Aubrey Drake Graham, rapper, singer, songwriter, actor (born 24 October 1986 in Toronto, ON). A child actor turned hip hop superstar, Drake first gained attention for his role on the hit Canadian television series Degrasssi: The Next Generation before becoming one of the most popular and influential figures in contemporary hip hop. His musical style is distinguished by his R&B-influenced singing voice and his introspective lyrical approach, which often explores his personal relationships. His atmospheric, ambient sound has proven highly influential. Called “hip hop’s current center of gravity” by the New York Times in 2011, the Juno and Grammy Award winner set the record for the most No. 1 singles on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop and Hot Rap Songs charts in 2012. He has also had 100 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, ranking him fourth all-time, ahead of James Brown and behind Elvis Presley. In 2013, he was named global ambassador for the National Basketball Association’s Toronto Raptors.
Early Years and Education
Drake’s parents — Jewish teacher Sandi Graham of Toronto and African American musician Dennis Graham of Memphis, Tennessee — divorced when he was five years old. Drake lived primarily with his mother in the Weston Road area of Toronto. He worked as a child model in commercials and print catalogues, played minor hockey and acted in the Young People’s Theatre. In the summers he visited his father in Memphis, often accompanying him to recording sessions. Drake’s father, who did time in prison during Drake’s childhood, played drums for Jerry Lee Lewis. Two of Drake’s uncles are also successful musicians: famed bassist Larry Graham played with Sly and the Family Stone, and Prince; and Mabon “Teenie” Hodges played guitar and co-wrote several hit songs with Al Green.
In his teen years, Drake transferred to Toronto’s Forest Hill Collegiate, where he had problems fitting in with the largely white, upper middle class student body. At 14 he won the role of basketball player Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation. He then transferred to Vaughan Road Academy’s Interact program, designed for students with outside commitments in the arts and athletics, where his classmates included actor Elliot Page.
Degrassi and Early Mixtapes
While on Degrassi, Drake landed small roles in other Canadian television series, such as Blue Murder (2001) and Soul Food (2002). His interest in pursuing a music career grew exponentially, from writing lyrics and recording in a makeshift studio in his basement to pulling all-nighters and barely making it on time to the set of the teen drama. He was a member of a short-lived group called The Renaissance, which included future Grammy Award-winning Canadian R&B singer Melanie Fiona. Afterwards, he uploaded his songs to MySpace and leveraged social media while he began recording with figures in Toronto’s hip-hop scene.
In 2006, Drake released his debut mixtape, Room for Improvement. The song “City Is Mine” received ample radio play on Toronto’s urban music station FLOW 93.5. He followed this with the free mixtape Comeback Season (2007). The single, “Replacement Girl,” featured US R&B singer Trey Songz and began to stir the interest of record labels. On the set of the single’s video he met another young Toronto actor turned musician, Noah “40” Shebib, who became his main musical collaborator.
In 2008, after appearing in 100 episodes and seven seasons of Degrassi: The Next Generation, Drake’s character and several others were written out of the show to make way for a new cast. With the exception of small appearances on the CBC TV series The Border (2008) and Being Erica (2009), Drake began to focus primarily on his music career.
So Far Gone (2009) and Thank Me Later (2010)
Through his connection to Jas Prince, the son of Rap-A-Lot founder J. Prince, Drake got his music to rap superstar Lil Wayne, who immediately asked Drake to join his I Am Music tour. Drake’s association with Lil Wayne and his Young Money label helped build anticipation for his third mixtape, So Far Gone (2009). Produced by Drake and “40,” it was distinguished by its introspective rhymes, R&B melodies and Drake’s often sweet singing voice. The song “Best I Ever Had” topped Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop and Hot Rap Songs charts, and reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 chart, becoming an almost inescapable hit single. The success sparked a bidding war for Drake among record labels that resulted in a deal with Aspire/Young Money/Cash Money Records, with distribution through Universal; Drake received a $2-million advance, retained all publishing rights to his songs and agreed to surrender only 25 per cent of sales revenues to the label as a “distribution fee.”
