Outtakes From Drake’s XXL Cover Story
When Drake met with XXL last month in his hometown of Toronto, he had a lot on his mind, more than what was fit for print. In a XXLMag.com exclusive, here are portions of the conversation that did not make the cover story.
Interview by Thomas Golianopoulos (@golianopoulos)
Images by Jonathan Mannion
XXL: How far along are you with the album?
I’m usually scrambling around this time. My confidence is usually all over the place because you are about to surrender a body of work and I think for the first time I'm ready. I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if that means it s really good of it means something else. I feel extremely confidant right now.
It’s a surprise to hear you struggle with confidence.
The confidence in the records, I mean, it takes me a year, a year and a half to make an album, so those are emotions spanning over [that time]. There might have been nights that I was supremely confident due to events that occurred that day or that week, and those emotions come across and then there’ll be emotions not so much. But as far as the actual act of completing an album and handing it over and saying, "Okay, 40 go to New York, master this and give this in for production.’ With So Far Gone, there wasn’t really any mastering involved. I remember being like, "Did we just make the biggest mistake in life?" I’m doing Peter, Bjorn And John songs over. I did a Lykke Li song over. It was like, "What did we just do? Did we shift the needle on the culture, or did we just sort of potentially bomb any hope of being respected as a real rapper?" And it ended up working out really well. I think I carry that with me. I think it’s a reflection of the amount of risks we do take musically. It’s a bit nerve wracking. This is the first time I was like, "You know what, I’m just ready. I’m ready for people to hear it." That’s all I’m saying. I’m trying to be very careful.
How is this album different from Take Care?
Take Care was about connecting with my city and connecting with my past and sort of still feeling guilty that I’m not in love with one of these girls that cared about me from back in the day. Now, I’m 26, I’m with my friends, I’m making jobs for people, I’m making memories for people that will last a lifetime. I don’t need to be in love right now. I don’t need these things that I maybe once thought that I needed to feel normal and feel righteous about myself. I think for the first time in an album I’m content—not satisfied—but proud of where I’m at as a person. My thing was after going to these places I wanted to go to—Houstonlantavegas, I call it—there was a part of me that was like, "Man, I got to reconnect with one of these girls from Toronto that actually loved me for me before all of this happened or else I’m gonna end up like in some weird, miserable, divorced, three-times married guy." That was a way I was thinking at one point, like, "I got to find one of my exes and make that work because a girl from Toronto is the only girl that will ever understand me, a girl that knew me before this happened is the only girl that will ever understand me." Now I look back at those girls like, "Ahhh, not so much." They might be more twisted than some of the new girls that I meet.
What are some things you did on this album that you couldn’t do beforehand?
I found a way to get all my thoughts across within 15 songs, which I’m very proud of. Take Care was, look, here is everything I have. I don’t think I had the time towards the end to be like, "Let me get rid of this but add this piece to this so you can still get a piece of this. I didn’t have enough time to sort of shave it down and make it concise, which some of the best rap albums and albums period are those albums with 12-13 songs—Tha Carter III, the Graduations, the Black Albums, there are those records with 14 songs long that are straight and to the point and once you hit the end of the record, you have to bring it back. It’s that weird sensation where you feel gratification from the music, but it’s almost over before you know it, and it forces you to listen again. Or even House Of Balloons from The Weekend, which is nine songs. I remember playing it over and over again. What could I do differently?
I think for me, from So Far Gone to Thank Me Later to Take Care, I’m 26 years old. I’m just getting my bearings in this industry, in this business, in this position I’m in, and I what I noticed was, okay, I’m starting to develop, maybe like a Drake formula for songs. Maybe [people] can predict what they are going to hear as far as a Drake single. I feel like with this project I’ve created a new artist. I’ve played it for people and people have been like, "Who’s rapping?" When I played "Started From The Bottom" for people, people were like, "Whose voice is that? That’s not you. Who is it?" I’ve taken that risk as far as trying to break out of my own formula, which, by the way, works extremely well. I could definitely go and do what people expected and probably win per se. But that’s not the long-term vision. I remember these moments. I remember waiting all summer to hear an album from an artist I was excited about. I think me being the age that I am and being in touch with those emotions is, that’s why I’m in there every night like Christmas Eve, I’m in the studio working if need be, if I have an album coming out. Nothing matters more to me than this right now, and I’ve surrendered pretty much my entire summer—any joy and fun and partying, I’ve sort of let that go out the window three or four months ago. I really want to just want to deliver something that is shocking, is refreshing and takes a little bit of time to digest. I don’t want you to be able to put it in and understand it right away.
