Degrassi Writer Says Drake Threatened Legal Action When His Character Ended Up In A Wheelchair
Before Drake was Drake, the biggest rap star in the world, he was Aubrey Graham, the guy who played basketball star Jimmy Brooks on the Canadian teen soap Degrassi: The Next Generation. Jimmy ended up spending several seasons confined to a wheelchair after being paralyzed in a school shooting, and Drake’s performance as “Wheelchair Jimmy” became a meme that haunted Drake throughout his early rap career. In the A.V. Club‘s new oral history celebrating Degrassi‘s 20th anniversary, writer James Hurst reveals that Drake actually almost quit the show over the whole wheelchair storyline:
There was a letter from a law firm in Toronto, and it was from Aubrey. It was an odd letter that said, “Aubrey Graham will not return to Degrassi season six as Jimmy Brooks unless his injury is healed, and he’s out of the wheelchair.” I said, “Get him down here.” He came in and was like, “What letter? I don’t know about that.” And I said, “All right, I understand. But how do you feel about the wheelchair?” He’s like, “All my friends in the rap game say I’m soft because I’m in a wheelchair.” And I said, “Well, tell your friends in the rap game that you got shot. How much harder can you get? You got shot, and you’re in a wheelchair.” He was like, “Yeah, yeah.” He was so nice and apologetic about everything. He instantly backed down. I was very passionate about it, and I said, “Aubrey, there’s some kid somewhere in a wheelchair, who’s completely ignored, who’s never on television, never gets represented.” I need you to represent this person. You’re the coolest kid on the show, and you can say there’s nothing wrong with being in a wheelchair.”
Being soft wasn’t the only issue that Drake had with the wheelchair, though. “I think [Aubrey] struggled, just physically with having to all of a sudden do everything confined to a chair,” recalls actress Lauren Collins, who played Paige on Degrassi: The Next Generation. “That was really hard for him. I definitely have a few memories of him toppling the chair over and falling off of makeshift ramps that they’d constructed for him.”
Obviously, Drake’s child actor origins didn’t end up hampering his rap career in the slightest. And after spending years trying to escape his Wheelchair Jimmy image, Drake eventually gave in and embraced his roots, reuniting most of the Degrassi cast for his “I’m Upset” music video in 2018.