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Noah ’40’ Shebib Is Racing to Fix the Damage

The producer and engineer is Drake’s right-hand man, and the sonic architect behind a decade of pop music. Now, he’s finally fighting back against a disease that could take away everything

Noah "40"

Ted Belton for Rolling Stone

Noah “40” Shebib wants to show me his brain. The producer grabs a yellow Post-it Note from an island in the middle of his studio and sketches out two ovals. He leaves the first oval empty; it represents 2007. He drags a harsh charcoal line through the center of the second one. That, he explains, is what his brain looked like in 2019. “All that black area is dead brain tissue,” he says, a joint dangling from his mouth. “It’s where the inflammation has gotten so bad, the brain tissue has just died.”

At 22 years old, not long before he began his career-defining work as an engineer and producer for Drake, 40 was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system, interrupting information on its way from the brain to the rest of the body. When putting it in the simplest terms he can, 40 says that much of what allows him to move through the world — his eyes, ears, nose, fingers, toes — could stop working at any time.   

“I crashed and burned on the last [Drake] tour at one point after a show,” he grimaces. In his dressing room, 40’s face went numb, he began to shake uncontrollably, and he couldn’t stop tears from streaming down his cheeks. “You could’ve cut me open with a razor blade, I would have no idea,” he says. “They wheeled me out of there in a wheelchair and I was at the hospital. Went back this summer for the first time in 10 years. I went to go see the doctors. I went and got an MRI.” 

“[The doctors] were not happy. Everybody said, ‘You fucked up. You lost 10 years, bro. What are you doing? Get on the fucking drugs, right now,'” he says. “They said about a third of my brain’s dead at this juncture.”

It’s late afternoon on a frigid January in one of Toronto’s remote industrial parks. 40 is 37 years old now — for most of his life since his diagnosis, he wasn’t taking the medication that would suppress his MS. He’s calm as he tells the story. 

Since the last Drake tour — after ten years on the road as the superstar’s right-hand man — 40’s recuperating. His life is less hectic after the previous decade’s single-minded routine of touring and recording, then touring and recording again. There’s time for doctor visits, cold-pressed juices, lentil soup, and nights at home. “40 got house on the lake, I ain’t know we had a lake” goes a Drake line from 2017, one of the rare instances of the rapper bragging on-record about someone else’s accomplishments. When pressed to confirm the veracity of the lyric, 40 just laughs. 

The next morning, a dense pool of black ink called Lake Promenade roils, washing up against the rocks surrounding an inconspicuous Ontario suburb. 40’s recently renovated home — which is, indeed, on a lake — isn’t grandiose in size. It has a muted gray palette, sharp edges and minimal decor. Inside, there’s very little to give visitors the impression that its owner shaped much of the last decade of popular music. A Grammy trophy for his work on “God’s Plan” and a childhood hockey photo get equal placement on the floor; a grand piano knocks up against a Peloton bike. 

40 loves being near the water, and much of his music sounds like it was recorded from the bottom of the ocean. If he has a calling card, it’s his muted sonics and rippling bass, occasionally punctuated by vocals that sound like someone breaking to the surface for air. He introduced the world to this particular vision on February 13, 2009, when he, Drake, and Oliver El-Khatib, another childhood friend and Drake’s manager, released a 18-song mixtape called So Far Gone. Uploaded to now-defunct blogs like NahRight, it quickly ate the internet alive, and remains one of the most impactful statement pieces in hip-hop history. On songs like “Successful” and “Lust For Life,” critics struggled to contextualize 40’s mixture of murky drums, reappropriated indie rock beats, and cleanly mixed rapping and singing paired with heartbreakingly sharp vocal samples. It didn’t sound like much else. 

“What they’re talking about is a plug-in that I use called lo-fi, low-fidelity,” 40 explains of the engineering style he used on So Far Gone. “It’s reducing the sample rate, therefore the quality of the recording. Equivalent to rolling off the top end or making it muddier or sound like you’re listening to the speakers of a club from behind the wall. [I wanted] a sound around Drake so that his vocal could cut, so you could understand every fucking word perfectly, because I thought his words were so important and this was a space now that he could exist completely in the front, and everything else would be in the back supporting it.”

