Stereogum Q&A: Drake
Alongside chief collaborator Noah ‘40’ Shebib, the just-leaked Take Care represents the culmination of everything Drake has done to this point, a career that already spans dozens of hits and a stranglehold on influential radio stations like Hot 97. Though the Twitter hordes keep stacking Take Care up against Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch The Throne, itself already a contemporary monument to rap world spoils and sufferings, Take Care’s more immediate comparison is West’s 2010 opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Both records are expansive and, in a sense, experimental; both artists create a sonic world that showcases their strength and make manifest their artistic headspaces. Both albums feature top-notch guest spots, whether it’s a goosebump-inducing intro to Nicki Minaj on Kanye’s “Monster” or a brilliant appearance from Andre 3000 on Drake’s “The Real Her.” Both records, interestingly, feature work by the late Gil Scott-Heron and by nature make use of obscure, but invaluable samples (Chase N Cache’s use of a Static Major rehearsal video for “Look What You’ve Done” sticking out most prominently, as well as 40’s work in general). And, like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Take Care is quite possibly the best record of the year.
A few days ago I met Drake in the dining room of a high-end luxury hotel in Midtown. The Drake you know from “I’m On One” and “Best I Ever Had” is the same Drake who’s badgering his manager for a Blackberry battery; like West, Drake is the openest of open books. Drake smiles, touches your arm when he talks to you, waits a beat to answer your question, accentuates phrases with his hands, perpetually mugging. He’s the consummate charmer. As we sometimes do, here Drake is the subject of a Stereogum Q&A.
STEREOGUM: Tell me about Take Care, what you’re excited about, and what makes it different from the other things you’ve put out. Why did it have to be delayed?
DRAKE: Basically, in the crafting process I made a lot of songs as pieces of the story. Certain pieces that I never intended to be on the actual physical disk that I just wanted you to remember in that moment of time, like “Trust Issues.” As far as the actual disc and the actual album, I think that the thread that runs consistently through that album, it’s very sonically consistent, and I think story-wise, the story is very clear. I told a story on So Far Gone but a lot of people were shocked when I was like, “Yeah, that whole album’s a story.” The first six, seven songs were really a prominent story, but after that it just kind of turned into music. This is like, beginning-to-end story.
Obviously I pushed it back because I was trying to clear three samples. One was a Jon B sample, I sampled Jon B for the song called “Cameras.” The other one, I turned Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up” into an R&B song, me and the Weeknd. That was cool. And the third one was this reggae artist. I sampled his voice for something and I couldn’t find him because he was in Guyana without a phone or something. So I had to locate him. So I had to push it back for that reason.
You said something very interesting. We’re in this generation where it’s like, instant gratification. I need new music! Release something tonight. Oh, I’m gonna make a new mixtape and it’s going to be good, and maybe it’s not great. Or maybe it is great. But I’m not showing my fans that I value my music enough. I put a lot of time into this record.
STEREOGUM: How would you describe the sound of Take Care, the vibe? How come songs like “Trust Issues” and “Club Paradise” didn’t make the record?
DRAKE: It’s like, experimental moments. “Trust Issues” fits on my album, I just have 19 songs on that disc. I literally am like 2 seconds away from 80 minutes. So I didn’t have any more time to put any more records. The biggest thing was I had to put “Marvin’s Room” on there, I needed to immortalize that song as part of this moment. I couldn’t leave it off the disc. People have only heard three songs off the album, which are “Make Me Proud,” “Headlines,” and “Marvin’s Room.”
STEREOGUM: When I was walking over here, a car was totally banging “Make Me Proud.”
DRAKE: That’s like my clear cut song. I don’t have too many of those on this album. I don’t have many “I’m On One”s or “She Will”s. It’s really very reminiscent of So Far Gone but I think the thoughts are more connected.
STEREOGUM: I was just looking through the tracklist…
DRAKE: Out of the titles what do you want to hear most?
STEREOGUM: “Over My Dead Body.”
