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Drake takes cautious approach to stardom

November 8, 2011 |  5:01 am

The singer is taking an unusually low-key approach to promoting his new album, ‘Take Care,’ whose title might also describe his personal philosophy.

Drake

Drake could have employed a surefire strategy of platinum producers, staggered singles and aggressive promotion to help ensure that his new album, “Take Care,” would avoid the sophomore slump. Given the pomp and hype the 25-year-old has amassed over his abbreviated career, such an assault was certainly expected. Instead, the Canadian rapper-singer has taken a decidedly low-key approach to rolling out his new disc.

He recorded “Take Care” largely in his own home studio in Toronto instead of New York or L.A., offered no advance listens and restricted both his live performances and press — something only rap veterans such as Jay-Z and Kanye West can pull off these days. No matter how popular rap’s newest star may be, the move is risky.

“I feel like the generation that’s digesting music right now, they are so easily swayed by opinion that’s put forth prior to hearing the music. I just want the world to have their own experience with it simultaneously, rather than being led in a direction,” he said from a booth in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “It’s sort of a silly thing because you miss out on a lot of press opportunities that way.

“But my music has never been about that,” he continued, driving the point. “It’s never been about the listening party that everybody came to. My music has always belonged to the people.”

And clearly, it still does: The album leaked Monday, a week ahead of its scheduled Nov. 15 release, and instantly became a trending topic on Twitter.

Born Aubrey Drake Graham, the artist saw his rise to rap royalty happen almost overnight. The product of a major-label bidding war following the success of his self-distributed mix tape, 2009’s “So Far Gone” — which yielded hits “Best I Ever Had” and “Successful” — he was already on a nationwide headlining tour before his debut, “Thank Me Later,” dropped. The disc opened to critical acclaim and a cushy No. 1 spot last year after selling 447,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Yet as an artist operating in a fickle genre that depends largely on street credibility, Graham hardly looked like a sure bet. First off, he’s from Canada, just like Justin Bieber, and the country is hardly known for producing great MCs. He was also raised in a middle-class neighborhood practicing the Jewish faith, has never been arrested and before his music career was known as Jimmy Brooks, a soft-spoken character from the teen drama “DeGrassi: The Next Generation.”

Even a co-sign from Lil Wayne, who inked Drizzy to his budding Young Money empire through Cash Money Records/Universal Motown, didn’t look like it would add cred, as the label head was in prison when Graham launched in 2010.

With a host of Grammy nods, top 10 hits, guest verses, writing credits and an in-demand touring schedule, the unlikely artist unquestionably delivered.

When pressed on his new, less-than-aggressive approach and how it might be detrimental to sales, he quickly asserted it had everything to do with pleasing himself and not others — something he revealed he didn’t do with his debut album.

“To be 100% honest … I wasn’t necessarily happy with ‘Thank Me Later.’ People loved it [but] I just knew what I was capable of with a little more time,” he said. “I’m very confident in ‘Take Care.’ I definitely made the exact album that I wanted. Will it appear that way to the world? I’m not sure, because its definitely different. It’s not 15 ‘I’m On Ones.’ It’s not ‘She Will.’ I’m very happy with this album. More so than I’ve ever been with a project.”

On “Take Care,” he skipped tapping names like Timbaland, Kanye West and Swizz Beatz — they all contributed tracks to his first disc — and opted to solely rely on his in-house crew of Noah “40” Shebib, Tone Mason and Boi-1da.

He did pull in a host of guest appearances from Weezy, Rihanna, labelmate Nicki Minaj, Andre 3000, Rick Ross, Stevie Wonder and up-and-comers the Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar on the disc. Still, Graham doesn’t stray from the melancholy R&B melodies and the swaggering-then-sensitive lyrics he’s known for.

“This album has consistency. You will not hear a piece of music that does not belong,” he said, pointing out that he recorded the disc as one continual track. “The words were really important to me. When you get a young artist and they are on the rise, often the music becomes not what they have going on in their lives or surrounding things, but it starts to lose substance. You can always be like, ‘Man I’m the …’ but I think you have to thread some life in there so there’s something that will last.”

Despite the last 18 months of constant praise, Graham lacks the ego of a platinum-selling rapper, and his charming, boyish humbleness often leads to numerous apologetic moments in the interview.

During his first interview with The Times a little more than a year ago he plainly said, “I don’t feel like I'm a great rapper right now.… I just want to be better, man,” and he flinches with unease when the quote is read back to him. He doesn’t mention the contradictions of the boastfulness he displays on tracks such as “Underground Kings,” and first single “Headlines,” but admits he places a great deal of weight on his shoulders to live up to the hype he created.

“I do put an immense amount of pressure on myself, I don’t sleep much. I think about everything and everyone in my life and trying to make everyone happy. My best friend tells me that I care too much, that I want everyone to like me,” he said with his head lowered. “Not everyone’s gonna like you, but I just want to be remembered as a man that somebody wants to be.”

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-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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