Frequent Kanye West collaborator Mike Dean credits those 40 productions with changing the sound of modern rap. He first worked with 40 on Drake’s 2010’s “Over” and, despite numerous beefs and subliminal shots between Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music and Drake & co.’s October’s Very Own, the two prominent engineers have struck up a relationship over the years. Dean recounts sending 40 to a hypnotist recently to help him quit smoking cigarettes and vaping. 

“He definitely made singing hip-hop rap stuff… very cool,” Dean says. “Took it away from where it’s not so R&B. He had a unique way of working with space and vocals. He would filter the highs off the drums to make them more muffled-sounding, so you could really hear Drake cut through. So there was nothing competing with the vocals, they would just sit on top of it. It was the perfect style for Drake. And then when the chorus comes, you take it off again, and everything gets bigger. That’s one of the things he brought that influenced the whole music business.”

Despite the respect 40’s gained within the industry and among audiophiles, if Drake didn’t acknowledge his most enigmatic friend and collaborator on wax, the greater world might not know about 40’s house — or his existence. Across the catalog that Shebib helped create, he’s a minor but persistent thematic concern: References to “40” aren’t as plentiful as scorned lovers, or even large pools, but if you’re a Drake fan, you’ve heard his name. “40 the only one that know how I deal with the pressure,” goes one 2016 song. 

“Funny enough, I’ve never discussed that line with Drake,” 40 says. “But my read of it and my understanding of it is that I was with him from the very beginning. I understand everything that was thrown at him. I was there. I think we’ve discussed the ’40 got a house on a lake’ bar more than ’40 knows how to deal with the pressure.'”

Noah "40"

Ted Belton for Rolling Stone

After So Far Gone, Drake went on to become (inarguably) the decade’s most commercially dominant artist and (arguably) its most influential. At every step, 40 was there, producing, mixing, mastering, and hitting record at the beginning of every studio session. Twenty-eight billion Spotify streams later, 40 can claim a place as one of the most successful producers of his or any generation. He’d rather not, though.

40 doesn’t have a producer tag that shouts his name at the beginning of a song like his contemporaries (Metro Boomin, Mike Will Made-It); he’s never released a solo album; he primarily makes beats for only one artist; until now, he’s forgone almost all press. Despite his decade-plus creative collaboration with the man responsible for dethroning multiple records set by The Beatles, 40 is careful describing their working relationship. “I feel like me and Drake are a band in a lot of ways,” 40 says. “Now this is my relationship to Drake, not Drake’s relationship to our situation. I view it this way, because it works for me and I like it, which is that we’re a band and I’m the lead guitar player.” 

He cites his production on 2011’s “Marvin’s Room” as an example. The song’s most striking feature is how spare it is, all emptiness punctuated by a phone call from an unnamed paramour, leaving Drake front-and-center to shape an improbably pathos-filled ode to drunk dials. “I would’ve turned that into probably some trash-ass beat,” 40 says. “He’s the one who came in there and stopped me. I fought him: ‘I’m not done.’ He’s like, ‘No, you’re done.’ It’s his intuition that understood that.”

40 can be self-deprecating to a fault and quick to argue about his musical legacy. “I don’t like my music,” he claims at one point. “I don’t like any beats I’ve ever made. I don’t like any of my mixes.”

“I got lucky,” he offers next. “I won the lottery. So I often tell people, ‘The music business is something like the lottery. If you win it, fucking great, but lots of people don’t win.’ That’s why I can’t sit there and be like, ‘My talent is the reason I’m here.'”

Later, driving a sleek Tesla through the mud and slush of a Toronto winter, 40 points across the narrow streets of Roncesvalles, the neighborhood where he grew up. He describes it as an “intersection of poverty and privilege.” His friends called the modest home he shared with his parents and sisters “the mansion,” since its three floors were bigger than anything they’d seen. 40 grew up with his mom, dad, two biological sisters (one full, the other half) and an “honorary” one that lived with him since the time he was born. He credits his sister Suzana with inspiring his love of Sade and ‘90s hip-hop through New York mixtapes from DJ Nasty and DJ Evil Dee.