Your collaboration and features seemed to really put you over the top this past year. How do you approach working with other artists?
It’s all very strategic. I remember 40 telling me once in the studio, “One of your greatest gifts is your ear. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy working with you because your ear is forever on. Not only can you hear when the latency is on and you can hear the smallest shift in the voice but you will listen to seven songs and pick the best song and usually you are right.” Hearing that from a guy whose opinion, I obviously live and die by, I started taking that into consideration when I started collaborating with people. If I didn’t like the song that they thought was the “Drake song,” like, for example, on his mix tape, Rick Ross thought I should be on the Stalley record. I asked to hear more music and I heard “Stay Schemin’” and I was like, “No, I thought I should be on that record.”
[A$AP Rocky’s] “Fuckin’ Problems” came from a song me and 2 Chainz had done. He said in his verse, it was really slow too, “I love bad bitches too that’s a fuckin’ problem.” I stopped his verse while we were listening to it, and I said, "Yo, that needs to be a hook. I don’t know how we’re going to explain this to him that we chopped a piece of his verse to do the hook." We were working on the Aaliyah project at the time, and we had this vocal sample that we were playing with, which we ended up having someone re-sing and in a different melody. We ended up with “Fuckin’ Problems.” While most people would be like, "Oh, we’re going to save this for six, seven months, until my album comes out." For me it's, well, I’m going to give this song to someone who is popping now. We’re all on tour now. It’s a big record. It needs to come out in the next two months. I made that personal decision.
It was actually Kendrick’s record first. He had asked me to get on "Poetic Justice," and again I was like, "Oh, 'Poetic Justice.'" It’s a great song, but it’s the typical, you know, "I’m going to be on the soft girls song on the album." So it was like, “Let me give you some shit.” But Kendrick’s album was such a concise, conceptual record with incredible skits. I still want to sit with him and ask him were those real phone recordings? Were those actors? How did you get it to sound so real? I still have questions about the album because I tell my stories through music. I am not a skit person, but I am very intrigued by his layout. But I understood why “Fuckin’ Problems” didn’t fit. The next project I had to work on was A$AP’s album, and that’s another guy, a genuine friend of mine, as is Kendrick. He’s a good person. He took the record and it went No. 1. Sure, I sacrificed the record. Maybe they’ll think I’m crazy for it, like when I gave Khaled “I’m On One” and “No New Friends.” A lot of people think I’m crazy for that too, but it’s like what you saw at the BET Awards. I’m very present in the rap game even when I’m working on an album. That’s what my work ethic is about—I get that from Wayne I think. What I do is sort of pick five or six songs and disperse out and say, "This is going to keep me very much alive in people’s minds for the next year."
What did you think of MTV’s Hottest MCs list? You were No. 5?
I guess I just understand how it works. You don’t have the album out, no press looks; you’re not going to get the number [1 spot]. It’s all politics and relative to how present you were, how visual you were. It has more to do with that than the bars and the features. I’ll say my little one-off lines, but I never get worked up over that stuff. On the album intro, which I’d love to play for you, I think I address it right off the riff. With the other albums, they had these sort of airy intros. I’m spitting bars, but this is the most confident intro I’ve had. It’s called “Tuscan Leather.” I have a bar in there where I say, “I’m tired of hearing who you checking for/Now just give it time, we’ll see who’s around a decade from now.” I guess just being here now for four or five years now, this run to me is crazy. It’s what I want. It’s what I planned for. It’s what I worked for. But at the same time, it’s just like, I’m curious to see how long I can stretch it. Then I’m curious to see who’s next? Who’s next to have a real run? I don’t know if anyone has emerged and had a real run after me yet.
I think you impressed a lot of people when you went after Common. A lot of rap fans didn’t think you could get him.
There is a bunch of Common diehards who would never let you utter the words “Drake got” anything in front of them. I felt really hurt man. I felt like some injustice was done to me in a sense of we’re talking about Common, we’re talking a guy whose music I enjoy, a guy who I had never met, a guy who I never conversed with at that point. We’re talking about the guy outside the hearing impaired girl’s window with the sign cards with the love songs and he’s coming at me for being soft? That hurt me. I told him that. I’m like, "Man, you’re supposed to embrace what I’m doing. I’m balancing real rap with girl records with club records. I’m just trying to give people music to live with and for you, of all people, to attack me?" If Jeezy came at me and said I was soft, I would be like, “Yeah, I guess, probably.” It was just crazy for it to be him. Even when we linked up, it was like, “What are you doing? Why?” It was like, “I never met you? What happened?” I do know that when we finally connected in person it was like, “Yeah, let’s just dead it.” Which made me kind of feel like it was an album week thing, which it was, by the way. I don’t know if anyone remembers that—his album was coming out that week.