Drake then began to collaborate with a number of high profile R&B and rap artists including Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys and Timbaland. He also appeared on “Forever,” a song featuring Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Eminem. Drake eventually signed a record deal with Young Money/Universal and released an EP retail version of the previously free So Far Gone, which earned him Juno Awards for Rap Recording and New Artist of the Year.
His debut LP, Thank Me Later (2010), was preceded by the single “Over” and featured all-star collaborations with the likes of Jay Z, Timbaland, Kanye West and Lil Wayne. Described by Pitchfork's Ryan Dombal as, “mood music inspired by rap and R&B in equal measure,” Thank Me Later sold 447,000 copies in the US in its first week of release. It was certified platinum in Canada and double platinum in the US.
Take Care (2011)
In 2011, Drake was nominated for six Juno Awards but did not win any, despite hosting the ceremony. His follow-up release, Take Care (2011), sold 631,000 copies in its first week of release and went on to be certified double platinum in both Canada and the US. Take Care featured Drake further developing the atmospheric sound of his music with producer Noah “40” Shebib and featured collaborations with Rihanna, Lil Wayne and Toronto R&B singer The Weeknd, whose career Drake helped launch through social media.
The album received a Juno and a Grammy Award, and the single “The Motto” helped to popularize the term “YOLO” (You Only Live Once). In its review of the album, the New York Times called Drake “hip-hop’s current center of gravity.” Allmusic’s Tim Sendra wrote that Take Care is characterized by “murky beats, layers of dusky synths, and moody guitars that fit Drake’s voice perfectly,” and which “work together to create a thick mood of melancholy.” Referencing the album’s sensitive, reflective nature, Sendra also called Drake “the first emo rapper.”
After the release of Take Care, Drake continued to appear on prominent hip-hop singles by other high-profile artists in 2012 including “F--kin Problems” by A$AP Rocky and “Poetic Justice” by Kendrick Lamar. Also that year, he and “40” co-founded the record label October’s Very Own (OVO), named for Drake’s October birthday; and he returned to acting with a voice role in Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012).
Nothing Was the Same (2013)
In February 2013, Drake released "Started From the Bottom," the lead single from his third album, Nothing Was the Same (2013). The song peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and was nominated for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song at the 2014 Grammy Awards. "Started From the Bottom" has been certified a platinum digital download in Canada and double platinum in the US. Released in August, the album's second single, "Hold On, We're Going Home,” peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard's Hot 100 and was named the best song of 2013 by Pitchfork. “Hold On, We’re Going Home" has been certified platinum in Canada and triple platinum in the US.
Nothing Was the Same was released on 20 September 2013 and sold 658,000 copies in its first week. Like Drake’s previous two albums, Nothing Was the Same debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart. The album features collaborations with Majid Jordan ("Hold On, We're Going Home”) and Jay Z ("Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2”). The bonus track, "All Me,” included on the album's deluxe edition, features 2 Chainz and Big Sean.
Nothing Was the Same drew positive reviews from critics, with many praising Drake's confidence and anthemic writing style. Speaking of the album, Allmusic’s Tim Sendra observed that “Drakehas become a star while making records that are mostly joyless and twisted up by emotions,” while also noting that “there aren't many other rappers who do gloom as well as Drake and that's something worth supporting, if only because it's something different than the hip-hop norm in 2013.”
In 2014, Nothing Was the Same was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, and was nominated for Album of the Year and Rap Recording of the Year at the Juno Awards, winning the latter. It was also nominated for Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards. In January 2014, Drake hosted Saturday Night Live and was the musical guest. Since its release, Nothing Was the Same has gone platinum in Canada and triple platinum in the US.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (2015)
Without any prior promotion, Drake released his fourth album, If You're Reading This It's Too Late, on 13 February 2015. Originally planned as a free mixtape, the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and was streamed on Spotify over 17.3 million times in the first three days, breaking the site’s first-week streaming record. In 2015, the album was nominated for a BET Hip Hop Award for Album of the Year and a Billboard Music Awards for Top Rap Album. Named the third best album of the year by Rolling Stone, If You're Reading This It's Too Late was nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. Ithas since been certified platinum in Canada and double platinum in the US.