His family, which has Lebanese, Irish, Swiss, and Scottish roots, is also something like Canadian artistic nobility. His great-great grandfather, the economist James Mavor, arrived from Europe in the late-1800s and started the political science department at the University of Toronto. The Dora Mavor Moore Awards, which honor 200 productions across theater, dance, and opera, according to the Toronto Alliance For the Performing Arts — are named after his great-grandmother and her accomplishments in theater. Tedde Moore, his mother, was a successful actress — she played Miss Shields in 1983’s A Christmas Story

It’s his father, writer and director Donald Shebib, who cast the widest shadow. Donald’s 1970s film Goin’ Down the Road — a story about two men who leave the countryside of Nova Scotia to chase their dreams in urban Toronto, is regarded as one of the greatest Canadian films of all time. Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, noting Shebib’s “unsentimental level-headedness.” Despite his family and father’s success in the art world they were “financially stable” until they weren’t. “Everyone can think you’re rich and successful, and you can be dead-ass broke, like, ‘Welcome to entertainment,'” 40 says. 

As a child, he fell asleep to the sound of his father banging away at a typewriter on scripts. Even then, the pattern of his father going years between jobs was evident. “[I would] watch him struggle and be celebrated at the same time,” 40 begins, visibly frustrated. “CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, would never hire my father, but they’d knock on our door and ask if they could interview him to do a documentary about how incredibly successful he is.”

By fifth grade, 40 had entered the family trade appearing in TV series like Wind at My Back and Goosebumps. 40’s voice is devoid of any wistfulness regarding his short-lived acting career. “In my family, child acting was not a glorious thing. It was work,” he says. “I know Corey Haim and Corey Feldman were shooting a movie on the same set as me. They were in the next trailer with a bunch of coke and whores… People in these situations of fame and success can still struggle with their own personal issues. You’re not naïve. You’re not protected.”

He realized early that fame was not going to be something he’d chase. “I could understand what celebrity was and what it meant from being around some smaller Canadian celebrities,” he continues. “Whether or not you’re an actor or you’re famous has zero to do with how well that person’s doing mentally.”

At 14, he starred as Parkie Denton in Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. Initially, 40 turned down the part, but he eventually buckled when Sofia called his house directly. “I couldn’t say no to her, it’s Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter.” He would take the $10,000 he made from the film to put himself through one year at a Toronto private school. It’s one of the few roles he’s still proud of, but when asked what he learned on the set, he laughs. 

“Sofia, I love you, no offense, but not much,” he says. “My father and Francis [Ford Coppola] are peers. They went to film school together. Literally, they know each other. They went to fucking film school together, so I look at Francis as a peer of my father’s, not greater than. Peer. So yeah that’s his daughter, what’s she going to teach me?”

His freshman year in high school, 40 met Oliver El-Khatib, another Lebanese Canadian student, who would later become Drake’s manager and the man behind OVO’s aesthetic. “Me and Oliver met through grade nine homeroom, first day of high school,” he recalls. “It was like, ‘Wait, your name’s Oliver El-Khatib? Are you Lebanese? What the hell? You’re the lightest Lebanese guy I ever seen in my life. You’re whiter than me. This is crazy.'” It was the start of a partnership that would last over two decades, and counting. 

After high school, the two became roommates. Oliver worked at Lounge Clothing, a hip-hop-influenced retail store, while 40 was producing for The Empire, a group he calls “the Wu-Tang of Toronto.” At one point during our drive, his car stereo is filled with the sounds of a Canadian producer doing his best impression of Just Blaze — a far cry from what 40 would eventually be known for. He beams with pride. He calls the lessons he learned with the group “invaluable,” but laughs when admitting what turned him away. “I was the gangster rap god. I was in every hood doing every fucking hood shit. I couldn’t do it anymore,” he says. “I want some progressions. I want some chords. Everyone just wants me to make the hardest beats ever. Fuck off. I want to make the softest beats ever.”

Eventually, 40 went to Trebas Institute, an audio school, in search of one man, Canada’s “godfather of hip-hop,” Noel “Gadget” Campbell. “I wanted his knowledge,” 40 explains. “His mixes sounded the best. His bottom end was the heaviest, and it still is.” To this day, 40 still works with Gadget, and it was in the Gadget’s basement where he’d be named 40 by two men, Illy and Payback. 

