Drake, Eyes on Me [Cover Story Excerpt, Plus Photos]

Shot exclusively for XXL by Jonathan Mannion

Don’t say it. We already know what half of you are thinking: Hell naw, that muthafucka? Yep. Aubrey “Drake” Graham, 23. That muthafucka. As in, that new hip-hop artist from Toronto. As in, the one who owned 2009 thanks to a little mixtape known as So Far Gone, hip-hop’s first instant-classic tape from a virtually unknown artist since Young Jeezy’s Trap or Die. As in, the one who landed in the middle of a major-label bidding war so closely watched that his ultimate signing to Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Motown made news in a way not seen since the day 50 Cent signed to Shady/Aftermath/Interscope. As in, the one who had more than 60,000 downloads of his So Far Gone mixtape in its first day. As in, the one with Lil Wayne’s co-sign and Kanye West behind the lens of his first video, “Best I Ever Had.” As in, the one who had two songs off of So Far Gone land in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and sold 414,000 copies of the official re-release of his monstrous mixtape, yet still hasn’t dropped his debut album, but has already appeared alongside Wayne, Kanye and Eminem (on the same record!), handled a hook for Jay-Z, recorded with Alicia Keys, Timbaland, Jamie Foxx, Young Jeezy and a rack of other top-tier stars, received two Grammy nominations, starred in a Sprite commercial that debuted during this year’s pre-Super Bowl broadcast of all things, and been romantically linked to Rihanna. As in, the pretty boy who played the wheelchair-bound Jimmy in Canadian TV’s teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation, who purses his lips in photos and is prone to dressing like a character out of a romance novel. As in, the one the ladies love and the rap blogs love to hate. As in, the one with the R&B steeze who just dropped his lead single “Over,” a street record and instant fan pleaser. As in, the one who was passed over for XXL’s Freshmen Class of 2009 only to turn down being part of 2010’s. As in, that muthafucka—the one with the audacity to name his debut album Thank Me Later, as if his success were already a foregone conclusion.

So which is it? Is he that muthafucka? Or will he forever be that phenomenally successful rapper/singer/actor you love to hate? Only one way to find out.

What are your thoughts on this cover?

It’s great to me. I’ve never done XXL, so it’s exciting. And to be doing it with Nicki, man, that’s my dog. That’s more than my dog. That’s, like, we have the most interesting relationship, ’cause it’s so multilayered. That’s my co-worker, my peer, my family. But, at the same time, on any given day, she’s, like, the love of my life… Nicki’s a very intriguing character. To be doing it with her is great, man.

So since the success of your mixtape So Far Gone you’ve become rap’s golden child. Has it been hard getting your debut together, to live up to that hype?

Not hard. If you’re not struggling, then there’s something wrong. If it was effortless, then I’d be scared. If I was like, “Yeah, this is it, this is the one.” I’m still listening to it, and I’m like, “Man, I don’t know, it could be better.” But that’s just me. That’s just the artist in myself competing with myself. And now it’s so crazy, because, to be in the industry, a lot of people start playing you their music. You start hearing other people’s hits and sound, and you start thinking, Wow, okay, this is all the music that’s coming out this year. And you start thinking about yourself fitting into that, you know? Like, last year, other than Blueprint 3, it was a pretty dry year for hip-hop, as far as, like, the legends. But this year it’s way different. You know, you’ve got OutKast rumored to be coming out.

Do you know something we don’t?

I don’t. I just read what I read. Even from, like, [Santogold] is coming out again, MGMT. You’ve got Jeezy. You’ve got T.I. Carter IV’s gonna drop as soon as Wayne gets out. So it’s a great year for music. But when you’re in it, you also start thinking about, Well, I can’t get lost in that. And I make R&B, and hip-hop, so I’m not only thinking about the rappers—I’m thinking about the Dreams, the MGMTs, just great music on a whole. That’s the best part about it, because that’s what makes my music better and pushes me to keep working on it, as opposed to just being, like, “Okay, it’s done.” I wasn’t confident when I dropped So Far Gone, neither. I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life.

