When his debut, Thank Me Later, dropped earlier this year, the release marked a culmination of Drake’s hype: his tutelage under Lil Wayne, his three mixtapes (most notably, So Far Gone), his gossip-worthy personal life (from allegedly dating Rihanna to bromancing Lebron James). Thank Me Later received generally positive reviews from critics and a stamp of approval from fans, moving nearly half a million copies its first week of release.
But what actually makes Drake so accessible is that, on paper, he’s not all that different from his average fan. The guy is Canadian. He writes songs about his suburban existence. His nom de rap—one of those first-name-that-can-be-a-last-name monikers—lacks any outrageousness or grammatically challenged swagger. And his history as a child actor on Degrassi: The Next Generation—where he played an exceedingly nice guy in a wheelchair—only played into how, with warm eyes and a humble smile, he looks like the type of boy you can take home to mom. Even his nickame, Drizzy, is sorta cute.
Of course, the irony of Drake being shepherded into stardom by Lil Wayne is that he could not be more far removed, persona-wise, from Weezy. (Maybe Wayne, whose Young Money/Cash Money Records signed Drake, saw fiscal virtue in this?) For instance, where Wayne has been busted on drug charges—subsequently doing time in the slammer, which only helped his career—Drake, robbed at gunpoint in 2009 in Toronto, was getting flack from the hip-hop community for cooperating with police in the ensuing investigation.
It’s curious that Drake took heat for this considering he’s earnest enough to not drum-up beefs or affect violence in his lyrics, with his most famous rhymes typically addressing past romances. (“I'm more than just an option/Refuse to be forgotten/I took a chance with my heart/And I feel it taking over,” he sings on his single “Find Your Love.”) If mainstream audiences are attracted to the outlandish exploits of other rappers as a safe entrée into a glamorized hard-knock life, perhaps Drake’s role—his brand, if you will—is to be the rapper to whom they can actually relate.
For being different by default, the rapper has been rewarded with a lucrative record deal rare for any emergent artist. According to the Los Angeles Times, he got a $2 million advance, can hang onto his publishing rights (handy when you consider how license-able his music is), and forks over a mere fourth of record-sales money to his label. Cash Money, indeed: The label doesn’t own his masters or lay claim to his touring profits.
His appeal, however, is not for lack of talent. Drake has steadily built a following by been relatively safe without being benign, and has managed to cultivate an appreciation among the rap cognescenti. Drake is rare in that he can both rap smartly and legitimately sing, starting with his breakout single “Best I Ever Had.” Since then, he’s worked with Kanye West, Timbaland, and No I.D. And more recently, it was quite telling that Lil Wayne chose to make his much-anticipated post-prison return to the stage at his protégé’s final tour date in Vegas. And what better way to celebrate Drake’s success than to see him pay it forward to his own mentor?