“These guys are going out and hustling and doing whatever they’re doing,” 40 says. “I think they’re probably in studio with me, and then they leave and then they come back at like five o’clock in the morning, and I’m still there working. Then they fall asleep on the couch and they wake up at like 11 o’clock, and I’m still working. And that’s when they were like, ‘You’re 40 days and 40 nights! You never stop.'”

A couple of years ago, both Payback and Illy were murdered. Walking down the steps of SOTA studios, the airbrushed face of Payback, emblazoned on a framed shirt, stares at you. It was a gift from Drake. “Those guys were like my guardian angels,” 40 says. “They were always checking on me. Random, always. And they’re always there for me and they never asked me for nothing.”

Drake performs at the 2015 Coachella Music and Arts Festival, in Indio, California on April 19th, 2015.

Drake performs at the 2015 Coachella Music and Arts Festival, in Indio, California on April 19th, 2015.<br />Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Rich Fury/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

One night around 2005, 40 turned on the radio and heard a song by Drake, another former child actor, still best known for his role on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Immediately, 40 realized this was the type of artist he’d been looking for; someone who could rap over the softest beats ever. He tried to get in touch. The two first met on the set of Drake’s music video for 2007’s “Replacement Girl,” and 40 gave him a tape of his beats. He never heard back. It would be the end of the story, an unconquerable blow to his self-esteem, if it weren’t for Oliver. “[He] was like, ‘Stop being a fucking bitch,'” 40 says. Oliver found Drake’s number, and said “‘Pick up the phone and call him. Put your ego to the fucking side.'”

After Oliver forced him to make that call, 40 engineered four recording sessions for Drake. They would be the only sessions 40 would ever charge him for. From then on, if Drake was recording, 40 was behind the boards. He and Oliver would become Drake’s most trusted allies as he slowly, then quickly, became the most popular musician on the planet. As the engineer and producer, 40 was responsible for the music, and Oliver was responsible for making sure Drake became the Drake we all know and recognize. “I don’t judge a book by its cover — that’s where Oliver comes in,” 40 says. “Oliver will turn around and be like, ‘I don’t give a fuck about the book. I give a fuck about the cover.'”

40 also began to advise Drake, taking on an all-purpose, jack-of-all-trades role. The child soap opera star-turned-rapper was still navigating foreign terrain, but 40 had already experienced many of his upcoming challenges through his years in the Canadian hip-hop scene. “In the beginning, it was a management role as well. It was counsel, guidance, help. I was the elder,” 40 explains. Even at the beginning of their partnership, he knew they were onto something special, and began to invest more and more in betting they could all make it big, together. “I was enabling things from a financial standpoint a lot of the time in the early, early days. I was paying for lots of stuff and racking up big debts on the street, but I had resources on the street, so it was okay. I could pull 50 grand, 100 grand. That’s why I never did a publishing deal.”

Oliver, meanwhile, founded October’s Very Own, the label the three still release music (and clothes and tours) under. “I ain’t born in October. Fuck October. [I’m] March’s very Own,” 40 says of the group’s title. “They come to me, like, ‘What do you think about October’s Very Own?’ I’m like, ‘Well, October’s Very Own…’ Drake is born in October. Oliver is born in October. I’m born in March, bro.” 

Oliver, the branding expert of the trio, offered to make OVO simply a fashion blog. “It is still there and still online. You can go to the first post and you’ll see Oliver being like, ‘Hey, my name’s Oliver El-Khatib. This is my fashion blog.’ But Oliver obviously just kept running with it, and he’s so good at what he does, he just turned into something special and incredible on his own right away. Me and Drake were so impressed that the next thing you know, we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s put our shit up through here.'”

At the time, Drake and 40 were recording a project called Thank Me Later, meant to be Drake’s debut. Halfway through the process, though, they scrapped it in favor of a mixtape that would go on to be So Far Gone. It would eventually be released on Oliver’s blog. 