In July 2014, OVO Sounds announced the title of what was planned to be Drake's fourth album, Views From the 6. A nickname for Toronto coined by rapper Jimmy Prime, “the 6” (sometimes written as “the 6ix” or “the Six”) is considered to be a reference to the number six that appears in Toronto's downtown area codes (416 and 647), and to the six municipalities of Toronto before their amalgamation in 1998. Soon after the album's announcement, “the 6” became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter and quickly became a popular nickname for Toronto. Throughout If You're Reading This It's Too Late, Drake refers to Toronto as “the 6” including in the tracks "6 God," "6 Man," "You & the 6," and perhaps most famously, in “Know Yourself,” which includes the line: “Runnin’ through the 6 with my woes.”
“Hotline Bling” (2015)
On 31 July 2015, Drake released "Hotline Bling,” an R&B slow jam which features him singing over a sample of Timmy Thomas’s 1972 song, “Why Can’t We Live Together.” The video for “Hotline Bling,” directed by Toronto's Director X and financed by Apple, features Drake dancing by himself and with female dancers in front of a colourfully lit background. Borrowing heavily from the installation work of American artist James Turrell, the video gained attention for its striking set design and lighting. It quickly went viral, inspiring numerous parodies and memes, most of which make fun of Drake's dance moves.
Following the video's release, "Hotline Bling" reached No. 2 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart and remained in the Top 10 for 19 weeks. It was certified a platinum digital download in Canada and became Drake’s highest-charting solo single in Canada and the UK, reaching No. 3 on the pop charts in both countries. The Village Voice, Billboard and Rolling Stone named “Hotline Bling” the first, second and third best song of 2015, respectively.
Though generally very well-reviewed, "Hotline Bling" was also criticized for what many saw as an underlying sexist attitude, with some claiming that Drake slut-shames the song’s central female character. Bullett’s Allyson Shiffman, for example, called the song “degrading” and a “sexist anthem,” while the Guardian’s Tony Naylor called it “a pile of dreary sexist horses—t.”
What a Time to be Alive (2015) and VIEWS (2016)
Drake and rapper Future released a collaborative mixtape entitled What a Time to be Alive in September 2015. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and has been certified platinum in the US.
Drake's long-awaited fourth studio album, originally announced as Views from the 6, was released on 29 April 2016 under the revised title VIEWS. It received mixed reviews from critics but sold more than 600,000 copies in its first 24 hours of availability. A promotional single, "Summer Sixteen," was released in January 2016 and debuted No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hop-Hop Songs chart. One of the album’s singles, “One Dance,” proved to be one of Drake’s biggest hits, becoming his first song as a lead artist to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. VIEWS also went on to top the Billboard 200 album chart for seven straight weeks.
In between the release of Take Care and Nothing Was the Same, Drake collaborated with such artists as Rihanna, DJ Khaled and Young Money label-mate Nicki Minaj, among many others. This helped Drake break the record for the most No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot Rap Songs chart with 11 in February 2012. He also broke Jay Z’s record for the most No. 1 singles on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart when he achieved his 10th in August 2012.
In February 2015, Drake became the first rapper to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 100 Artists Chart with the release of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. He then had 14 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 in the chart week of 7 March 2015, tying a record set by the Beatles for the most simultaneous Hot 100 hits. Drake tied his own record by appearing with 14 hits in the chart week of 17 October 2015. (The record was later broken by Justin Bieber, who had 17 songs on the chart in the week of 23 November 2015.)
Also that fall, Drake notched his 100th hit on the Billboard Hot 100, ranking him fourth all-time, behind Elvis Presley at No. 3 and ahead of James Brown at No. 5. In the chart week ending 10 October 2015, Drake, Bieber and The Weeknd occupied the top four positions on the Billboard Hot 100, marking the first time in history Canadians held the top four spots.
