Drake talks criticism, singing, sweaters and doing things his way
When Drake sat down with The Times last week for a feature, most of the discussion was about his unusually low-key approach to promoting his new album, "Take Care," which hit retail on Tuesday.
But the 25-year-old Canadian rapper-singer also discussed a lot of other things, including the criticism of his singing and fashion choices (he doesn’t care that you hate his sweaters), striving for consistency on the new record and doing things his way.
Here is a further snapshot from an evening spent with Drizzy at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The story of the album is, I had a song on “So Far Gone” called “Houstatlantavegas.” It was how I viewed America living in Canada. I would be able to watch this magical world from behind this glass window, and I still feel that way. When I go home, there’s no MediaTakeOut, there’s no paparazzi, there’s none of that. It’s a safe zone for me, Canada. “Houstatlantavegas” was the first time I ever went to Magic City in Atlanta and I’m looking at these women, and all this money, and ice and bottles. My eyes were so wide. I was just this kid observing. Fast-forward three years later, and I’m a king in that world. I can go anywhere. It's all eyes on us. That’s the story of the album.
The first cover had the boy reaching up for the money and the heart because that’s something that I’ve always wanted in my life: money and love. “Thank Me Later” had the boy with the angel wings taking flight. I didn’t put a boy on this album cover because the boy is me, and it’s sort of a young, conflicted king in that world. That’s why there’s all the gold. That’s a surreal feeling. Going from that eager Toronto kid to now. It’s a very reflective album. Not to sound weird or depressed, but to have my own moments I’ll go up the street to my house and have dinner at this italian restaurant by myself. Have some wine and think, and sort of slow it down. I’m starting to value my alone time and finding peace at being alone. That’s what the cover represents.
Things moved pretty fast for you last year; outside of the occassional quiet time, have you had the time to absorb everything going on in front of you?
It was interesting for me because I'm trying to adapt to these things as they’re happening and going on around me. The shows are getting bigger; we’re booking more and more shows; it’s more of a demand. I think there was more just slowing everything down and getting a grasp of "look, we’re here, this … does not last forever, let's do what we know how to do with our brand and let's do it every way we want to do it.”
It’s hard to stop and slow down and really document all the things that are happening to you. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is start paying attention to details and writing them down, and start talking to kids about what I’ve gone through, since I dropped out of high school and wanted to become a rapper -- and why it's worked for me and why it hasn’t worked for other people.
You’ve been given a fair share of criticism for your lyrics being too emotional or sensitive and for switiching between rhymes and singing. Does that bother you?
I think the thing that boggles my mind the most is when people shun me or sort of nitpick at me for utilizing melody like singing. Making actual songs, and musical pieces. And they are like, “Aw, man, that’s so soft, that … is so wack, just rap, that’s all you need to do.” That’s when I truly feel, I don’t know if misunderstood is the right word, but I just don’t get it. The greatest musicians have used melody to connect with the world and I just don’t know if it frustrates people because I do both or there’s some men out there that hear R&B and start feeling weird inside and don’t wanna accept it, so they start using stupid words like “you’re gay” for doing that. I just have different ways of expressing myself.
Legends like Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Al Green, my dad always tells me those were the coolest cats in the world and it was all because it was just that melody and that connection. I don’t understand our generation, where nobody is allowed to really express any real emotion. I think that’s a scary place to be for our youth. I know there’s always going to be close-minded people. But I think I make it so accessible. It's not tear your shirt off in the rain R&B. It’s got a purpose.
Whatever the situation, you're always candid. Working on “Degrassi,” the Rihanna situation, addressing rumors. Any hesitation to be so revealing in interviews?
I’m so open, I’ve got nothing to hide. That’s my favorite thing about being me … I don’t wake up in the morning and say, “Man, this is going to come out today,” or this is going to come out in a year and I’m going to be done. When they ask me questions about any situation I’ve been in I always answer it up front. And, yeah, I catch flack for it sometimes because I put my emotions out there. But I’m not lying to you, at least. Maybe it's just time. I feel like time will reveal just how I sacrificed to be this artist, as far as my honesty goes. I’ve definitely created many awkward moments for myself by being that open in my music.