Drake, a budding superstar already, caught the attention of Lil Wayne, who began to mentor him. When Drake was invited on tour with Wayne and another young protege, Nicki Minaj, 40 came along. For six months in 2006, they rode in a 12-bed tour bus across the U.S., recording So Far Gone in their time off stage. “Nobody knew who I was or what I did or why I was there,” 40 says. “A lot of people really thought I was Drake’s assistant.” 

That perception didn’t come out of nowhere. “I was Drake’s assistant too. I’m a pretty selfless individual, so for me it was all about the greater goal,” 40 says. “The greater goal was to turn Drake into a superstar and make music. If that meant being his assistant that day and helping him and getting him food and cleaning up, I did everything, but gladly. Not because he asked me to, because that’s what I wanted to do. I was proud to do it.”

As the duo turned in hit after hit, Drake’s new labelmates began to take notice. “He had set the bar pretty high for himself, so he was getting a little bit of special treatment by having me out there — no one else had a 40 with them,” 40 recalls. “It got to a point where Nicki started to be like, ‘Yo, 40, give me a record.'”

Then the boss took notice. As Wayne invited Drake into more and more sessions, the New Orleans rapper wondered why his engineer wouldn’t come along. “‘Damn 40, you don’t fuck with me?'” 40 re-enacts in Wayne’s voice. The question was the first extended conversation the pair ever had. “‘How come you never engineer for me, 40?'”

But the medication 40 had been taking at the time for his MS — an injection administered three times a week — had brutal side effects, leaving him “violently ill” for 24 hours at a time, and unable to work. “I think I flew back once, from Wayne’s bus, or from tour, to go get more injections,” 40 says. “The next time, I was like, ‘I’m not doing that again. Fuck this.’ I stopped taking them. I started feeling great.” 40 went a decade without getting another injection.

When he finally collapsed on tour last year, 40 knew he had to make a change. Now, he’s on the “biggest, baddest” drugs, and seems chastened by the medical experts. His doctors told him he hasn’t lost any cognitive ability or articulation, but if any more of his brain is damaged, there will be consequences. “I got a real lecture: ‘Listen, you might feel okay, and you might be able to push through it and just thug it out, but you’re doing a lot of damage to yourself.'”

40 no longer travels with Drake and OVO to the extent he did over a decade ago. Now, 40 partially engineers Drake when he’s on the road — from Toronto.It’s a little more challenging, creatively,” 40 says of the distance. “Because I’m not with him every second of every day. So, when those opportunities come for us to make magic, which are few and far between for anybody, I think it’s harder to catch them.” 

A more serious complication arose when the world went into lockdown in the weeks after we met. “Obviously, I have an underlying condition, and I’m on some pretty heavy medication,” 40 tells me when we speak again by phone in April. Though he’s self-isolating at home with his sister, niece, and nephew, he found time to work on Drake’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes mixtape, along with OVO releases from Partynextdoor and DVSN.

Everything in 40’s life now — from the Peloton bike stationed in his living room to the natural food he eats — revolves around him taking his MS more seriously than he did in the past. The only uncertainty 40 shows about the future, and his place in it, is related to his MS. “That’s my fear. When something goes numb, I don’t know if it’s coming back,” he says. “My face went numb a couple months ago. Shit was numb for a month. It’s like I don’t know if it’s going to come back. I don’t know if anything’s ever going to come back.”

Drake and Noah Shebib attend a basketball game between the Toronto Raptors and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

Drake and Noah Shebib attend a basketball game between the Toronto Raptors and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Noel Vasquez/GC Images/Getty Images

Noel Vasquez/GC Images/Getty Images

The medication 40 takes to treat his MS still comes with side effects, but he’s found one thing that helps. Grabbing a box that was delivered earlier in the morning, 40 pulls out an enormous bag of marijuana. “This strain changed a lot for me,” he says. It’s called BLLRDR (pronounced Bullrider) and 40 has enough of it around to make one think that he’s a large scale weed dealer. In a way, he is: 40 partnered with a company called Robes Cannabis to begin the process of putting it in dispensaries across Canada, where recreational weed has been legal since 2018. 

