Noah “40” Shebib Looks Back At Drake’s ‘So Far Gone’ Five Years Later
"Dropped the mixtape, that shit sounded like an album / Who'd a thought a country wide tour be the outcome?" —Drake, "Forever"
It’s been five years since Drake’s breakout mixtape So Far Gone hit the Internet. Back in 2009, Drake was known as an actor from Degrassi who had just a handful of tracks, but was determined to make it in the music game. But So Far Gone changed that perception and launched a career that is showing no signs of slowing down—bad press, rap beefs, iconic Saturday Night Live performances and all. A major player in the making of So Far Gone is none other than Drake's longtime producer and OVO's in-house beat-maker, Noah “40” Shebib. Recently, 40 took time out of his busy schedule to talk So Far Gone and break down the mixtape that sounded like an album, track by track. —Emmanuel C.M. (@ECM_LP)
"Lust For Life"
Producers: 40, Keshown Cassel
40: That's just me on a piano just vibing out and catching a groove. I think the drums were from a Tears For Fears record that Oliver [El-Khatib, Drake's manager] or Drake said, "Sample these drums, these are crazy." So I sampled the drums, looped them up and started building on it. That’s just me doing my thing. I don't think about those type of beats too much when it comes to those kind of slow vibes. Those are like my comfort zone.
Producers: 40, Keshown Cassel
40: This was like the climax of So Far Gone. This is when I tried to push what I was doing creatively as a producer to the ultimate maximum before shit started to get out of control. I gotta come back here one day.
"Successful" Featuring Trey Songz and Lil Wayne
40: This was an ill moment to me. These are my favorite type of records, that can incorporate R&B and hip-hop together well. That’s why I always like Clark Kent and his mixtapes and records he would co-produce, remixes he would do back in the day that would always be the ill R&B Clark Kent remixes. Those are my moments. And it's tough to recreate that with Drake, obviously, because of the scrutiny he gets put under because of the bullshit of the hip-hop mechanism that can happen sometimes. Drake is probably the one of the realest and most honest people out there and that takes more balls than half the shit that's [out there]. Telling a story or creating a persona that isn't necessarily real, it doesn't tell who you really are as a human being or who you what to be as a human being. And that was our concern with So Far Gone, would the hip-hop world accept it. I thought my mom would like it. I didn't know if my sister would.
"Let's Call It Off" Featuring Peter Bjorn & John
Producers: Peter Bjorn & John
40: Drake just heard it one day in a cafeteria in a restaurant in Europe somewhere and called me and said, "Yo, this is the name of the song ['Let's Call It Off' by Peter, Bjorn and John] and flip it. We got to put it on the tape." I said okay and i downloaded it, and redid the whole beat. i didn't have the instrumental. I just had the song. So I rebuilt the whole section for him and he came up to the hotel room and recorded the shit. That picture of him up against a white curtain, it’s like a classic So Far Gone picture of him in the hotel room, recording with headphones on. That’s him recording this song.
Producer: DJ Screw
40: It samples this old Houston classic DJ Screw record that we just re-flipped. The old Houston classic record sampled a couple of records.
"Ignant Shit" Featuring Lil Wayne
Producers: Just Blaze, Eric Hudson
40: We just got the beat. I actually got the instrumental from Just Blaze. We actually reached out and got the instrumental.
"A Night Off" (featuring Lloyd)
40: I just flipped an instrumental that Just Blaze gave me and made the beat by sampling "Ignorant Shit." That's just "Ignorant Shit" slowed down to half time and just a bunch of keys on top.
"Say What's Real"
Producer: Kanye West
40: People like to compare [So Far Gone] to 808s & Heartbreak. [There's] a real reason for it. He did the “What’s Real” freestyle over "Say You Will" and that shit just connected so much for me. That shit was so impactful to hear him spilling his heart over that kind of production. With that very euphoric space in it. I was like, "Yo, fuck it, that shit crazy," and I ran with that sound. I always get super defensive when people mention 808s because I’m like, "Yo, love 808s, amazing project, but it was one song that had [that] influence." I wasn’t listening to 808s & Heartbreak when I was making So Far Gone. I was listening to Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and The Smiths and stuff like that. But I will say that "Say What’s Real" helped me find a place that I really wanted Drake to sit, sonically.
"Little Bit" Featuring Lykke Li
Producers: Björn Yttling, Lasse Mårtén
40: That came from Oliver. Oliver brought us that record and said this shit is crazy. And I just flipped it, same shit. The flipping stage is that they give it to me and leave. I just spend like a couple hours with it and just hit them up like, "Yo, got it, done."
