“Everybody got a deal/ I did it without one,” —Drake, “Forever”
He had the potential to be the first to really do it. He had the forces, artists, team and movement behind him. He possessed a unique mix being clean-cut enough to get the corporate brands drooling, while still credible enough in the streets to be respected. Drake had the opportunity to completely change the landscape of the music business, yet at the end of the day stopped one step short from becoming a true pioneer.
Rewind to February 13, 2009, and the release of Drake’s So Far Gone mixtape. Without having a huge buzz at the time, and not even being tapped for the 2009 Freshman Class XXL Cover (which, when you look at the time of the magazine’s release, he hadn’t really done enough to deserve yet, and most people at the time weren’t screaming that he was slighted), I downloaded a project from a singer/rapper named Aubrey Graham.
Turns out I wasn’t alone.
Having what could go down as the biggest mixtape ever (I mean, he was nominated for two Grammy’s off it), Drake put himself in position to be the biggest new artist in urban music since 50 Cent.
“When my album drops bitches’ll buy it for the picture/And niggaz’ll buy it, too, and claim they got it for they sister,” —Drake, “Best I Ever Had”
Rarely does an artist come across that can be commercial enough to appeal to top 40 female teeny boppers, while being agile enough to go bar for bar with any rapper in the game. Seriously, who would have thought a Canadian half-Jewish singer-rapper hybrid who grew up in a wealthy neighborhood and played a disabled kid on a Nickelodeon show would get requests for features without an album, all while still being respected by the toughest critics in the hip-hop blogosphere.
Yet, when it came down to it, Drake didn’t go all the way.
Everyone knows the current model of the music business is archaic and on life support. New artist development is gone at nearly every major label, replaced by signing artists with singles of the moment to restrictive all-in 360 deals (that most labels don’t take advantage of and just sell music/ringtones while locking up valuable rights artists can’t use to pursue real money-making avenues). Everyone is looking for the definitive new business model in music, even if, as I think it will, that turns out to be a variety of options that will vary drastically artist to artist.