“I have no ambition to sell marijuana. That’s not who I am. That’s not where I want to be with my life,” 40 says. “BLLRDR is different. That’s not getting into the game to have a cannabis company and make money. This is a life-changing product that I need to help deliver to the world.” There’s a fanaticism with which 40 discusses the weed strain and what it’s done for him. “When you smoke weed, you get really stoned and tired and burnt out and want to go to bed all that shit. When you smoke this, that doesn’t happen. It still has all the pain reduction, medicinal effects,” 40 explains. “Most important to me is that you can function. You can smoke a joint and go to work and be really productive.”

Over the next two days we spend together, often with a joint nearby, 40 is a kinetic force. His conversations are fast and winding, his walking speed three or four notches above average. In 48 hours, he’ll travel to his old neighborhood, a place called “control room” (the technical term for the studios he’s built for himself and OVO’s use), an art warehouse, his favorite Thai restaurant, Kensington market, and eventually back to “control room 1” — S.O.T.A. studios. 

“That’s not mine…” he murmurs with a tinge of embarrassment as, back at his house, the doors of his garage open and reveal a hulking Rolls Royce. “I mean it is, but it was a gift.”

“Wait, what’s not yours?” I ask, unclear at what he’s gesturing at. 

“The Rolls, it’s mine. It’s mine,” 40 continues. “I just didn’t buy it, [it’s] my birthday present from Drake last year.”

“I’d love—,” I begin, before 40 interjects. 

“To have a friend like him,” he says.  

“Yes.”

“Every piece of jewelry I own, he bought me. Every chain, everything has come from The Boy” — what 40 often calls Drake — “as gifts,” he says.

“Are you ever like, ‘Bro, I’m not Drake. I can’t walk around in fucking chains?’ Where do you go wearing chains?'” I ask. 

“Sometimes I’ll throw my chains on,” 40 says. “Depends what my objective is that day.”

40 is fiercely protective of Drake. He’s reticent to reveal anything about his friend, or even their music. He will take calls and give directions about the mixing for certain Drake songs — one of them becomes Future and Drake’s “Life Is Good” — and return to the conversation like nothing has happened. It’s as if he believes that speaking about his role in a song it would somehow erase the song from existence — or, worse, damage the relationships that have defined his adult life. 

“I don’t like talking about Drake’s music. It’s not my music,” he says after another barrage of questions. “I don’t want to offend my friend [or] speak out of turn, right? It’s not my project. It’s his. I’m respectful of my best friend, who I made all this music with, and I protect his legacy and his right to define that legacy.”

40 will talk about Drake, though, when his friend’s reputation is called into question. At the mention of a theory that Drake stuffs his albums’ tracklists with as many songs as he can to game streaming stats, 40 replies, “It’s so offensive. Absolutely not. No one gives a shit about streaming numbers.” He also thinks The Weeknd’s role on Drake’s 2011 album, Take Care, has taken on a mythic status that doesn’t match with reality.  

“There’s, like, 22 songs on Take Care. He contributed on four of them. There are 18 other songs on there where that guy was nowhere to be found, right? So it’s like, ‘Yeah, cool and you contribute to a few records on Take Care. Significant records, sure, but it was a few. It wasn’t a lot.’ It’s a common misconception. I made that whole album. I saw Abel maybe two days. I was in there for like a year.” 

Similarly, he laughs when asked about the “OVO Sweatshop,” a meme started in 2016 after the OVO signed-group Majid Jordan discussed sleeping in tents while working on Drake’s Nothing Was The Same during a Hot 97 interview. 40 says he was the first person to bring a tent to Metal Works studio along with an air mattress, comforter, pillow, and side table during the making of NWTS, and thus inspired his other collaborators. “It came out the wrong way and created the most fucked up narrative of all time, poor guy,” he begins. 

“At the end of the night everyone’s leaving, I’m like, ‘Alright, I’m going to sleep’ and it’s like walking this new floor went to sleep and everyone was so rattled. Drake’s like ‘What the fuck, that’s crazy?’ So I turned one of the other vocal booths like the entire booth into a bedroom for Drake,” 40 says. “We’re still trying to recreate it to this day. To the point that the other day, The Boy was like, ‘Yeah, set up the house.’ We can recreate the Metal Works thing. We have enough space to like build out all this shit for everybody and have this sort of big machine moving.”

