Drake threw himself into acting, but music was in his blood. His father had been a session drummer who once played with Jerry Lee Lewis; his uncles include Larry Graham, the bassist for Sly and the Family Stone, and Mabon "Teenie" Hodges, who co-wrote "Love and Happiness," among other songs, with Al Green. "I've got crazy family history – my grandmother used to baby-sit for Aretha Franklin," Drake says. During summer breaks, Dennis would drive Drake down to Memphis in a cloth-upholstered Mercury Cougar, introducing him to classic soul and R&B on the car stereo. It was Dennis who first told Drake to develop his singing in addition to his rhyming, giving him an edge over the competition.
As Drake's interests swung toward hip-hop, he began booking studio time. He refined a musical style influenced by the boisterous sonics and hypnotic -cadences of Dirty South rap, immersing himself in Three 6 Mafia and Yo Gotti mixtapes he bought during Memphis vacations. Around 2008, Jas Prince, a Houston hip-hop impresario, found Drake on MySpace and passed his music to Lil Wayne. Impressed, Wayne put Drake on a plane for a meeting. He met Wayne on his tour bus, Drake says, "and I never got off."
"Please put your boots and any loose objects you're carrying into this bin, and lie down," a woman in a white lab coat instructs Drake. He's been wanting to check out the James Turrell retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art while he's in town, and his people have booked him a guided visit. The septuagenarian Turrell is a masterful manipulator of optical phenomena: He'll remove chunks of wall from a room to frame the sky in startling ways, or create illusionistic space using projections. "I fuck with Turrell," Drake says. "He was a big influence on the visuals for my last tour." Drake kicks off his Timberlands, preparing to enter a piece called "Perceptual Cell," in which lab-coated "technicians" slide the viewer on a horizontal bed into a sealed metal globe, inside which high-pitched, atonal sound plays through headphones and a psychedelic splatter assaults the eyes.
Twelve disorienting minutes later, Drake emerges wide-eyed. "All my questions about life are answered!" he says. "I made this joke beforehand that I should have smoked a blunt first, but I'm glad I didn't. I would have lost my shit." Drake's co-manager Oliver El-Khatib, a lanky Canadian of Icelandic and Lebanese descent, is up next. Drake gives him a tip: "Yo – at the beginning, take off one of the headphones, just so you know it'll be all right and that you're not gonna lose your mind." Drake turns to me. "I really wanted to take a picture in there. Instagram it, like, 'Perceptual Cell' selfie! That would have been the ultimate stunt."
Drake is interested in art, but he scoffs at how trendy art shout-outs have become in rap. "It's like Hov can't drop bars these days without at least four art references!" he says. "I would love to collect at some point, but I think the whole rap/art world thing is getting kind of corny."
Inside the next installation, a LACMA guide named Jason says something like, "If you look long enough, you'll notice that your sense of depth begins to . . . ," but Drake is busy having his assistant snap pictures of him. In one shot, Drake throws up his arms in a crucifix pose; he gazes off morosely in another. When he's done, we make our way through the rest of the retrospective. Museumgoers stop and gawk as Drake drifts past. One security guard calls out, "I love your shit!"
"How much would it be to get a 'Perceptual Cell' for your house?" Drake asks Jason. "Twenty million?"
"Wow, I don't know," Jason says. "Turrell does do residential commissions, though."
"I'm gonna find out," Drake says.
On Wilshire Boulevard, outside the museum, a chauffeur in an SUV is waiting to take Drake to a West Hollywood tattoo parlor. "People don't know I have tats, because I keep them hidden," he says. On his left inner bicep he's got the CN Tower, hallmark of the Toronto skyline; across his back are large portraits of his mother, his maternal grandmother and Aaliyah, on whom Drake modeled his own early approach to singing. At the parlor, Drake's tattoo artist is Doctor Woo, a handsome Chinese-American guy with a rockabilly haircut. Drake presents Woo with one of his father's mug shots, which he believes is from the Seventies. The picture is amazing: bushy handlebar mustache, huge eyeglasses, lady-killer grin. Drake wants it inked on his right tricep. "I love this," Woo says. "He's like, 'Yeahhh, I did it.'"
Drake describes his current relationship with his dad with a kind of enlightened weariness. They hang out – at restaurants, at strip clubs. Drake has rapped about sharing a drink with Dennis, despite preferring his company sober. "With my dad, it's a tossup," he says. "We're gonna spend some time. Could be better, could be worse, but I love him, so whatever it is, I'll deal with it.
"If he walked in here right now, he'd light up the room," Drake tells Woo. "He'd be laughing before he said anything, dressed to the nines, color-coordinated." He smiles at the thought. "I think that's where I get it from."
At the southern edge of Drake's patio lies a pair of French doors covered by a thick, black curtain. Behind them is his home studio, where he and his longtime collaborator, the Toronto-born producer Noah "40" Shebib, get work done when they're in town. Every Drake album starts with a conversation between the two. "I look to 40 to spark the album off," Drake says. "Give me a beat. What does this album sound like? Then we start getting beats and session files from other producers and pick them apart, taking the bits and pieces we like."
Unlike, say, Lil Wayne, who usually extemporizes on the microphone, Drake writes out every word of his rhymes. "I'm very particular about bar structure, where something ends, where it begins," he says. Drake might "go on Wikipedia and research my shit," to ensure that a reference is correct. He composes on his phone, where he keeps a document with every promising idea that occurs to him. 40 says that when Drake is working, "he'll sit in the studio by himself with his laptop open and his BlackBerry in his hand. The beat's on, maybe an hour goes by, and suddenly, he yells out, '40! 40! I'm ready!'"
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