This is Drake’s year. Descending on the U.S. from Toronto, the singer-rapper offers more than stellar mixtapes: He just might be the poster boy for the changing face of the music business.
Aubrey Drake Graham, 22, is the son of a drummer, Dennis; one of his uncles, Larry, is the founder of Graham Central Station. In 2001, Aubrey began starring on the teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation, massively popular in Canada.
In 2006, Aubrey became Drake. He released a mixtape, Room for Improvement, through MySpace, and then another, Comeback Season, in 2007. Lil Wayne joined him on a remix and suddenly, Drake was on BET, an unusual coup for a Canadian rapper. Heartbreak Drake, a third download, followed in 2008. Wayne had become his mentor, and Drake was working with titans including Mary J. Blige and Jamie Foxx. In 2009, he broke out with So Far So Gone.
“Best I Ever Had,” a song from the mixtape, became the unofficial anthem of summer, hitting #1 on the Hot Rap Tracks and # 3 on the Hot 100—all in spite of the fact that Drake was still shopping deals. Drake’s profile was so high that in June, a company released an unauthorized bootleg album of his songs, The Girls Love Drake, on iTunes. Had it not been removed, it would have debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Heatseekers tally.
After what has been called “one of the biggest bidding wars ever,” Drake struck a deal with Aspire/Young Money/Cash Money Records through Universal in July. His anticipated label debut, prophetically dubbed Thank Me Later, is slated for release in February 2010.
His suave, tailored image, neck-breaking swagger and infectious songs combine to create a formidable dynamic, which may also embody the future of a music industry looking for superstars who can cross genres and media. With appeal that couldn’t be broader and expectations that couldn’t be higher, Drake just grins and rhymes, coolly promising and delivering the next big thing.