DRAKE: “Over My Dead Body “is definitely a statement, an opening statement. It has this haunting voice, a woman’s voice on that sample, which is Chantal Kreviazuka, a Canadian singer, and she says, “They’re trying to take this away from me / Over my dead body.” The verses from that, originally I rapped them at a live show. And there’s a YouTube clip of it that some people have seen. You can actually locate those old verses. It’s just a statement, man. It’s saying I’m not going anywhere. You can’t pry it out of my hands right now.
STEREOGUM: Also “Lord Knows.” You and Ross sound great together. [This Q&A took place before we knew about the forthcoming Drake/Ross mixtape. -Ed]
DRAKE: Oh man, thanks. “Lord Knows” is one of my favorite songs. It’s on some real rap shit. I think I rapped like 52 bars on it. It’s great. Just Blaze did the beat. It was so amazing because it was a gospel sample and the gospel group didn’t want to clear the sample, so we had a choir come in and re-sing the sample. The new beat versus the old beat, the new beat is so much better. He did so much with the beat, because he could manipulate the sample — I mean not the sample, we did it all over — he can manipulate the music. With that being said, it ended up being one of my favorite records. It’s on some real rap shit. It’s reminiscent of “Ignorant Shit.”
STEREOGUM: How have you written the songs? I understand you write with Abel Tesfaye (the Weeknd).
DRAKE: The only person I really write with is Abel and that’s mostly for melodical stuff. I usually put the melodies to it, actually, to be honest with you, aside from Abel performed “Shot For Me” a record called “Shot For Me” which Abel wrote and I re-worked. “Crew Love” is a song with the Weeknd and the outro has the Weeknd on it. As far as the raps go, it’s sorta crazy like, I really set out with anger in my heart to prove that I’m not here by accident, I’m not here because of some flow I borrowed from someone else. I’m not here because of one particular flow or one particular moment. There’s nobody that can ever tell me like, Drake is made up of this component and that component. Never. When people thought it was just rap, then I went and wrote like Alicia Keys’ “Unthinkable.” “Best I Ever Had” I never used some other rapper’s flow in it. People try and downplay the amount of different areas that I’ll touch on, so when I wanted to do this album, I’m going to make it a purpose. I’m going to make it a point to not only NOT use any of the flows they’re talking about, but I want to create new things that I know that people will have to work harder to create their own new shit or they’re just going to end up copying me. I say on the album, my manager’s name is Gee Roberson so I say:
Roberson boost the rate up / Time that somebody paid up / A lot of these niggas came up off a style that I made up / But if all I hear is me / Who should I be afraid of?
That’s some real shit.
STEREOGUM: People like to have fun with you on the Internet. Do you worry people aren’t taking you seriously? Like, with the sweaters?
DRAKE: I’ve been asked about that so much. It’s the result of me actually living, I actually do the right thing, man. I actually don’t give these media outlets enough to talk about so it’s like, “Yeah I love sweaters as much as I love pants. And shoes. What the fuck?” It’s something like, I think what really set it off, what really pushed it over the edge was when I wore a Missoni winter sweater at the MTV awards. I could have just worn my black t-shirt but it’s that I went out there and wore a Missoni sweater. That’s what really propelled the sweater joke. But it’s like, I laugh it off cuz it’s like, Thank God. Thank God that’s the worst thing you can talk about about me. I’ll be the guy that wears sweaters. As long as I’m not the guy that threw my fucking career down the drain or some bullshit that TMZ documented. I feel like they’re searching for something. I don’t give them enough bad shit. Even if I do do bad shit, I live in Canada so you never see it.
