Photography shot exclusively for XXL by Jonathan Mannion
Here, in an unpublished excerpt from Drake’s XXL cover story on stands now, rap’s next big thing talks the difference between writing rap and writing R&B records, being bored with mixtapes and why he hates the way he looks in pictures, as well as a few other things. Thank us later. (Or is that going too far?)
How many songs are on Thank Me Later?
Drake: It’ll probably end up being about 15. But it’s just, you know, I love doing R&B music, I really do. And I just always feel like to tie in hip-hop with R&B and to utilize R&B to glue it all together, that’s my trademark. That’s something that only I can do. And that’s why I will continue to do it. There might come a time where I might be like, “Yo, I just want to do an R&B mixtape, or I just want to do a whole [R&B] album,” but I don’t think so, man. I think that that is the makeup of me—melody and just the tone of my voice and all; I don’t think I could ever change that, so…
I’m waiting on the Drake Gangsta Grillz.
Drake: [Laughs] I just find that boring, you know. There’s certain people where it’s impressive, like with Lil Wayne, to hear him freestyling over other people’s beats for an hour is impressive because it’s just like, Yo, this guy never runs out of clever shit to say, but for me, people might want to hear it, but it’s just not something that I really want to give you. I’d rather just give you something that lasts a little longer than that ’cause those mixtapes never really last much longer than six months. When the songs become played out, and…
Well, it’s different now. It’s like Dedication 2 and Dedication 1 and Jeezy obviously, Trap or Die…
Drake: Yeah, but even so, do you listen to those on a constant basis or would you rather put in an album where somebody’s giving you original compositions and moments that maybe apply to your life as opposed to listening to like… I don’t know? I know to listen to freestyles over songs that maybe I’m just sick of, even though somebody kills it, there may be one or two or three that really, really, I love, but other than that, I’d rather just listen to like somebody’s music.
There are some special ones.
Drake: There are for sure.
Do you feel that you can go bar for bar with anybody?
Drake: As far as rappers? Um… I’m really still trying to become a better rapper, you know? And I still have idols. I still have people I look up to. I definitely don’t feel that I’m the best I can be nor am I the best rapper. Like I said, I just love making the music, and I’m less concerned about where I stand in the rankings and more about just where I stand with myself, like am I getting better? You know, am I the best I can be? I really don’t care about like compared to Hov or compared to Wayne. That’s another man. I’ve never been really worried about what anybody else is doing. I just use it as reference points and as influence and inspiration, but I don’t really bother myself with thinking who’s the best. ’Cause that doesn’t really matter. It’s just who’s got the songs that move people at the time. Like if you’ve got the title of being the best rapper but you don’t have the hottest songs out? To me, that’s what’s important is just like putting out consistently good product. I don’t really care how they rank me or anything like that.
How important is it to be involved in the larger rap conversation?
Drake: I definitely want to be great. You know, I’m not saying I don’t care. I obviously care. I love being mentioned in a class of people that are incredible but I mean, you can focus on that shit and drive yourself crazy…. In different genres it’s way different. I think rap is probably the most competitive genre.
Drake: R&B is becoming competitive, too. Especially with all the younger artists. But in I don’t know if Grizzly Bear is wondering if they’re better than Kings of Leon, you know [Laughs]. I think they all just make the music that they love and that’s kinda what I try to take away from those individuals is I just want to make the music, man, and however it turns out… I can’t sit here and tell you my music is so good ’cause it’s just not for me to decide. It’s for people to decide. The results are always evident. If you choose to ignore them and still say my music’s the best and I’m the best, that’s when you start getting lost.
What’s the difference between writing R&B records and rap records for you?
Drake: R&B records, to be honest with you, is kinda like, I mean, process wise, like the way Jay writes raps I guess or the way Wayne writes raps. Like, they don’t write things down, they just like say it in their head and are able to retain all the information in their head [that’s] how I write R&B. I don’t write down the lyrics, I kind of just stand in the booth and I just keep singing and singing until I just find melodies and words that make sense or come together. Or I just stand in there and find melodies that I love and then really go outside of the booth and think about what’s been going on in my life and try to put words to it. R&B though, I mean it’s really pretty much the same content-wise, you know, it’s all pretty honest stuff. I always try to keep in mind that both male and female will be listening to it so I try to make R&B music that’s not too sappy and not too “girl this” and “girl that” just so that like I sound like a man who’s thinking. I sound like a man who’s confident just so that it’s not awkward for other men to listen to. And then at the same time I try to keep it empowering for women. Really I just like, I like my R&B to feel a certain way and then I that feeling is usually evident so when I get there I’m like okay, yeah, yeah, this is it.
I’ve heard folks say that writing R&B records can be more difficult because there are less words to work with.