I have this line on [“Lord Knows”] where I say, “They take the greats from the past and compare us. I wonder if they’d ever survive in this era, in a time when its recreation to pull all of your skeletons out of the closet like Halloween decorations.” To me, that’s real ... You wake up and it’s like true or false, it doesn’t really matter because people make up [things] about me all the time. If it’s a clean day, and there are no stories I’m happy.
Blogs have found a new thing to poke fun at: your fashion sense. You made light of it on a recent “SNL” sketch, but did you think you’d get so much flack about sweaters?
It’s such a reach to try and find something. So its like "He wears too many sweaters." I laugh at it because it's like "OK, let that be my worst problem." I don’t have a record, I’m not doing any wild … on TMZ. Yeah, I wear a lot of sweaters. I love sweaters. Fair enough. I’ll be the guy that wears great sweaters. Thank God it wasn’t me passed out in a hotel from an overdose. I’m proud of who I am and if sweaters are my focal point, let that be my worst.
Finding the consistency for “Take Care” that you felt lacked on “Thank Me Later” meant relying largely on your own crew. Did the label want you to go after big-name producers?
Every time you do an album, a part of you goes, "I’ve gotta get everybody on this. I gotta get this beat from this person, I’ve gotta get six beats from 'Ye." To me, I have the best producers around me, period. So, it’s hard for me to go out and extend my hand to someone and say, "I need you," when I can probably just do something better over here. Last album, I failed to realize that. It made for some great songs. But the strongest songs came from Boi-1da, [Noah “40” Shebib]. I had Timbaland on “Thank Me Later” [he produced the title track], but it wasn’t a single. Nobody really talked about that joint. That’s why I picked that beat, because it wasn’t a blatent attempt. The Kanye joints ["Find Your Love," "Show Me a Good Time"] were big. This album, I wanted to see what it sounds like if we did it with just us.
Earlier, when we discussed “Marvin’s Room,” you called the record "timeless" because of how well it was written. You then immediately apologized for your use of the word. Do you feel like it's not your place to praise yourself?
I never would. That’s not even my character to sit here and tell you that’s a classic written song. As soon as I said it, I felt myself say, “Why did I say that?” That’s not my place to say that. It’s your place to say that if you feel that way. But I should never say that. The only way I speak is through my work. I don’t ever want to comment on it or say what I think about this or that. I know when I’ve done great work. I know when I’ve done not so great work. I'm not completely out of touch. But, it’s hard for me to compliment myself because I always want to do something better.
People use words so loosely, it’s hard to gauge where you’re at. Words like “classic” or “legendary.” I hate when people say that. It’s not two years, it doesn’t happen that way. It’s standing the test of time, transcending generations. There needs to be a whole new cycle of kids that want to go back and reference what I did. That’s when classic happens.
The album was originally scheduled for release on your birthday, but you pushed it back to clear a handful of samples. You seem to be in a position where you have a great deal of say. What type of conversations do you have with the label?
I don’t really ask much these days. [The day of the interview], when I woke up and I was sick, I can’t call and ask to not do press. I’ve gotta tell you, "No, this is a bad day for me." That’s one thing in my character. I’m apologetic. I don’t strike fear in many hearts because I don’t like confrontation. People often feel they can just tell me. It’s never a fight, and I’m not trying to sound macho like they can’t tell me ... They just respect my decision. I could’ve pushed [the album] again if I wanted to.
A lot of artists would probably kill to have the label take a backseat. How did you manage to get that type of clout so early on?
I really don’t want to wait in line. I don’t need anybody except for Wayne. I don’t need studio time from them, I don’t need an engineer, I don’t need beats, I don’t need hits. I just need “40.” I didn’t wait to get approval for management. From that moment I sat myself up as an artist that’s going to do his own thing. I got a No. 1 record of a mixtape. I went on tour off of a mixtape.
Is there anyone you’re hoping to collaborate with that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
Justin Timberlake. That guy is one of the most talented people. “Justified” [Timberlake’s 2002 solo debut] still to this day is one of the best albums I’ve ever witnessed come out during my 25 years of existence. I tried to get him on this album, but he’s on his movie grind right now. He gave me his word that one day we’ll do something special. I’d love to do like a project with him, like six songs or something. That would be crazy.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photos: Drake photographed inside the Nineteen 12 bar at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills on Nov. 2. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times