Drake Interview about Take Care Album and more with Billboard.com
On Oct. 24, Drake turned 25. He celebrated with a weekend in Las Vegas punctuated by a pair of parties — a very public and packed blowout at TAO at the Venetian on Oct. 22, and a more intimate event the following night at the Boom Box, a private room at the Cosmopolitan’s Marquee nightclub.
The TAO party was marked by Drake’s generosity — at one point, he reportedly told the crowd, “I’m celebrating my birthday and I want you all to celebrate with me!” and then proceeded to buy the whole bar shots. The party at the Boom Box was marked by the guest list — an affair billed as Fete des Lumieres and attended by the likes of Cash Money Records CEO Bryan ” Baby” Williams, Cash Money/Young Money’s franchise superstar artist (and Young Money Entertainment founder) D’Wayne ” Lil Wayne” Carter, Geffen Records chairman and Hip Hop Since 1978 co-founder Gee Roberson, Young Money Entertainment president Mack Maine, Bryant Management founder (and Drake/Lil Wayne manager) Cortez “Tez” Bryant, William Morris Endeavor VP of sports marketing (and Drake’s Hollywood agent) Jill Smoller and Rap-a-Lot founder James Prince’s son, Jas Prince (credited with bringing Drake to Lil Wayne’s attention).
Also in attendance were a team of players closely tied to the scene building in Drake’s hometown of Toronto, including hitmaking producers Tyler “T-Minus” Williams (Lil Wayne’s “She Will” and DJ Khaled’s “I’m on One,” both featuring Drake) and Matthew “Boi-1da” Samuels ( Eminem’s Grammy Award-winning No. 1 single “Not Afraid,” Drake’s “Best I Ever Had” and “Over”), M3 founder Mr. Morgan and Drake’s childhood friend and October’s Very Own brand manager Oliver el-Khatib. Another of Drake’s childhood friends, producer/engineer Noah “40″ Shebib, seemed to be the only one from Drake’s inner circle who wasn’t in Vegas. 40 was back home in Toronto mastering Drake’s sophomore album, “Take Care.”
This wasn’t part of the plan.
When Drake announced the release date for “Take Care” on June 9, it looked to be another stroke of marketing genius. The childhood actor turned superstar rapper had literally built a brand — October’s Very Own (also known as OVO and OVOXO) — around his birthday. Of course, his highly anticipated second album would arrive on Oct. 24. A brand couldn’t ask for a better story line.
But as Drake’s birthday approached, the plan hit a snag. There were still samples to clear, masters to finish, producers to call. On Oct. 8, Drake took to his blog ( octobersveryown.blogspot.com) to announce that the album wouldn’t arrive until Nov. 15. “This music means too much to me to get attached to dates,” he wrote in the post. The next week, Drake made his first appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” He performed “Take Care’s” top 20 hit, “Headlines,” and was joined by Nicki Minaj for a performance of the album’s second single, “Make Me Proud,” which he had debuted just days earlier on DJ Funkmaster Flex’s show on WQHT (Hot 97) New York.
“Make Me Proud” rocketed up the charts in the weeks after the “SNL” appearance, notching the year’s second-greatest gain on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (94-44 on Nov. 5), lagging only behind the leap “Headlines” made on the Aug. 20 chart (98-38). The performance of “Make Me Proud” and “Headlines” is in keeping with Drake’s command of the charts predating even the release of his Young Money/Cash Money/Universal debut, “Thank Me Later,” last year; predating even the Young Money/Cash Money/Universal deal itself.
Since he first topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with the self-released single “Best I Ever Had” on June 27, 2009 (the song appeared on his breakout mixtape “So Far Gone,” which was released Feb. 13, 2009; he finalized his deal with Young Money on June 29), Drake has claimed the chart’s peak position with five other tracks and reached the top 10 20 times — making him the most successful artist on that chart during the past two years. In his short career, he’s already appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 with 30 different songs and cracked the top 10 seven times, the best performance by any rapper in the chart’s history besides Lil Wayne, who’s tallied 49 songs on the chart and eight top 10s.
He’s a performer at retail as well. In addition to his cumulative single sales — 14.3 million downloads of songs where he was the lead artist, according to Nielsen SoundScan — “Thank Me Later” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 447,000 first-week copies (July 2, 2010), the third-highest such sales tally for the year. Even the repackaged retail release of his free mixtape worked. Drake’s “So Far Gone” EP debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 with 73,000 sold (Oct. 3, 2009). The EP closed 2009 as the fifth-best-selling rap release. It has sold 617,000 total, while “Thank Me Later” has notched 1.5 million, according to SoundScan.