STEREOGUM: I feel like the Club Paradise tour with you, Kendrick, and ASAP Rocky could set the tone for rap for years to come. Three really exciting voices on that tour…
DRAKE: Wow, man. That’s the thing. There are people like you who are well-versed in who those guys are, but there’s people that will get out there and be like, what the fuck was this? And maybe three years from now they’ll be like, damn, I was there for that moment. It’s like the same time my security guard tells me he was at the show where Jay-Z opened up for somebody and got booed off stage. He remembers that moment, though he says he was pissed, he was pissed that he had to watch this fucking clown get up there and get booed. But it was old. I think he was opening for the Fugees or something. Not to say that any of those guys are gonna get booed, or that it’s going to go poorly. I just think it’ll be one of those moments you can talk about years from now and you’ll be like “Oh I was at that show!” I purposely fought against the powers that be, not that they ever have a choice because my word is final, but I purposely was like we have to go to the colleges with this. I don’t want to do some big arena tour like, let’s go me J. Cole and Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean, cuz that’s what’s going to sell right now, those guys all have albums out. Not to say that I wouldn’t love to tour with any of those people, I’ve toured with Cole before, I’m not saying I don’t respect those guys, but I want to do something like actually music I listen to. Guys that I fuck with, that I feel like people will remember and say, man, I saw those guys at Drake’s show. Now look at them.
And it’s really me giving them a chance to say, I’m bringing you out, do with it what you will. You take it to the moon from here, congratulations, because we’ll be immortalized in this moment. If you fall off, I’m going to keep going. And also it’s kinda the type of thing like, I love both of those guys, two kids, good hearts, good teams around them. ASAP is a really nice guy. Kendrick is really smart. I’m really excited for that tour.
STEREOGUM: Thank Me Later was all about fame, you being tired of fame even early in your career. Is that a theme that persists on Take Care?
DRAKE: I’m definitely not talking about that on this album. Where we’ve evolved, sonically, 40 has evolved in the sense that even when there’s a muted sound or those chords that 40 is so well-known for, some nasty drums. I don’t know where 40 came from with these drums, I don’t know why we weren’t doing it before, but I guess it took us a collection of music like … “Club Paradise” is a great song but I can’t necessarily get on stage and kill a crowd with “Club Paradise.” It’s a lull in the show as opposed to a high point. So all me and 40’s collaborations on this album like really knock and like really move. I’ve embraced the position I’m in. At no point on this album – I said something on Thank Me Later like “I Wish I wasn’t Famous.” That hurt me because I realized months later I don’t feel that way. All my friends are happy. I’m rich. I can do whatever I want. I can go wherever I want. I made opportunities for people. My mother got surgery that she would have never been able to do. Basically, I’m like, fuck it. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere but here. If you don’t feel me, fuck you, take care. That’s basically what It’s about.
STEREOGUM: Do you feel like you’re an ambassador for Toronto? How does living in and being from Toronto show up in your music?
DRAKE: It’s more what you say and stand for, man. Everywhere I go, I’m like, I’m from Toronto. They respect that and love that so much. Obviously with the birth of the Weeknd and from him being there and us being aligned, I think they realize how adamant I am about keeping it strictly Toronto. All my staff is from Toronto, I don’t have any employees from Universal, you know? I didn’t ask anyone to hire anyone for me. It’s all my friends who work for me. It took them some time to learn the positions but I’d rather that than work with somebody that I don’t know or don’t have any connection with. And the city is just on this OVOXO shit so hard. That’s the movement!
STEREOGUM: Yeah, I remember watching that video of Abel playing in that high school gymnasium or whatever.
DRAKE: That’s the thing about Abel. Sure, he has his moments like, moonwalking in people’s apartments and shit. But he’s just down. He’s so gifted that even when he was performing in that gym, you listen to it and you’re like how did no one in that gym say, who is this kid? He sounded like Michael Jackson. He sounds like Sade. Why did no one call someone else? That’s where Oliver [El-Khatib, one of Drake’s closest friends] comes in. If it weren’t for Oliver I would never know about that kid.
STEREOGUM: You’ve displayed a good ear for indie rock on stuff like So Far Gone, at least indie rock tracks that you could fit a verse onto. A lot of people, for the sake of expanding their audience, overreach there and it sounds really tacky.
DRAKE: Me and Oliver always keep our ear out for like sounds and loops, samples. For me, I was looking for producers that weren’t on the, “Here’s my album, here’s the producer list” so let me call Kanye, Timbaland. I feel like that’s what everyone wants to do, call the supposed superproducers from year’s past.
