Illustration by Kyra Kendall/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
At one point on his 2010 debut album, Thank Me Later, Aubrey Drake Graham assesses his sudden rise to fame succinctly: “Call me overrated or created or too jaded because any way you put it, bitch, I made it.”
You’ve got to hand it to the guy. Somehow, someway, he’s gone done it. After twenty years of fruitless attempts from the likes of Maestro Fresh Wes, Choclair, and a legacy of fledgling rappers from the Great White North, it’s this Bar Mitzvah’d, Forest Hill–bred Degrassi kid who’s finally managed to define the sound of Canadian hip-hop. He’s the first Canuck MC to garner massive buzz in the US, reach number one on the Billboard pop charts, and achieve international stardom. Yes, Wheelchair Jimmy did that.
We know: it feels like somebody pulled off a prank. And what a prank.
That Drake was nominated for four Grammys this year shouldn’t faze him much, as he already nabbed a couple nods last year with nothing but a mixtape to his name. Hell, he even landed an endorsement deal with Sprite before releasing a freakin’ album. By the time his debut finally dropped in June, his star was already so blindingly bright that the record’s lyrics dealt with the perils, betrayals, fears, and excesses of life as a celebrity. Thank Me Later solidified Drake’s grip on America’s hip-hop it-boy throne, with SPIN dubbing him “Rapper of the Year,” and the New York Times groveling at his feet with a three-page spread marking the disc’s release. Pitchfork gave the record a glowing 8.4 review. GQ gave him the cover as “Man of the Year.” Virgin America gave him a plane, for chrissakes.
Of course, all this was not without a backlash. Drizzy’s detractors have been loud, denouncing him as a whiny, overprivileged milquetoast who owed all his success to hype carefully engineered by his Young Money mentor Lil Wayne. The blogerati’s perception of him as an inauthentic MC was only reinforced by his fumbled freestyle attempts on New York’s Hot 97 and BBC Radio’s Westwood, as well as the spoofs that followed. Even our own alt-weeklies joined in on the rag-fest; Eye called him “self-absorbed,” while NOW Magazine knocked him for complaining about fame too much and sounding “like a frog.”
But hate as they may, it’s tough for any naysayer to argue that October’s Very Own became hip-hop’s golden boy—winning co-signs from the likes of Jay-Z, Eminem, and Nas—with no talent at all. Sure, Lil Wayne had a helping hand in his omnipresence, but it was the potential he saw in Drizzy’s self-released mixtape that prompted the man to recruit him in the first place. And yes, he does kvetch a lot about being rich and famous, but as the Village Voice‘s Zach Baron points out, there’s some artistic merit to Drake being accepted into rap royalty and returning with honest, unglamorous dispatches in a way that’s “pretty much without precedent.”
Besides, dude’s shining a light on Canadian hip-hop stateside and internationally. For a scene brimming with scary good talent, that’s got to be worth some daps. He may be a self-absorbed, whiny, suburban frog-boy, but he’s our self-absorbed, whiny, suburban frog-boy.