Drake has an ongoing, very public feud with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill. In July 2015, Mill, via Twitter, accused Drake of not writing his own raps. In response, Drake released two new songs that month, “Charged Up" and "Back To Back," the lyrics of which address Mill's accusation. "Summer Sixteen” is another track that is said to be directed at Mill. Fifteen minutes after the release of "Summer Sixteen," Mill released his own diss track called "War Pain."
Along with Mill, Drake is rumoured to be involved in feuds with Tyga, Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar and Common. In 2012, Drake and hip-hop artist Chris Brown were allegedly involved in a physical altercation in a Manhattan nightclub. Also that year, rapper DMX stated publicly that he didn't like Drake and found it disrespectful that he sampled vocals from Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in 2001.
In 2012, Drake was sued by his supposed ex-girlfriend, singer Ericka Lee, over her contributions to his song “Marvin's Room.” It was reported that she was looking for credit as a co-writer as well as compensation for the use of her voice, which she claimed Drake used without her permission. The matter was settled out of court.
In 2014, Drake was sued for $300,000 by the estate of jazz singer Jimmy Smith. Drake was accused of not obtaining the proper license to sample Smith's 1982 song, "Jimmy Smith Rap," as heard on Drake's track "Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2." Also that year, rapper Rappin' 4-Tay alleged that lyrics from his 1994 song "Playaz Club" were copied by Drake in his collaboration with YG on the track "Who Do You Love." Drake's label settled the claim for $100,000.
Drake has also been labeled a misogynist due to what many see as the sexist representation of women in his songs. In 2015, the Toronto Star characterized Drake, along with Bieber and The Weeknd, as a "sensitive misogynist,” noting that they “have managed to glaze over the general sexism of their oeuvres with a veneer of regretful, tormented sensitivity.”
Toronto Raptors Ambassador
In September 2013, Drake was named a global ambassador for the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Toronto Raptors.He was subsequently involved with the rebranding of the team, including the adoption of the “We the North” marketing campaign, as well as a new logo and uniform design. During the 2013–14 season, the Raptors began hosting Drake Nights where attendees receive limited edition Drake and OVO merchandise. Drake also helped to promote and host the 2016 NBA All-Star Game, and served as the coach of Team Canada in the All-Star Celebrity Game. During the NBA All-Star Game weekend, Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, presented Drake with a key to the city.
Throughout his career, Drake has been vocal about his love for Canada and his allegiance to Toronto. He has a tattoo of the CN Tower on one of his biceps, and another of Toronto’s “416” telephone area code on his right torso. He filmed part of the video for Take Care’s first single, “Headlines,” inside the CN Tower’s high-speed elevator and the adjoining Rogers Centre — two of Toronto’s most visible landmarks and tourist attractions. The video for “Started from the Bottom” opens with children playing over top of a City of Toronto logo and features Drake working as a clerk at a Shoppers Drug Mart, while the album cover of VIEWS features a picture of Drake sitting atop the CN Tower, which the New Yorker’s Hua Hsu described as “an apt, if melodramatic, image of loneliness at the top.”
Since 2010, Drake has held an annual OVO Fest concert in Toronto at the Molson Amphitheatre on the August long weekend, timed to coincide with Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival Parade (formerly Caribana). The concert has built a reputation for surprise guest appearances, including such superstars as Eminem, Jay Z, Stevie Wonder and Sean “Diddy” Combs.
- Rap Recording of the Year (So Far Gone) (2010)
- New Artist of the Year (2010)
- Rap Recording of the Year (Take Care) (2012)
- Video of the Year (“HYFR”) (2013)
- Rap Recording of the Year (Nothing Was the Same) (2014)
- Best Rap Album (Take Care) (2012)
- Best Rap Song (Hotline Bling) (2017)
- Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (Hotline Bling) (2017)
MTV Video Music Awards
- Best Hip Hop Video (“HYFR”) (2012)
- Best Hip Hop Video (“Hold On, We're Going Home") (2014)
- Allan Slaight Award for Achievement by a Young Canada, Canada’s Walk of Fame Awards (2011)
- Global Inspiration Award, SOCAN Awards (2014)