Pop & Hiss

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Drake's prison correspondence school of rap

June 24, 2010 |  8:10 am

Drake

Surprising precisely no one, Canadian rapper Drake topped the Billboard album chart Wednesday, selling 447,000 copies of his debut album, “Thank Me Later” – the year’s most heavily hyped hip-hop release – in its first week.

As is well known, the 23-year-old Toronto native has some heavyweight institutional backing: His mentor and Young Money label boss is rap rainmaker Lil Wayne, and Kanye West serves as Drake’s frequent cornerman (the producer-rapper-Auto Tune over-achiever produced two songs on “Thank Me Later” and raps on Drake’s hit single, “Forever”). Others co-signing for the validity of hip-hop’s undisputed Young Lion include Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Young Jeezy and Jamie Foxx. Never mind that Drake started off as a teen TV star on the Canadian high school drama “DeGrassi: The Next Generation” before reinventing himself as a rap star.

If there is a knock against Drake, however, it’s primarily that he was born on third base and has gone through life feeling like he hit a triple (as the old aphorism goes).

With that in mind, P&H would like to shed light on a little-known factoid about the artist alternately known as Drizzy Drake: As a young teen, he refined his rap skills with the help of a hip-hop elder with unimpeachable street cred -- dude happened to be behind bars, serving a prison sentence at the time he was hollering at Drake.

"My dad went to jail for, like, a year on – I don’t even know what he was in jail for – an assault charge or a drug charge or something," Drake recalled in an interview with The Times last month. "When he was in there, he had a cellmate who used to rap, but he had nobody to talk to. I was probably 14; the guy was probably 21. My dad was like, 'My son likes to rap so I’ma let you rap for him. I’ma share my phone time with you. I’m going to pass you the phone and here’s my cellmate. Say what’s up to him."

He continued: "The guy’s name was Poverty. He’d be like, 'Let me spit something at you. I was like, 'Whoah!' And he’d spit something. 'Alright, talk to you tomorrow.'"

Poverty coaxed Drake out of his shell and provided a de facto school of rap – even if the young MC eventually lost track of his hip-hop Yoda.

"Next day, my dad would call me. So I’d pick up and he’d pass the phone and the guy rapped again," said Drake. "I had been writing raps but never rapped for anybody. I was like, 'I’ma get my little rhyme book together tomorrow.' And we’d go back and forth.

"Eventually, my dad got out of jail. And I don’t know what happened to that dude."

-- Chris Lee

Photo: Drake. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times


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