The Canadian hip-hop artist (‘Best I Ever Had’) has built a huge following with a gift for melodies, powerful allies and savvy management.
By any modern measure of musical popularity -- YouTube views, radio airplay,
ring-tone ubiquity -- the single "Best I Ever Had" by Toronto rapper Drake is
not only a hit, it's arguably 2009's "Song of the Summer." Since debuting on
iTunes last month, the hip-hop lust track has sold 600,000 digital downloads and
topped three separate pop charts. Even if you can't summon to mind its rap-sung
vocals or brassy syncopated beat, you've probably heard "Best I Ever Had"
blaring out of a convertible somewhere.
Less than a year ago, Drake was
basically a zero in the music world, unsigned and virtually unknown as a
rhyme-sayer. But thanks to some out-of-the-box branding efforts by several of
the best-connected marketing executives in the urban world and the institutional
backing of his mentor, rap
superstar Lil Wayne, Drake landed two songs in the Top 10 this month -- "Best I Ever Had" as a solo
artist and "Every
Girl" as part of the rap group Young Money. He had already amassed a devoted
fan base before he'd even landed a record deal.
Every Song of Summer has
a saga behind it. And Drake's breakthrough arrives as a happy accident built on
plenty of high-level networking, a label bidding war and an astonishing degree
of cooperation among rap world big shots. Chief among them, Drake's career
overseers: the heads of the New York management firm Hip Hop Since 1978 and
Cortez Bryant, Lil Wayne's longtime manager.
"They have given me one of
the greatest situations in hip-hop," Drake, 22, said of his team.
the unusually lucrative agreement he struck with Aspire/Young Money/Cash Money
Records distributed through Universal, Drake received a $2-million advance. He
retains the publishing rights to his songs and cedes only around 25% of his
music sales revenues to the label as a "distribution fee," his managers said. By
contrast, the overwhelming majority of new artists sign financially restrictive
"360 deals" that sap their touring and merchandise income and offer much more
A dissection of how the rapper was able to
drive such a hard bargain underscores an evolution in the music industry. At a
time when CD sales have declined by 15% over last summer's numbers and major
labels remain more fixated on scoring hit singles than sustaining artist
rosters, managers such as those working with Drake have stepped into the void to
become king-makers in urban music.
"The record company doesn't have any
ownership of Drake," Bryant said. "The label does not have participation on
profits. They don't have ownership of his masters. We control his entire career.
Those deals don't happen anymore."