Really?

Yeah, ’cause I started the mixtape off with an R&B song about women that were lost in the world. It was a risk. I mean, we knew it meant something to us, but we also sat there, like, “Man, are people going to accept this? A rapper that’s singing?” And I’m not just doing melodies, I’m singing. Same with this album—I’m singing. And I even went further. I explored music on So Far Gone. I was taking other people’s music and revamping it. I can’t do that on an album. I love that genre of music. It sparks something in me when
I use soundscapes or write like that. So now I’ve crafted my own interpretations on that that apply to my life, and I’m just wondering, Are those going to work now? ’Cause it’s just me. It’s my shit. So it’s a lot of unknowns on this album.

Sometimes I’ll have been up all night thinking about it, and then I finally get to the studio, listen to it front to back, and I’m like, “Man, this is a good record. It’s a great first record.” And it’s so crazy, too, because people are always telling me—oh, you know, like, the Kanyes, and the Jays, and the Jeezys, they put me, like, for some reason, over there, like my album is gonna be competing with those people. And I don’t know if it’s just what they assume soundwise, like, maybe it’ll sound that big and be in the category, but really, for the new artists that just put out a mixtape and are working on their first album, I mean, just those guys, the new class, that’s really where I’m at. I really only put out a mixtape, and this is my first album. And just, like, [Kid] Cudi or a Wale, J. Cole—time-line-wise, that’s where I am. —Benjamin Meadows-Ingram

To read the rest of this cover story, be sure to pick up the May 2010 issue of XXL, featuring Young Money’s Nicki Minaj and Drake on the cover, which hits newsstands nationwide April 20.

SEE FOLLOWING PAGE FOR EXCLUSIVE PHOTO GALLERY

  • 206-404dizzy

    dis ni99a is da truth n da realest ni99a singin/rappin…. shout out 2 everbody dat fuks wit drake n da haters……………

    • Kingroy

      Realest rapper/snger you forgot Kid Cudi and B.o.B homie. Where they at?

    • adam

      “its far from over” drakes just starting young money has the next 5years of hip hop everyone else is in the shadow

    • Anonymous

      .l;/l

    • http://www.myspace.com/omg_im_jaguar JazzeJaguar

      This article was shit! I hated every bit of it! This dude is talkin bout how big of a rapper he is and how good he is when he has no good songs. He ruined Forever, Successful, and every Young Money song he was on! Shut this prick up and do more articles on good artists like Lloyd Banks and Eminem…

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  • A.K.

    His other mixtape Comeback Season is pretty hot too. Toronto we here now

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  • epinz

    nggz must of never heared about phonte…drake is quoted as calling phonte his favorite rapper. listen to him and see where he gets his style from.

  • Hussle’s Way

    J.Cole’s debut gonna be better

    • http://www.xxlmag.com/?p=75880 Steve

      no doubt
      me and mah friend were discusiing this
      History-wise wale is like mos def., j.cole is like nas and drake like jay-z, im tlkin position in hip-hop…watch it unfold
      shout ot to everyone who will mis-interpret this!

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  • TEE

    Yea Kid Cudi makes better music to me… Drake is jus a depressed ass lil wayne to me. Not impressed by this nigga yet

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  • RDS

    No bullshit…but when you list his accomplishments out like that, it’s difficult to find anything about what he’s done to hate about. Whether you like his music or not, having JUST read the YB drop, Drake’s got quite a bit under his belt in such a short time (not talking pre-Comeback Season 2, I mean his nationally recognized work).

    That said, I’m not his biggest fan, but I’m intrigued to see how he pulls off his debut album. And honestly, I’m so sick of niggaz hating on him, I’m actually going to be real about it and say I’m rooting for him. People need something to look forward to and regardless of if you feel J. Cole is better, or B.O.B. is better or you’re only waiting for “Good Ass Job”, right now, hip-hop really rests on Drake’s shoulders. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist elsewhere, but bullshit aside, THAT in itself is Drake’s biggest accomplishment. All these niggaz co-sign him because he’s breathing life back into the game. If Hip-Hop is truly dead, then Drake is the beginning (hopefully) of hip-hop’s afterlife.