And his live presence is growing. In addition to two successful solo runs (2009′s Away From Home tour and last year’s Light Dreams & Nightmares, which sold out 14 of the 19 shows reporting to Billboard Boxscore, grossing $3.4 million from 80,000-plus attendees), Drake has launched a successful annual concert event as well. Set to enter its third year next summer, the OVO Festival is a one-day show held in August at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheater (capacity 16,000) that has drawn such guests as Eminem, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Stevie Wonder and has sold out both years.
Yet: Oct. 24 didn’t turn out to be quite the day it could’ve been. Instead of celebrating both his birthday and the night his sophomore album was released, Drake had to settle for the satisfaction of simply turning 25 surrounded by some of the most powerful people in a generation of American urban music, a crowd that has accepted him, the Canadian, and that claims him as its own.
Billboard spoke to Drake on Oct. 7, less than 24 hours before he publicly announced the delay of “Take Care.” He was excited about the “SNL” appearance and hoped to have the opportunity to shoot a digital short. The face of national campaigns for Kodak, Sprite, BlackBerry and 2K Sports, he has nearly 4 million Twitter followers, 20 million-plus likes on Facebook. Superstar.
The moving of the album’s release date — do you want to talk about that?
Moving the date is sort of an all-encompassing thing. Definitely the product is there. I’m very confident in this album. But I just really wanted a rollout with all bases covered. I just bought a couple more weeks to get all the shit in order, as well as give me the opportunity to put on a better tour.
And the album itself?
I have so much music with 40 on this album. But somebody I’m eager to work with more because of how incredible his contribution is to this album, and he’s definitely one of the best producers doing it right now, is Jamie xx. He’s on the album, but there are a couple beats that I had of his that I was sitting on, that I might go in on now, even if it’s just a bonus track. Other than that, I kept it really in the family. Jamie’s family, Just Blaze is fam, and then it’s really just 40, and Doc and Ill Angelo, who produced the Weeknd, and T-Minus and Boi-1da, they’re family. I’m hoping to go in and work with Alicia Keys, so I talked to Swizz [Beatz] about maybe getting some tracks from him, seeing where his head’s at. I’m not really about the producer’s name. I’m confident about the body of work I have — 16 songs and two bonus records, so I’m hoping to get 17 songs on the disc. If I could add one more, give people like 15 new songs in one night, that would be my ideal goal.
When you say one night, what do you mean?
The night you get your hands on it. Whenever that is.
It’s an interesting way to phrase it, because that’s kind of where we are today, particularly with hip-hop.
You’re right. The night that it leaks is the night my album release is. Not Nov. 15. It’s the night it leaks. That’s when you start hearing feedback. That’s how we gauge things now.
There’s been a bit of an upswing in retail based on the fact that hackers are a bit more hesitant to leak things. I wouldn’t even say hesitant — like, they can’t do it. Maybe they’re being a bit more respectful. Whatever it is, I appreciate whoever’s holding back, because it’s making for great opportunities for artists to sell music.
The leaks that would hurt me would be the 30-day leaks. Those are devastating because we live in a generation where the attention span is so fickle, and it’s so much about instant gratification . . . it’s rare that any music — it could be anybody’s music — it’s just rare that [interest] lasts 30 days, period. People are so ready for the next post on a blog, or the next tweet from their favorite artist giving them a new song, that when full albums come out they don’t last long as far as being the topic of conversation.
J. Cole’s “Cole World: A Sideline Story” leaked a week early and then came in at No. 1. There’s been talk that positive reception to his leak spurred sales.
I agree. Giving people the opportunity to judge before they go and buy, that can only help. There’s a fan base that’s going to go and support you just based off the fact that they want to own a copy of your material, and they know what it means to give you that one sale, and the hope is that there’s another hundred, 200, 300, 400, 500,000 people that are going do the same thing. And then there’s the people who heard it that night and were like, “Yo, I need to support this . . . I need to own this.”
You anticipate leaks?
I look forward to leaks — knock on wood. I shouldn’t, but I do. We all sit in the studio like, “The night this leaks, it’s going to be so crazy!” People talk about, “Are you going to go on the Internet? Are you going to stay off the Internet? What are you going to do?”
We’re not even talking about the many in-stores that I have to do. That used to be it: “Ah, man, I got to go to the record store the night my record comes out.” And it’s funny. Going to Best Buy for me is almost like you’re just doing it for nostalgic purposes. I love to see the fans excited, but everybody in the back of their minds . . . they know it means little in terms of how the music is heard and when it first drops. Obviously it means a lot for people who buy records, and it means a lot for me and my career. But as far as that initial moment, when the clock hits midnight, and your album’s out, it’s already been heard by the world.
