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What’s his deal?
Even more so than most pop stars, Drake is a sort of prism: what people see when they look at him depends entirely on the angle they’re looking from. So before getting into that, here are the facts: Aubrey Drake Graham was born in 1986 to a black American man and a white Jewish Canadian woman in Toronto, Canada. Almost exactly twenty years later, he released his first mixtape, Room for Improvement, via MySpace. Five years after that, he is one of the most popular rappers/singers in modern pop, immediately identifiable by his signature “unh” before a verse.
Like we said, he was born in Canada, and when his parents divorced when he was five, he was raised by his mother in a wealthy neighborhood in Toronto. He did some acting in high school, but dropped out to pursue an entertainment career.
Wasn’t he on some kind of TV show?
He was! Starting in 2001, when he was fifteen, he began acting on Degrassi: The Next Generation, the continuation of a long-running and often overwrought Canadian soap opera set in a high school. His character, Jimmy Brooks, was a basketball star and ladies’ man who gets shot over a misunderstanding and ends up in a wheelchair. (In case you were wondering where all the downbeat storylines in his videos come from.) He appeared on the show through 2009, when his music career took over the rest of his life.
Then how’d he get all over the radio?
A combination of luck, talent, hard work and knowing the right people, just like everyone else. Lil Wayne heard some of his second mixtape, Comeback Season, in 2008, and immediately demanded that they work together. They recorded a few tracks, but it wasn’t until the release of Drake’s third mixtape, So Far Gone (which featured appearances by Lil Wayne, Trey Songz, Lloyd and Omarion) that he began to break in the pop market. The moodily sentimental single “Best I Ever Had” began to attract airplay without an official release, so Drake rushed out an official EP called So Far Gone with only legally cleared music, and by the end of 2009 had signed to Lil Wayne’s label.
So he’s nothing without Lil Wayne?
We wouldn’t necessarily say that—sure, Weezy put him on the map, but “Best I Ever Had” was a pretty interesting move back in 2009, featuring a rapper who sang (right when Kanye West and Kid Cudi were making that sound novel) in a sullen baritone, presaging the rise of emo-rap. Then again, the next three radio moves Drake made were Wayne-assisted—“Successful” with Trey Songz and Wayne, “Forever” with Kanye, Wayne and Eminem, and the Young Money posse track “Bed Rock”—and on none of them was Drake the best thing about the track. (That’d be Songz, Em and Nicki Minaj, respectively.) But then Lil Wayne went to prison in early 2010, and Drake’s first proper album, Thank Me Later, was produced almost entirely without his mentor’s input. It was a roaring success, going platinum and topping critics’ polls both mainstream and indie.
Why do so many people love him?
A few reasons. His hangdog everyman persona is relatable, especially to all the people in the economic middle who can’t really identify either with tales of street hustling or with the jet-setting rich like Kanye and Jay-Z. Drake’s also a decent actor, and his videos are exceptionally well-produced. But maybe the strongest reason is that his music sounds amazing. He’s worked with top-notch producers throughout his career, and much of his music, especially on Thank Me Later, is so deeply glossy and immaculately produced that it’s a pleasure to sink into—or it would be if it weren’t for Drake rhyming all over it.
Why do so many people hate him?
He’s not a terribly skilled rapper in terms of either writing or flow, and while he has a decent voice he’s also not much of a singer (you might notice he sticks very closely to a small range; one critic has even nicknamed him, rather cruelly, Drone Robotically And Kinda Emote). A lot of people don’t have much patience for a rich, successful, handsome young man feeling sorry for himself; and beyond all that, his tendency to pop up in songs—“Moment 4 Life,” “Fall for Your Type”—where he doesn’t necessarily add much (though we’ll give him the “square root of 69” joke in Rihanna's “What’s My Name”) can be pretty irritating.
What’s his best song?
Depends on who you ask. A lot of people really dig “Over,” the triumphalist statement off Thank Me Later, with its continual crescendos and acknowledgement that success may after all be fleeting; but for our money, “Find Your Love” is Drake at his best, the Kanye-assisted production all icy and still beneath the clattering percussion while Drake sings like an actual singer. He still only kinda emotes, but in a song about buried emotion, it works.
Who’s he dating?
Far as we can tell, everyone he can. He dated Canadian pop star Keshia Chanté when they were both teenagers, and has dedicated whole songs on his mixtapes to her. He infamously got Twitter-married to Nicki Minaj during the video shoot for “Moment 4 Life,” and dedicated a verse to her on “Miss Me." He also apparently dated Rihanna briefly in 2009, though now they say they’re just good friends. Further updates pending further unsubstantiated rumors!
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