But of all the memes and drama that follows his best friend and their larger crew around, it’s a 2018 beef that finally makes 40 pause and comb over every word of his response. At the height of Drake and Pusha T’s cold war that turned into a full-fledged conflict, 40 was dragged into the middle on “The Story of Adidon.” In a song that called Drake a “deadbeat motherfucker” and revealed that the rapper had a then-unknown son, the bar that many thought went too far was one that took aim at 40’s illness. Pusha T rapped, “OVO 40, hunched over like he 80—tick, tick, tick/How much time he got? That man is sick, sick, sick.” At the time, Shebib tweeted out a link to World MS Day, but, besides, that remained quiet. 

“I guess all I’ll say is that was just a different thing for me,” 40 says. “Different than a bar that he gets off. No real comment. I made my comment. It was National MS Awareness day.”

“Like shit, for sure. Like shit,” he says when asked how the line made him feel. “Ultimately, I like turning things into positive situations or brighter sides. And if that brings awareness to my disease on a bigger level, I was happy about that. That’s what I used it for. That ultimately is a good thing for me. I like that transaction we had from that perspective. I’m very vocal about it.” When asked if a line was crossed, 40 replies, “Of course. That was something different than a bar in a song. That’s cool, I barely know that guy.”

Driving across Toronto, he begins to loosen up, and agrees to rank Drake’s discography from top to bottom: So Far Gone, Take Care, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Scorpion, Nothing Was The Same, Views, Thank Me Later. He expertly toes the company line, deciding to leave More Life off the list, because it was billed as a “playlist.” I notice that, as a result of staying as far away from the spotlight as he can, 40 has close to no idea what the public consensus is on his own work. He seems confused that I don’t think “Fireworks” is a top-tier Drake song, and that “Ratchet Happy Birthday” isn’t universally recognized as “an epic moment.”

40 pulls up to S.O.T.A. and the gates slowly open. He parks, the Tesla idles, and I ask 40 if he’s happy. “No, not yet,” he says. “Right now, my family is Drake, and that’s been my family for a long time. What’s scary is that the shit’s all happened so fast. That’s what’s scary. This is a progression of all of our lives. I don’t think Drake thought he’d be rapping in his 30s.”

Drake is also now a father, and the other members of OVO are also beginning families. It’s something 40 is beginning to consider. “I know that phase is at the door, and that my true happiness is probably over there somewhere. I’m happy now, but I’m still busy. I’m still working. I haven’t let go and said, ‘Okay, let’s enjoy all the fruits of our labor.’ At some point, I need to stop and enjoy the fruits, but I’m not prepared to do that yet.”

40’s goals now (outside of helping Drake achieve his goals) are far from the pop music landscape. He likes building studios — the most excited he would get during our time together was showing me minuscule pieces of audio equipment. He wants to go back to school to learn how to score films; he wants to keep working with children in Toronto. He’s in the late stages of finalizing a new foundation program The 40 Foundation, which will attempt to curb Toronto’s violence by providing “mobile world-class recording facilities” to his community. 

“Obviously, working with Drake is arguably the most fulfilling thing in my life but, at an emotional level, working with youth is something really important to me in a selfish way,” 40 says. “I’m developing this program for my own future and to keep myself occupied. This is really what I want to do with my time.”

Drake, Oliver, and the rest of OVO are in different time zones, managing their still-growing empire. A few hours before, 40 lamented the toll his MS might take on the people around him. “I make a lot of sacrifices for my MS, but I’ve been managing them and dealing with them for 10 years. Those are my issues, not anyone else’s. And I don’t burden anybody with those.”

I ask why he views his illness as a burden on those around him. “I have a hard time even asking my assistants at the studio to get me things,” he responds. “I’ve had talks about it like, ‘Yo, my back’s really bad today. I can’t walk good today. I’m so sorry. Can you go get me that screwdriver? Okay, thank you.’ Because it’s a lot,” he says. “I’m asking all the time. It’s hard for me to do that. I am so self-sufficient.”

Then he runs to the studio doors. The crunch of snow beneath his feet echoes throughout the industrial park. 

“Everyone’s like, ‘Why do you walk so fast?’ 40 says. “Because I can, and sometimes I can’t. Right now, I can.”

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