Since you were the rookie on “Forever,” did you think you had to say something crazy and audacious on the opening line of your verse?
I had a different verse on that song initially, and then they told me who was going to be on it, and I remember just being like, "How ballsy would it be if I just started my verse with this line?" [“Last name, Ever/First name, Greatest/Like a sprained ankle boy, I ain’t nothing to play with.”] It’s about standing out. Rap is also a huge game of conditioning. Wayne said, “I’m the best rapper alive.” Now, all of a sudden, for two and a half years, he’s the best rapper alive. T.I. says he’s the King Of The South; T.I. is the King Of The South. You can condition listeners if the intent is there in your voice and it’s genuine. When both those statements were made, I felt like those guys were on top of their game and could have picked any title they wanted and they picked what they picked. For me, “Forever” was a moment that we’ll talk about it again in five years when I’ve proven that statement, which I work towards every day. It was just me being a little cheeky.
You seem to have a complicated relationship with your dad. How are you guys doing these days? He’s on “Jodeci Back,” which would make you think it's going okay.
My dad is a star, that’s what you have to understand. I can call my dad right now and be like, “Yo, dad, I need you to fly to shoot.” He’s always down. I’m living my dad’s dream. My dad wanted to be a famous singer. I have my dad on another bonus record on the album called “Heat Of The Moment.” It’s a real relationship. Not to be ironic, we go through the motions of a father-son relationship. Right now, he happens to be extremely stable and content, and I take care of what I can for him. All he wants to do is go to Beale Street in Memphis and play music. He’s rediscovered his passion for music and for being a musician. Like any other family, there have been dark times. There have been other interviews where I was asked about my dad and I didn’t want to talk about it. And there were records where I didn’t paint my dad as the greatest guy. At the end of the day, my dad knows I love him and that he’s a great friend of mine, but as far as being a father goes, I look forward to being a better father for the children that I have. But at the end of the day, he is a great man and I love him very much.
Do you ever wonder that if your dad was around, you might not have had the same drive to succeed?
One hundred percent. If my mom was in good health, if my dad was a solid father with a business that I saw as a shining light and I wanted to be under him. I regret nothing. I wouldn’t change a thing. As painful as some days have been, as exhaustive and draining some days have been, as it looms over me with my mom being sick, with 40 having MS, I’m always scared like, “What would you do?" I think I mentioned it last night. I come up with a song last night called "Hold On, We’re Going Home,” and it’s probably one of the biggest and best records I’ve done in my career. It’s all sitting there and being like, "How do I push my career forward? How would I ever be able to play Wembley Stadium without being a cornball and doing some music that everyone is going to be like, "Oh God?" I figured it out last night on some ’80s Miami shit, and it sounds so crazy. It’s one of those moments where it's like, I don’t know what I would do if this guy  wasn’t here. I leave the room with the records sounding one way and I come back and the record just comes to life. I don’t go anywhere without him. First day I met Wayne, he was like, “Come to Atlanta to record,” and I was brave enough to be like, “I need a flight for my boy.” I always made it very clear, if you want me to come write or come work, I bring 40. He will go make a beat if he is interested in it. If they want a song, he’s like, “I have to check with Drake.” We’re inseparable in that sense.
You guys started a new label OVO Sound. Why haven’t you signed any rappers?
I just sit at home every night and think about how I’m going to be the best rapper, so I don’t think I’m ready to sign another rapper yet. At the end of the day, I would never ignore anyone with talent. I’m not selfish. I would love to see another rapper thrive. It’s just that bars, at this stage in my life, are a funny thing to me. I have to hear something extremely unique and exciting to really be into it. We’re just assembling a label of great music. I don’t think people understand how talented Party [Next Door] is or these guys 40 signed. I’m very confident in the label we have right now. We only have two acts, but it’s very strong.
What are you listening to these days?
I like Ty Dolla $ign’s mixtape a lot. I listen to Party Next Door, of course. That Migos mixtape is crazy. I listen to Cole’s album. I was really proud of him. That’s pretty much it. If I wasn’t making the soundtrack for people’s lives and needed something right now to relate to, that’s pretty much what I’d be able to relate to at 26, living in Toronto.