I feel like those guys were essential to albums maybe four years ago. Obviously Kanye West is a genius that will stand the test of time. But for me it was like, this is what I want to hear because this is what I listen to. I wanna hear, what is Sampha doing? What is Mehdi doing? Rest In Peace to Mehdi. What is Jamie xx doing? That’s my favorite guy to work with. He me and Rihanna have a crazy song. Did you ever hear his Gil Scott-Heron remix? We did “I’ll Take Care Of You” for the album. I love sonic compositions that are moving. And all those guys have their own elements, where I was super into it for this album. SBTRKT came about basically, I reached out and said I was a fan, obviously. He sent me his new album and me and Oliver listened to it in the car, strictly like for the purposes of “Should we get SBTRKT on the album?” And I heard “Wildfire” and I was like, I will go to the studio and murder this tonight if you could get me on the remix. So I told Oliver. He called SBTRKT and he hit Little Dragon who I’m a big fan of. He hit me and was like, yes. Do it. And we did it and it was fucking sweet.
STEREOGUM: How has listening to music changed for you?
DRAKE: The way that it’s changed is that there’s politics involved. So me to listen to a song and then redo that song, i.e. a Lykke Li or a Peter Bjorn & John song is way more difficult now. You put an album on the shelf, I hate the paperwork, I hate the business side of it. I really actually found it a very unique way to listen to music and end up making a song that sounds nothing like it but gives me the same feeling. To give you an example like, I’ll listen to Lil Boosie “Let Me Ease Your Mind” and I’ll go make a song like “Marvin’s Room.” They don’t sound anything alike but it gives me that same fucking rider feeling and that same “Ignorant Shit.” So I’ll like tie the two together somehow. This is the first album that 40’s really sampled a lot on. We sampled SWV, we sampled Jon B, 40’s like a ‘90s R&B head so this was the first time I put the call in and was like, look, we’re gonna sample on this album so have everybody ready. I had a little sample army to clear shit for me. So it’s kind of cool. Different sound, for sure.
STEREOGUM: Even though I don’t think your music is very much like Kanye West’s, I feel like both of you are masters of listening for yourselves, hearing sounds and tones that fit on a Kanye record or a Drake record and maybe nowhere else.
DRAKE: That’s a great compliment. But it’s scary when you can’t hear yourself. That’s a scary point to be at. I can always hear myself. I may not always recognize, like, I may let something slip through the cracks, even like the Weeknd. When I first heard the Weeknd from Oliver in his car, I didn’t go home and I wasn’t like yo let’s lock this kid up right now! You gotta let it sink. Oliver is like, the ear of all ears. He heard the Weeknd and was like, this is it.
STEREOGUM: It took a while for the Weeknd to click with me. I feel like at the same time I was getting really into Frank Ocean and pushed the Weeknd off for a second. But the Weeknd is incredible, it just took some time to sink in.
DRAKE: Ocean is so great man. He’s a really good writer. He makes a brand of music that’s so good for like women in LA and shit. It’s very reminiscent of where he is. And I mean that location-wise. At first I was skeptical when I heard him flip like, MGMT and I was just like, “Really? What year is this? And then I heard “Thinking About You” which he wrote for someone else, and I had to like actually go out of my way to reach out to him. As young people, we don’t show each other love enough, we’re hesitant, you don’t want anyone to clown you. But I didn’t really care. And I just reached out to him and was like this is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve heard in a really long time.
STEREOGUM: I liked hearing you on that Lex Luger beat with Flocka. But, you turn on the radio and you hear Luger’s escalating laserbeam chime on every song.
DRAKE: Which is what we try to step away from doing, too. Me and Wayne dropped a joint, a song called “The Motto” a couple days ago.
STEREOGUM: That was cool.
DRAKE: Wait till you hear him on the album, dude. He snaps. That’s the thing, Wayne knows when we’re doing a song together, it’s no jokes man. Cuz I always send my verse first. I sent him that verse first.