"Best I Ever Had"
40: I didn’t know it was going to be big. I thought it was kind of corny. I thought it stuck out on the tape and I was a little nervous whether or not it should be on there. Oliver was a little nervous about it. That being said, I kind of asked for it. And I was like, "Yo, we need a record on here that might work at radio. We have nothing on here that might work at radio. Okay, please give me one song." It gotta be feel-good, it got to be major chord progression. and give it to me 3 and a half minutes. Please just something. I got 10-minute minor chord progressions on here. Give me a three and a half minute song that at least feels good. So he cut "Best I Ever Had" in one night. One of the biggest songs in his whole career. Then I knew, because my sister is the one who hit me up and said, "Oh my God, that 'Best I Ever Had' song is amazing." I was like, "Wait a second, I didn’t even think you would like the mixtape, and that’s the song you like?"
"Unstoppable (Remix)" Featuring Santigold and Lil Wayne
Producers: Diplo, John Hill
40: I'm a very capable person inside of a studio. So if I hear a song and wanted to pull it apart and dissect it and rebuild it, I pretty much can. I was making feature space from gaps; drops for Drake that never existed. None of those features or collaborations on So Far Gone were real. They were all fabricated. Even the beat in "Unstoppable," I remade that. I had to remake it basically from scratch, taking little chunks from samples. I mean the first time people actually heard those records is when they heard them. They never knew. That goes for everything. The Peter Bjorn and John record, the Lykke Li record, everything on So Far Gone was just hijacked.
"Uptown" (featuring Bun B and Lil Wayne)
Producers: Boi-1da, Arthur McArthur
40: That was another record that we did at the very end. To be honest, we thought "Uptown" was the big record. Me and Drake thought "Uptown" was the smasher. That was going to be the big joint, not "Best I Ever Had."
"Sooner Than Later"
Producer: Phillip "D10" Tennant
40: That was produced by D10, Drake's keyboard player. They were sitting on that for a little bit and it was just a very special record. I’m not sure if I should tell the whole story. So I believe we were in New Jersey. We were on tour. So Far Gone was made on tour. We made So Far Gone in hotel rooms on the road during the Carter III tour. The last day of recording was in the Beverly Wilshire hotel. We had a show in New York but we stayed at a hotel in New Jersey at the Hilton because the buses can park there. So we go to the hotel, me and Drake got our room. Don't get it twisted—this is back in the day, me and Drake are sharing rooms. We get to the room and the room is just torn up, blunts everywhere, ash trays. Someone came in there and fucked up the room and dipped. So Drake and me have just got off a 20-hour bus ride. We're exhausted, I'm dying, I'm ready to just faint. I look at the room and it's disgusting. So I said, "I don't know what to do, I'm dying, I gotta sleep."
I called up for some blankets. We called the road manager and he said there's no rooms, y'all have to wait a couple of hours. So me and Drake had two hours that we had to kill. So I laid some blankets over the bed so I can lay on it and catch some rest and Drake just stayed up for like 4 hours at the desk of the hotel room as I was half knocked out and wrote "Sooner Than Later" to that beat. Because he missed one of his childhood love's birthdays to wish her happy birthday. And he felt really bad and she made him feel like a piece of shit, blah blah blah. Maybe it was a little deeper than that. He just stayed up writing that whole song. By the time I woke up he was just amped, wide awake. And we recorded it within the next 48 hours.
"Bria's Interlude" (featuring Omarion)
40: That was some R&B shit, just catching the vibe in the hotel one day.
40: That's a special record. I just had a little set up in my bedroom. Drake came by, just not in a good headspace. Not in a good headspace, like, I'm a celebrity, no, we're kids, man. We're having family issues, things are going on. He got into a big argument with his uncle I think. It got so heated he had to step out on the balcony. I'm sitting there at the table with this beat I made which I know he wants to work on, which is "The Calm," and I'm just like, oh, this is a write off. He's obviously very upset and probably will storm off. But he gets off the balcony, heated still, and just storms back into my room like, "Yo, let's go," and just started writing, and he cut that record that night. So those emotions that he portrays in that song blow off from that and are very real. Therefore it's a really impactful record for me.
40: I was just on a wave of making some weirdo beats and he was messing with it. The story I usually tell people is when we started on working with Drake's first album, [which became] So Far Gone, he was having a really hard times finding beats. And at that time I was his engineer, I wasn't really producing for him. I was strictly tracking him and mixing everything and doing his vocals and so on and so forth. We heard everything we could possibly hear and he didn't like any of it. So there was only one option left. It was a combination of him pushing me there and Oliver always very influential as well. So Oliver was the one who brought a lot of ideas to the table as far as collaborations.
Producers: Phillip "D10" Tennant, 40
40: It's one of the older songs on there. We just threw it on there because its was one of the oldest songs at the time. We made that record at the youth program I used to work at in Toronto that would teach music to kids from high-risk neighborhoods. Me and Drake would work there after hours. And one day he came into the studio and said, "I want to sing." “Brand New” was one of the first times he ever sang. The first time he sang was "Bitch Is Crazy" off Comeback Season. We just put it out there anonymously. We didn't put it as a Drake record. Then it blew up as this viral thing and people realized it was Drake and we threw it on in the end.