    Just my .02. Peace,

    -R

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  • ff1one@yahoo.com

    yaaa, when you look at dude’s resume, you pretty much a hater to hate on him. not just ur average hater but a mega hater. Again, dude is talented. Keep in mind young money recruited him along with every other major label. so he was hott before wayne. so stop the wayne associations. if anything, wayne’s flow changed (again) once Drake arrived. also, ya bob, kid cudi and even j. cole can rap and sing. Not on the level of drake. that has got to say something. It says more when you look at the fact that all four of those artist may sing and rap but have so different styles. good music is back and in full effect.

  • DutchMaster

    Room For Improvement and Comeback Season were way better than So Far Gone…over half of the stuff he makes now is garbage sit there and call me a hater but he’s a sell out..dude used to spit about these mainstream artists and how they’re not real..and listen to Video Girl then watch the Best I Ever had video…what kinda hypocritical bull**** is that…I’m still gonna **** with some his music but he’s far from real…

  • McMike

    Drake is a beast no lie. I think his album is gonna be great but gonna be in 3rd place this summer. Under Kanye’s “Good Ass Job” and my man J.Cole’s debut. J.Cole is gonna be the best which will eventually lead to a rivalry with Drizzy so I cant wait to see that

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  • Joe

    Quick question re: Drake vs J Cole:

    Im a hip hop head like everyone else claims to be, im just as leary of Drake as evryone else, however:

    What SONGS have J. Cole come out with that lead us to believe his album will be so good????

    I mean, lyricaly, yea, its there, but song-wise? All his songs and features have that ‘im comin to take over the game’ tone, and quite frankly its gittin stale.

    Drake, as corny as he is, has SONGS. Songs that ill repeat and throw on the start of my homemade mixtapes. J. Cole does not have ONE memorable song.

    • infamous1

      Listen to lights please, who dat, & simba.

  • ff1one@yahoo.com

    someone earlier made the comparison that Drake is like Jayz and J.cole like nas. Truthfully, i wish it was the other way around but ur right. Drake does have the song and the lyrics. Ya,he is corny and pretty lame. J. cole’s warm up mixtape is tight. My fav song is light’s please. I wish it could get airtime cause its dope.

  • http://www.realcavsfans.com Powerslave

    Wouldn’t mind if he died in a fire.

  • What

    Damn… every rapper in Toronto has their picture taken on that bridge… queen st goin over the dvp

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  • 9milli

    I can’t stand Drake. He’s arrogant & overrated he don’t got nothing on J. Cole. I wanna know why he always got his Bs up. Is he a blood now? He’s a lame suffering from an identity crisis. How r u Canadian with a southern accent. Idk, I liked him B4 & his bars are there but it ain’t apectacular.

  • Bless

    We all know that Drake is just the Canadian version of Lil Wayne, albeit slightly better. He might sound catchy, but he’s not memorable, nor is any of his Young Money collective. Nicki Minaj can only sell if she has her titties popping out of her shirt. The ability to be memorable is what niggas these days are missing (niggas still call cash C.R.E.A.M.), and Drake is the epitome of YM’s commercial thug persona. J Cole is the real nigga, not the high school drama show actor. Word up.

  • http://aol missb

    GREAT STYLE IM SO SICK OF NIGGAS RAPING OF SHIT THAT THEY AINT DOING ONLY UNDERGROUND RAP NIGGAS KEEP IT REAL IF U AINT IS THAT NO MORE THEN DO A DRAKE RAP ABOUT WHAT U GO THREW AN FEEL FOR WOMEN!!!! JUST THEY WAY I SEE IT KEEP DOING YA MUSIC AN MAKEING THE WORLD KEEP YA NAME IN THEY MOUTH!!!!! :)

  • mama_mia

    Drake’s father in from TN, that’s y he has an accent. He visited his dad throughout the summer time. Look at his bio- and get educated if you wanna hate…it’s contagious!