Drake: High Times at the YOLO Estate

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He had different reasons than Rihanna's company for skipping the Grammys. After he won Best Rap Album in 2013, for his second album, Take Care, he uploaded a video of himself jubilantly swigging booze from the statuette, here at the compound. His view of the awards has grown darker since. "It becomes more apparent how irrelevant our genre is to them," he says. "They were trying to utilize me to sell the show, requesting me to come and perform 'Hold On We're Going Home'" – his smash ballad – "but they didn't nominate it for anything! They're calling me, e-mailing me every day to do some elaborate performance and bring them viewers, but I didn't get a nomination for Album of the Year. I didn't get a nomination for Song of the Year."

Even if he had attended, he says, he'd have come up empty. Macklemore swept the rap awards this year, then made public an apology that he'd texted to Kendrick Lamar, whose album Macklemore insisted was better than his own. "That shit was wack as fuck," Drake says. "I was like, 'You won. Why are you posting your text messages? Just chill. Take your W, and if you feel you didn't deserve it, go get better – make better music.' It felt cheap. It didn't feel genuine. Why do that? Why feel guilt? You think those guys would pay homage to you if they won? This is how the world works: He made a brand of music that appealed to more people than me, Hov, Kanye and Kendrick. Whether people wanna say it's racial, or whether it's just the fact that he tapped into something we can't tap into. That's just how the cards fall. Own your shit." Drake felt slighted by the apology too. "To just name Kendrick? That shit made me feel funny. No, in that case, you robbed everybody. We all need text messages!"

See the 2014 Grammys' 25 best & worst moments

Drake wants to focus on milestones other than Grammys, like his recent stint as the host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live. "I hope it opens up some doors back into acting," Drake says. He hammed it up winningly on the show, delivering inspired impressions of Lil Wayne and Katt Williams, and poking fun at his own biography: He rapped in one sketch about sipping Manischewitz. In another sketch, the show's costume department outfitted him with tiny khaki shorts in order to portray a dorky theme-park employee. "When they showed them to me, I was like, 'These need to be five inches shorter, because if we're gonna go in, let's go in – I'm not embarrassed,'" Drake says. For him, giving SNL his best was a chance to present himself as an all-around entertainer, and a chance to thumb his nose, in a whole new way, at the hip-hop cred police. "I wanted to prove that there's distance between me and the people you consider to be my peers," he says. "I have something special."

Drake's background isn't hardscrabble, but it's not without struggle. His parents divorced when he was five; he says that his father Dennis Graham's troubles with the law were the cause: "My dad was messing up pretty bad." Drake says Dennis was arrested on a couple of occasions, once right in front of his son, for "drug-related stuff or, like, theft. He was a mover and a shaker, a hustler: If you had it, he could sell it for you." In a song from 2009, Drake describes visiting Western Union to wire money to his dad, and wondering whether his father's professions of love are sincere or opportunistic.

Drake's mother, born Sandi Sher, moved with the young Aubrey to several rented apartments around Toronto, finally settling in the bottom half of a town house in the upscale suburb of Forest Hill. Sandi slept on the first floor and Aubrey slept in the basement; they depended on financial help from her brother, who had taken over the Sher family business, manufacturing baby mattresses, car seats and cribs. It was important to Sandi to raise Drake in a nice neighborhood, but, she says, "we were poor. I wasn't working, because I'd developed rheumatoid arthritis. I think Aubrey realized that he didn't have an inheritance he could depend on, and that he was going to have to do it himself." She recalls being fairly hard on her son, always driving him to try harder. "We're probably the only family that had four thesauruses in the house," she says. "I'd tell him, 'When you're expressing yourself, try and find other words you can use.'" One day, when Drake was about 10, Sandi entered his bedroom and saw a harbinger of things to come: "Aubrey was standing on the mattress, pretending that a toilet-paper roll was a microphone, rapping these lyrics he'd written." When Drake hit it big, he bought Sandi an apartment downtown; for her birthday this year, he scored her an appointment with Beyoncé's personal hairstylist.

At Forest Hill Collegiate Institute, a public high school in his neighborhood, Drake considered himself an outcast. "It was all white Jewish kids, and it was tough," he says. "I didn't have the worst time, but I did have a hard time. I was always the last kid to get the invite to the party." He says he's "proud to be Jewish – not on some Orthodox shit, but I celebrate holidays with my family." Classmates, however, lobbed the word "schvartze," a Yiddish slur against blacks, at him. He transferred to Vaughan Road Academy, where he says the student body was more diverse. "There were kids that were stabbing each other and kids that were equestrian champions," Drake says. "Actors, skiers, rappers. It was great."

Sandi enrolled Drake in tap and ballet courses as a little kid; later, he performed in youth-theater productions of Les Misérables and The Wizard of Oz. One of his high school classmates was the son of a talent agent, who helped Drake book his Degrassi gig, playing a popular jock called Jimmy Brooks. His salary was modest by showbiz standards, but good money for a teenager: "Between 40 and 60 thousand per season," Drake says. "As soon as he walked in, there was something interesting about him," recalls Stephanie Cohen, who was a Degrassi assistant director. "He had a confidence and a charm, even though he wasn't experienced. His early episodes weren't the most incredibly accomplished, but he got better. He was open to notes. He would listen."

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