It’s crazy that we’re talking about a night, one link or one post. We’re not talking about them cutting the tape on the brown box and starting to shelve the record. It’s not that world anymore.
Like the promotion of Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter IV” on MTV’s Video Music Awards, which centered on the idea that fans could get it that night, online.
That’s genius. And I think kids that are watching MTV’s VMAs too, some of them might have that opportunity to go use their mother’s credit card or use their own, for all I know, and go on iTunes. That’s the biggest thing that stops digital, still. I remember being a kid and wanting to use my mom’s card to go on PayPal when PayPal was so popular — eBay was popping. I remember when I was one of the only kids that could do that because a lot of kids couldn’t get a credit card to get their hands on. And that’s still a difficult thing, and if someone can rectify that or create a way around that…
Right. How do the kids mowing lawns and collecting five bucks here and there turn that into a digital purchase?
That’s key. How do you get your hands on digital music if you’re just a kid with enough to buy an album in your pocket, but you can’t have a Visa card.
Next: Drake on Lil Wayne, Stevie Wonder, and His Bad Luck at the Grammys
You’ve mentioned feeling like a guinea pig for the current state of the music industry.
I genuinely feel like the first one that really launched a career in this time period. I say it on my album, “They take the greats from the past and compare us/But I wonder if they’d ever survive in this era.” And that shit to me [is] everything. Not even the leaks-I’m just talking about how malicious and intrusive the Internet is, and how essential and necessary the Internet is in our lives, in our careers. Twitter is an opinion with no consequences because you can be anybody, you can hide from anybody, you don’t have to see anybody — but you can reach anybody. And that shit is crazy.
These sites that are driven on tearing artists down daily… I remember back in the day — there were like two or three individuals on the radio, and one publication that would attack rappers and artists. And if you didn’t make that, you were good. There wasn’t really that much else to fuck you over. Lord only knows what people got away with — I can’t imagine. I commend any artist thriving in this generation, because it’s difficult. You have to have thick skin and just care about your craft, and know that there’s a thousand positive people for every one negative person.
It’s crazy how fast it’s all moving. Artists from the past, they had a different grind. It was more pavement, hitting the streets. Maybe it was harder work, I’ll never know. But for this generation it’s very hard work, upkeep, to be successful.
Before you signed to Young Money/Cash Money/Universal, there was talk about whether you’d go major — without a major deal.
I’m happy with my choices. To go indie is a thing. But to put an album in the stores, you need a distribution label. And to me, automatically, that’s not indie, you’re still using assistance from a label, which is what we’re doing. If that’s indie, then being signed to Young Money is indie because I don’t even talk to Universal. They have no say in anything I do — when I release, when I push back, what videos I drop, what I have in my videos, who I am as an artist, what choices I make, what talk shows I do — nothing. And to be honest, my choices were solely based off the fact that Lil Wayne had put himself so far out there for me before anybody believed. My one goal in signing my deal was to make sure he could benefit from it. That was me being loyal. That’s why my deal is structured the way it is. If I could’ve found a way where he would’ve benefited off of an indie deal or we could have done something different, then yeah, maybe I would’ve done something different. But the way it’s worked out, I feel like he’s proud and he’s happy, and that’s all that matters to me.
I don’t want to do it like everybody else. That’s the only way to have any longevity. Shit is so fickle. You follow the path that Gee and Hip Hop [Since 1978] laid out for artists eight years ago, and they tell you this is the only way you can do it-no, it’s not. As much as I love and respect those guys, that’s not the only way you can do it. I’m proving that. I’m not going to say they don’t have genius ideas that assist with careers. I’m not going to say that you don’t potentially strain relationships because DJs don’t feel as connected to me because I release all my music through my website or whatever. Well, fuck it, that’s the way I like to do it. And I feel like our brand . . . it can only grow upward.
Can you talk a bit about your relationship with Lil Wayne?
That’s my brother. Over music, over everything. He’s responsible for everything that’s going on around me. But of course, it’s amazing. There’s a constant competitive vibe because that’s what rap is and we both love the same things in rap. In the back of my mind I’m always like, “I got to rap better than Wayne.” And I can’t say I know, but I feel like I put enough good music out there that he also feels like he’s . . . got to rap better than everybody. We play off each other, we make each other better. He said something in an interview that was so true that I respected him for it so much. They tried to corner him with question like, “Drake’s put out so much beastly music, do you feel like you created a monster?” And he’s like, ‘No, that’s my artist.” And he’s right. I’m his soldier. That’s all I ever want to be for Wayne.
