"We have just 10 days before we turn it in," Drake says of his third LP, Nothing Was the Same (due out September 24th). "I'm literally sleeping in the studio on an air mattress. We're working 24-hour days to make sure the story is done, front to back. It has to be a new point of discovery."
The MC and his longtime engineer-producer Noah "40" Shebib have been camped out since early July at Metalworks Studios, in the suburbs outside Drake's hometown, Toronto. If 2011's Take Care – which sold 2 million copies – was about the stresses of superstardom, the follow-up is about learning to love it. "With Take Care, everything had changed so much. I was almost lost mentally, looking for something that wasn't there," Drake says. "With my new album, it's the most concise picture of the moment I'm in right now. I had a choice whether to hold on to whatever the past was or to fight and fully embrace this incredible time in my life."
Drake recruited some of hip-hop's biggest names for the disc, potential tracks for which include guest appearances by Jay Z, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz and more. "Drake is like my brother, man," says 2 Chainz. "Every time we mix it up – this Canadian light-skinned dude and a black-ass trap guy from Atlanta – we have success. His album comes out right after mine. We planned that shit to fuck up the world."
As always, 40 produced much of the album, along with top hip-hop beatmakers, including Hit-Boy, Boi-1da and Detail. "Honestly, 40 is one of the best doing it right now," Drake says. "His drums are connecting like you've never heard them before." The MC also went deeper than ever into the electronic sounds he loves: Scottish DJ Hudson Mohawke (who contributed to Kanye West's Yeezus) worked on the ambitious suite "Connect"; Drake also brought in dubstep singer-producer James Blake during the recording process. "I saw him at a show and told him I had some ideas knocking around, and he invited me to Toronto," says Blake. "Anything that comes out of that studio, I'm happy to be involved."
40 says Nothing Was the Same reflects how much the formerly self-conscious rapper's confidence has bloomed. "It's a huge change in tone," says the producer. "Before, Drake was a nice guy. Here, he's stepping up the attitude and playing hardball." Of bombastic album opener "Tuscan Leather," 40 says, "It's a three-stage record – one sample flipped three different ways, with a verse over each beat."
Drake, meanwhile, cites the standout track "Paris Morton Music II" as the clearest proof that he's stepped up his game. "That track excites me from a rap standpoint, just getting off bars and different flows," he says. "I played it for J. Cole, on some rap buddy-buddy shit, and he was like, 'Damn!'"
This story is from the September 12th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.