Drake: Yeah, I don’t know, to be honest with you, I kinda think that more words can often be more room for error. Like when you have to write a 16 bar verse or a 32 bar verse, which I often do, I feel like that can also be more difficult. I also feel like one of my biggest attributes or talents is finding melody. You know me and [my producer] 40 can sit together and pick melodies that other singers would probably just use as like a harmony but they just become so prominent when you use them as a lead. And yeah, to me, with R&B, I just don’t take it that serious where it’s like I’m an R&B singer and this song has to sound a certain type of way and if not then no one’s going to respect me, you know? I just kinda really allow myself to just have fun. I’m able to let go and just see what comes of it all the time. You know, because it’s the icing on the cake. It’s something that if I’m able to pull it together, I just see it as a plus. When we do get it right, it really adds a dynamic to my career.
How do you make sure you’re saying something new? I can’t imagine you’re studying the entire catalog of every rap record made from all time.
Drake: Um, I mean, I have a pretty good idea. If I come up with something that I think is really, really clever, I’m not afraid to like Google it or really start sitting there and thinking about [it]. Obviously, you’re right – there’s no way for me to figure if it’s been said before in some rap record from some guy that I’ve never [heard of], but as far as prominent things where I’m going to say it and someone right away is going to be like oh that was ’Pac or oh, that was T.I…. I really do try and make sure that a lot of what I rap about has never really been worded in the way that I put it.
Rather than reinterpreting someone else’s structure for instance.
Drake: It’s more in the words. I mean, I admire flows. I really do admire flows and sometimes I’ll flip flows that I love, like the dead prez flow, you know I love that flow. That’s one of the most powerful song’s startings ever in hip-hop in my opinion, you know, and I wanted to pay homage to that, but at the same time, like, unless I directly mean to, usually I’ll stay away from copying or just trying to emulate someone else’s whole style or the type of things they would say.
Earlier you said, you can make just rap records and cater to a small segment, like how important is that to you? Or is it all about just being successful and making records to be successful?
Drake: Like to me, I think about them all the time because you know, I really do care about what they have to say, you know? …I still go on the websites like NahRight, like, I care, I really do care. So like I said, when I do have a chance to get in a rap mode, like for example I did this song off my album last night called “The Resistance.” It’s the song that comes right before “Over” and, man, that was one of those songs where I was like, you know, I really gotta take the time and write this song because it’s an opportunity to really rap and show people that I actually do care about rap and care about what you think about my flows and care about what you think about me as a rapper even if I have a crazy hook on it, which I do… But I still factor them into my thoughts. I haven’t let them go yet, that hip hop population that’s so judgmental and maybe hates everything I’m doing right now ’cause I’m doing it on such a grand scale and they feel like not a part of it all or they feel like I’ve abandoned them and what they stand for. I still think about them all the time.
How do you respond to the hate?
Drake: I don’t respond. I cut myself off from outlets where I would be able to say anything anyway, but it’s really not my style to really say anything to people, you know. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, man, honestly, the music feedback I don’t really trip off of ’cause I know everybody likes their own thing so I don’t really trip when someone doesn’t like my music because what you’ll tend to do is there’ll be 40 people that say, “Oh, dope song,” and then there’ll be one guy that’s like, “Yo, this dude’s overrated, fuck Drake,” and that’s the one you’ll pay attention to. That one guy will make you feel like everybody’s online dissing you so it’s easy to get caught up in the trap of the feedback. But to be honest that’s not even the stuff that bothers me, man. You want to know what really bothers me?
Drake: What really bothers me is that fact that all my life, I always get caught in the worst, most unphotogenic poses ever. Now people follow me with cameras and are just clicking away and I always feel like I just look mad different in pictures. I hate seeing pictures of myself online when I’m leaving a spot or whatever; I just always get caught laughing ’cause I’m always outside making jokes or whatever with the people, but I always end up looking so stupid like that’s the shit that I’m always like, “Man, I wish that didn’t happen,” you know? But as for people’s opinions and shit like that, it’s all good. That’s what’s going to happen. You know people are entitled to their opinion and it takes a certain type of individual to really come online and give their opinion of your music, positive or negative. I don’t know if you do it, but I can’t say I’ve ever gone online and posted underneath someone’s song, and be like, “Dope song, son.” Or, “That shit is wack.” I’ve never done that before. It’s just a certain community of people that really feel like that’s their outlet and I know that me and my friends aren’t any of them so I don’t know who those people are and I can’t really take their opinion too close to heart just because I’m not really sure what those people are made of and if their opinion’s even valid so I just kind of keep it moving.
If it all ended today, if it got taken away, what would you want people to take away?
Drake: It can’t end yet. It can’t end yet because the story’s not done. —Benjamin Meadows-Ingram
The May 2010 issue, featuring Drake & Nicki Minaj on the cover, is on stands now!!!