You brought Stevie Wonder to this year’s OVO event.
Stevie’s one of the most incredible individuals as far as just obviously the music he’s made, but then you meet him . . . and the person that he is, and how he moves throughout his life — it’s amazing to watch. I can only pray one day that I’m still that joyous and still that funny. He was supposed to play two songs. I think he stayed out there for 35 minutes. Stevie helped with musical arrangements, and he produced with 40 a bit on the album. So I’m excited.
You’ve had an incredible run on the Billboard charts in a very short time.
It’s crazy. Flattering. It’s never really been a numbers game to me, but to hear that lets me know, “Damn, OK. Maybe I have been working hard.” I plan on keeping it going. I like sitting at the top. It’s a good feeling. More than anything though, I love having a record that people love. That’s a drug, for real. I don’t do drugs, I might smoke weed or drink, but I don’t do drugs — but that’s a drug. To have the songs that people love, to have that one record that crushes the club when it comes on, people go off to . . . I love it. That’s why I work. It’s my views of life, my idea of fun, my idea of a party, my idea of a hook. It’s a rush. I don’t want it to end.
And yet, in the past you’ve said you’re not in the business of trying to figure out singles.
That’s my least favorite shit. It’s hard to touch all bases with a single. Especially your single. For example, with Khaled’s “I’m on One,” the reason I was able to tap into that hook and that emotion was because it wasn’t for me. When it’s not for you, there’s no pressure. But when it’s yours, you overthink. Overthinking I fall victim to a lot. You have to be strategic — unfortunately — with the songs you release.
But you’re clearly good at picking singles.
I guess I dwell on it for so long that I eventually make a good decision. But I wouldn’t put out another single if it were up to me, because that’s how “So Far Gone” worked: I put the whole project out. It was a huge body of work, like 18 songs. “Take Care” is 17 songs, could be 18. I’d just let people pick what they want to hear. That’s what I like to do.
You’ve been nominated for six Grammy Awards in the past two years, but have yet to win.
I’ve always been fascinated with the Grammys, so I don’t mean disrespect when I say this, but I’ve kind of given up on them. If I ever get one, or when I get one, I’ll be ecstatic, because that’s a recurring dream I’ve had since I was a kid: That my mother’s still alive and that I’m onstage accepting a Grammy, and I get to thank her on that stage. But it’s tough. They can never really break their mold.
Forget last year, because when I read up on the young lady that won, she did some incredible things. And if we’re talking numbers, nobody’s really achieved what Justin Bieber achieved as far as the earnings and just worldwide . . . he deserved it as well. But the one that really got to me was when I lost to “D.O.A.” for “Best I Ever Had.” That one to me was, like, really? Not to say that Jay-Z isn’t the most incredible rapper and that “D.O.A.” wasn’t a good song. I just felt like they had an option to give me a Grammy for a mixtape, and they just didn’t do it [laughs]. Because it goes against the grain of everything that is traditional.
I don’t measure my success anymore by the Grammys. I can’t because I’ll just end up crushed. And, not to be offensive, I just feel it’s political. Would I love to win a Grammy? Sure. Will I win one after that comment? Probably not.
Is 1 million the first week what you’re shooting for?
That’s the golden number for anyone. I doubt that’ll happen. That’s some Lil Wayne, Eminem iconic shit. I don’t know if I’m there yet. Whoever goes out and buys it, I’m happy. I’d rather have great reviews than numbers. I’d rather walk out of my house and hear seven cars playing it than hear that I did 900,000.
Have the relationships in the Young Money camp changed in any way since Lil Wayne was released from jail on Nov. 4, 2010?
Things didn’t really change. Everybody’s sparked off their own shit, so we just see each other a lot less, talk a lot less. Tyga’s on his shit right now, on tour. Nicki is larger than life. She’s on some next-level, pop icon status. And Wayne’s doing his thing, finished “Carter IV,” and I think he’s just waiting to see what we do now. He came home and put a lot of work in and deserves to have a rest and live some life and get remotivated.
I had a lot of those moments this year that made me work harder — like “Carter IV,” “Watch the Throne,” Cole dropping, hearing Rick Ross’ album. Nicki did a verse for my album that’s so good. I hope she lets me work on her album, too. Because I have some great ideas. You put out a project and it goes incredibly well, and you just sort of wait till someone else does something that makes you want to go back in, and go hard.
Bonus : Drake – Headlines (Explicit) Music Video(2 years ago)
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