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Drake: High Times at the YOLO Estate

How did a half-Jewish Canadian child actor reinvent hip-hop? The improbable, slightly vulnerable, often tuneful, highly driven rise of Drake

February 13, 2014 11:30 AM ET
Drake
Drake
Peggy Sirota

Drake is worried that his waterfall is too loud. He rises from a wicker armchair and walks toward a control pad in the corner of his flagstone patio. "I want to be sure your tape recorder gets everything," he says, fiddling with some settings. It's a sunny January afternoon in Hidden Hills, California, a gated community where Drake owns a three-acre compound, 30 miles up the 101 from Los Angeles. A hundred feet from the patio, across his enormous swimming pool – the rippling waters of which contain two very big statues of voluptuous women, on their knees, in bikinis – what was a pummeling cascade becomes a whispering drizzle. Behind the falls, you can now see a man-made grotto, tricked out with a wet bar, illuminated wading pools, flatscreen TVs and a dozen other details that take time to register fully. Are those iron torches, affixed to the grotto's interior walls, belching flames? They are. Is that a pair of majestic elk, fashioned from stone, standing sentinel up top? Yes – they match the stone giraffe you may have noticed out front, next to the driveway. Off to the right is a standalone, 25-seat movie theater; a combination tennis-basketball court; a mechanical bull; and a half-dozen stables for horses that Drake does not own. "That's a water slide that comes from the top," he says. "I'm obsessed with, like, residential pools. One of my goals in life is to have the biggest residential pool on the planet."

Drake Calls Macklemore's Grammy Apology "Wack as Fuck"

Back in his native Toronto, Drake is in the early stages of building a place on the city's outskirts that will include "an Olympic-size pool inside the house," he says. Until that's done, this is his pleasure pad; built in the 1970s, with 12,500 square feet of space, the property is as eccentric as it is grandiose. The vibe inside is part dude ranch, part gentleman's manor, part Medieval Times: rustic wooden beams stained a deep chocolaty brown; marble-top side tables; vaulted fireplaces; craggy, cavelike walls. "Originally, I had a sign outside that said the yolo estate," he says – he popularized the acronym, which stands for You Only Live Once, in a single – "but it got stolen three times, and it was getting a bit costly to replace it, so I just changed it to the street number. I love that some kid has that sign in his bedroom."

When Drake, who's 27, brings women here, he delights in flipping a switch beside a bookshelf, which swings open to reveal his bedroom. "This house was the desktop image on my computer years before I bought it," Drake says. He's wearing black basketball shorts, red socks pulled up to the knees and a black T-shirt decorated with white spiders; his beard is landscaped just so. "I was like, 'What are the world's craziest residential pools?' and when I searched online, this came up." In 2007, a then-unsigned Drake tried, and failed, to hunt this place down during an L.A. trip. In 2009, the compound hit the market with an asking price of $27 million. The seller, a steakhouse-chain restaurateur, "was at a low moment," Drake recalls. "He needed money." In 2012, Drake snagged the property for $7.7 million. "I stole it from him!" he says.

A running theme when Drake discusses himself is that if he dreams about doing something, it's only a matter of time till he gets it done. In 2001, lacking any professional acting experience, he went from being the only child of a grade-school-teacher single mom who was subsisting on disability checks to a nationally known TV star, landing a lead role on the Canadian teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation. In 2009, having gravitated toward music, Drake knocked the American hip-hop mainstream askew, rewriting the genre's emotional and musical vocabulary with a combination of ferocious rapping and supple singing, blowout bravado and flaying self-doubt. Drake, whose full name is Aubrey Drake Graham, cleared a path for category-busting R&B artists like Frank Ocean, Miguel and the Weeknd, and in the process he became the biggest Jewish rapper since the Beastie Boys. Bar mitzvahed in 1999, Drake must be the only pop artist alive who can both recite from the Torah and get away with constantly using the word "nigga" in his lyrics – his mother is white; his father is black.

See Nothing Was The Same and More of the Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2013

Drake's coup, building on the example of Kanye West, was to flout prevailing notions about what sort of background a rapper should come from and what kinds of things he should rap about: On one typically candid song, he drunk-dials a former flame and makes an ass of himself trying to woo her. Such vulnerable displays have invited mockery from old-guard hip-hop gatekeepers (including, oddly, Common, who called Drake "soft") and anonymous online hordes. "There's these GIFs about me, these stupid stereotypes people have of me as this overly emotional character that cries in his room every night," says Drake. "There are jokes because of Degrassi, because I'm Canadian, because I make music for women. There are memes of guys crying to my music." He scowls, then shrugs. "I love it. I heart those photos when I see them on Instagram."

Drake just finished a national tour for his platinum third album, Nothing Was the Same, and he's got some downtime before heading out to New York, where he'll perform at a Super Bowl concert organized by Diddy. Two nights ago, Drake blew off the Grammys even though he was up for three awards, including one for Best Rap Album. He partied instead at a West Hollywood nightclub where Rihanna was also hanging out, which prompted a round of online gossip – Rihanna and Drake were romantically involved years ago, but Drake says they're not anymore: "She's the ultimate fantasy. I mean, I think about it. Like, 'Man, that would be good.' We have fun together, she's cool and shit. But we're just friends. That's my dog for life." He says he doesn't have a girlfriend. "I'm not after pussy like I was three years ago, when I was trying to make up for all the years when no girl would talk to me," he says. "But I haven't met somebody that makes everybody else not matter."

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