to some
people…I care so much less every day because I see the results.”
Did you feel like you were getting back at Common because of “Sweet”? What was the inspiration? Was it people being critical about Take Care?
It was everything. I’ll never go on record and tell you it didn’t have something to do with the Common thing. I’m not that guy. It had everything to do with that situation at the time. I think that was evident and clear. My wordplay, and the way I choose to say things, saying it super blunt and direct…I didn’t want to take the momentum away from what a great song it was. I wasn’t going to call names and be all f***in’ goofy about it. I did it in a way where there was no doubt in anybody’s mind what was happening. It was a lot of things. Unwarranted s***. You know, s*** they say comes with being the guy at the time. I had the music out at the time. I had the record that was moving. I felt like I was catching flack. Guys that I’ve stood in rooms with. Guys that have dapped me up, told me they’re fans. Told me they liked my s***. Guys that I had cordial experiences with. I don’t have bad blood, really. I can’t really tell you there’s too many people out here I’ve had altercations with. I don’t have moments like that. So it boggles my mind when somebody gets in the studio and a conversation gasses them up enough to start trying to nitpick me or take me apart. Don’t do it to me. I’m one of the most consistent guys out here. Don’t f*** with me. And that’s all I ask. I just make my music, and I go about my business. It was one of those moments where I got touchy, but I felt like I dealt with it in the most G way possible. It was direct enough.
You and Common did publicly resolve things. Was that difficult?
No, because what you have to understand is, no matter the perceptions of who’s a soft rapper or who’s a tough rapper, there are very few guys who are really going to do anything other than want to squash something when they see you in person. That’s it. That’s how this s*** goes.
When I heard the verse he did in response, I was like, “Okay, now to me it’s just getting silly. When I see him, I bet this can be resolved through conversation.” Because we’re talking about the one guy who has made a career off of being intellectual and doing songs that include melodic hooks. We’re not talking about the guy who’s advocating for the hardest s***.
It was one of those things where I had to walk up to him and just be like, “Yo, man. I’m just going to tell you now that I’m here in front of you. First of all, I’m not going to fight you at the Grammys, ’cause that s*** is stupid and it would f*** up both our business with all these people watching. But I will tell you that we need to dead this s***, because at the end of the day, I have no personal issue with you. You know good and well I never met you before this. You have no personal issue with me. Whatever it is, it can be forgiven. I don’t care. The point is, this s*** is silly now.” And he was with it. He was like, “Yeah, okay. Bet.” It was a conversation between two educated men who, you know, again, are willing to stand their ground. I take nothing away from him.
The third album is next. What should we expect?
I’m at one of my favorite points, which is reconnecting with producers, telling them to send me everything they got, just stacking up, putting beats into a folder. Listening to them constantly, over and over again. Writing down bars and ideas. It’s at that point where it’s being conceived. It’s being developed from a sound perspective first. I mean, it’s very early. Take Care seems like yesterday. I definitely don’t want to rush it. I’m at that point in my life where I’m 25. My life is incredible. I’m open right now.