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Drake: High Times at the YOLO Estate

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For Nothing Was the Same, after starting here in Hidden Hills, Drake decamped to Toronto, where he booked four studios and put a team of songwriters and producers, many of them Canadian up-and-comers, into motion. "It was a constant factory," he says. Working in his hometown helps to ground him, he says, and lends a crucial atmosphere: "Hell must feel like how Toronto feels on any given winter day, and winter lasts seven months. It's my favorite place in the world, but there's this cold, gloomy, dark vibe. It produces a certain sound."

Rather than enlisting marquee producers, Drake prefers working with relative unknowns, like Mike Zombie, who produced the album's snarlingly indignant lead single, "Started From the Bottom." "It's about finding what's next," Drake says. A loyal in-house crew also offers him secrecy: "I'm hesitant to let people know what producers I'm fucking with, what I'm rapping about. I'd rather drop that winning hand out of nowhere." Drake admires the way that Beyoncé kept everybody in the dark about her recent album. He co-wrote and sang on one of its tracks, "Mine," and even he had no idea that the LP was coming anytime soon. "They were totally vague about it," he says. One Thursday last December, a member of Beyoncé's team flew to Chicago, where Drake was performing, to play him the "Mine" video and get his approval. "I said, 'That's cool,' she closed her laptop real fast, walked off and got on the phone," Drake says. "By the time I came offstage, the album was out. Beyoncé was like, 'I'm so sorry I couldn't tell you!'"

When Drake hears a song he wishes he'd made, "I get physically sick," he says, adding, "It doesn't happen often." It happened in 2011, when he heard Jay Z and Kanye West's "Ni**as in Paris," from Watch the Throne. "I was like, 'How did I not think of that?' – 'Ball so hard, that shit cray!' It was real rap shit, but it felt melodic; all the cadences felt so good." The song directly inspired "Started From the Bottom," he says, challenging him to come up with a rapped hook just as catchy as a sung one.

Drake is on good terms with Jay Z and Kanye. "Kanye and me are friends; we're plotting on getting some work done together," Drake says, and Jay, who will text him words of encouragement, recently called him the "Kobe Bryant" of hip-hop. Not long ago, though, the air between the three seemed cooler, with Drake and the pair trading thinly veiled barbs in their music. "I'm just feeling like the throne is for the taking – watch me take it," Drake rapped in one such moment of provocation. (Hov-baiting emphasis added.) "It was a lack of communication paired with natural competitiveness," Drake says, explaining the friction. "When something monumental is happening in front of me" – i.e., the Throne album – "and everyone's paying attention to that, you gotta say, 'I'm still here.' But those two are gods to me." What smoothed things over with Kanye was a favor-trade: The Chicago MC asked Drake to perform at a private birthday party for "some kid," Drake says; Drake, in turn, asked Kanye to drop in on OVO, Drake's annual Toronto festival, where they exchanged praise, and a big hug, onstage.

Their patched-up friendship doesn't exclude criticism. For instance, Drake says that he was ambivalent about Kanye's last album, Yeezus. "There were some real questionable bars on there," he says. "Like that 'Swaghili' line? Come on, man. Even Fabolous wouldn't say some shit like that." But Drake says he speaks from a bedrock of deep respect: "Kanye's the reason I'm here. I love everything about that guy."

In a few days, Drake will take a private jet to the freezing East, to perform at Diddy's Super Bowl concert. It's going to be hard to leave California. The sky over Hidden Hills right now is a cloudless blue, the weather is warm, and the not-unpleasant aroma of dust and horse manure floats in on a gentle breeze. "There are a lot of horse owners around here," Drake says, sitting in his yard.

The setting is calm, but there's an antsy energy about Drake. Next month he'll launch a European tour, but, he says, "I'm ready to go to Europe now. I could go right now and do 10 nights at the O2 Arena. I'm hungry!" He nibbles on a piece of banana. "The other night, one of my good friends, Terrence Ross, scored, like, 51 points for the Raptors. People were going crazy, rejoicing: 'This guy is up next!' I was that guy at one point – refreshing and new and people wanted me to win. But it's like, there are guys that do that every night, and people get tired of them doing it. I feel like people are tired of me doing 40, 50 points. I gotta go put up 100 in one night for people to say, 'Damn!'"

Whether Drake's thinking about mean-spirited GIFs, Grammy snubs or 100-point games, he seems to feed off a deep inner well of indignation – a sense that, for all his success, he's still underappreciated. "It's funny. I remember I used to have this mentality where I'd be at the Grammys or at the MTV awards, sitting at my seat, saying, 'Oh, God, I hope they cancel my performance, or maybe the stage will break and I won't have to do this tonight – I'm nervous.' Like, on tour, I'd say, 'I hope something happens where they have to clear the building, and we'll get one night off.' This was early on, around the first album."

He leans forward in his chair, thwacking a palm against the back of his other hand for emphasis. "But now I'm just like, 'Man, I hope they give me five extra minutes.'"

This story is from the February 27th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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