STEREOGUM: I’m not the biggest fan of The Carter IV, but it seems like he got what he was going for with that. He achieved the goals he wanted to achieve.
DRAKE: Technically. Like, numbers-wise. I definitely know like, people always come up to me like, Wayne goes hard on your joint! You’re right. I’m hoping that he gets into a space where he starts taking those risks again. The Carter IV, it’s a cool collection of music. I guess I understand people’s issues with it a bit, and not to say that he’s not still a phenomenal rapper. It’s just that, they want a daring riskier Wayne that does shit like … I know what you mean.
He’s checking things off. He’s on some spitter shit, though. It’s still there.
STEREOGUM: Is that how you typically work with Wayne, sending stuff back and forth? How do you work with Nicki?
DRAKE: We’ve always worked that way, from “Ransom.” I always send him my verse. Let him in his own space, sit with it. The only songs we’ve ever done together were “Every Girl In The World,” which is like, we came up with the hook. Bedrock we did together. Young Money songs we’ve done together, and “Right Above It.” Those are the songs we’ve done in the same space. Every other song we’ve done through the Internet.
Nikki is just like on some next shit, man. She’s on some pop icon megastar, and that’s what she wanted so bad. She’s this beautiful spirit, drama student from Queens that was just like, yo, I’m gonna do this shit. I’m going to become Barbie. People are going to dress up like me for Halloween and I’m gonna have bars still.
Nicki told me she’s about to get back on some spitter shit. Which I’m excited for. One thing I don’t want her to do is ever like get lost in the pop world. I hear songs from people on the radio and I’m like, damn, that’s so and so? Really? That’s his new joint? She’s so good at it and it works for her, but she’s a fucking amazing rapper. When she told me that today, we’re talking and we’re working on a joint for her album, she just told me “I just want to get back on some spitter shit.” So I hope she goes in on it.
Her loud personality is something, but her toned down personality is something even more. She knows that shit. She knows not to wear no makeup around me because I’ll be fucking on that shit. I’m on her. When she has no makeup on it’s like … she hasn’t come into the studio with me. She comes into the studio with me, no makeup and she’s rapping? I’m proposing right there. That shit is so attractive to me. She’s so attractive to me. She just can rap. What other girl can rap like that? That’s who I want to be my girl, you know? I want my girl to spit like that. Basically. Dreamgirl.
STEREOGUM: Me too.
DRAKE: We share the same tastes in women.
STEREOGUM: What do you think the reaction to Take Care is gonna be like?
DRAKE: I dunno. I just hope I made a bunch of music that you can’t digest in a week. That’s all. Nothing lasts longer than a month. Who’s listening to albums from August right now? You’re waiting for the next shit. Like I say, I have 17 songs plus two hidden songs plus two bonus songs. A lot of content. A lot of bars. A lot of shit. I just hope that it’s enough to last into the summer. That’s my goal. I don’t give a fuck about anything else besides people saying I can’t wait for the next shit! That’s it.
STEREOGUM: How has your personal life changed since Thank Me Later?
DRAKE: It’s crazy man. Here’s the thing: I haven’t been able to write any love songs because I haven’t been in a relationship in like three years. When I hear, even going back to Ocean, like girls are so endearing and charming … I’m like, damn I can’t write like that right now! My songs are like, I’m the man, bitch, I made it. I made you who you are now take a shot for me! That’s a song on my album. I can tell you were practicing, that all those other men were practice for me. Those are the types of songs I’m making. This music with sex-driven chauvinistic undertone to it.
STEREOGUM: I feel like some of my female friends really like your music, but that kind of stuff sends them a mixed message. Do you worry about turning people off?
DRAKE: I think that’s just where I’m at in my life. When I’m super inspired and I meet that right person, I’ll be able to make songs like brand new again, where I’m vulnerable and whatnot. Right now I’m at a place where I can only talk about what’s going on around me. It’s hard for me to make it about love.