He started from the bottom, with Downtown Sasquatch.
Drake Week celebrates all things Toronto and Drake in anticipation of the city hype man’s latest album, Views from the 6.
Many moons ago, before Drake was our city’s beloved hip-hop millionaire with a bigger pool than Kanye, Torontonians knew him simply as Aubrey Graham, in the role of Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Back then, it was a big deal: Degrassi is arguably Canada’s most successful television franchise, on the air in all of its iterations for more than 35 years.
Jimmy was Degrassi‘s basketball star, who lost his ability to go pro after he became wheelchair bound. But between his trials and tribulations as a high schooler with a disability, Jimmy also made time for music—in a school band and in his debut as a rapper.
Here, we explore the world at the bottom that Drake started from, and how Degrassi shaped the Toronto icon’s career.
From the start, Drake was a self-professed music aficionado. In a 2004 episode of The-N’s Unscripted, an 18-year-old Drake showed off his collection of CDs, notebooks filled with lyrics, and a shoddy freestyle mic in his basement bedroom. “I keep my music under wraps. This is going to be a shock to the people I work with on set, because nobody really knows I do it,” Drake said at the time.
Before then, Drake’s musical endeavours on Degrassi were limited to his role as backing guitarist in the band Downtown Sasquatch, with Craig Manning (Jake Epstein), Spinner Mason (Shane Kippel), and Marco Del Rossi (Adamo Ruggiero).
(Yes, Downtown Sasquatch is the worst fictional band name in the history of television.)
That is, save for this clip from a battle-of-the-bands episode, when Spinner and Jimmy compose a sexist rap to defeat Craig’s girlfriend in the competition:
Season 3, Episode 18: “Rock and Roll High School“
(The band ended up rocking out to this self-deprecating jam instead.)
Jimmy’s role in the band was important: It broke away from stereotypes that the show sadly leaned on during its early days. Rather than depicting one of the only Black characters on Degrassi as just a basketball player, writers gave Jimmy some depth. (Given that one of my colleagues once said “Drake contains multitudes,” this seems apt.)
The band’s sound varied, from rock to funk to emo piano ballads. In one episode, in which Downtown Sasquatch played a wedding, Jimmy calls their songs lame. (We agree.)
Season 5, Episode 5: “Weddings, Parties, Anything“
Once Craig went solo, Jimmy turned to hip-hop. Jimmy’s first official rap appeared on Degrassi in 2008, during a school talent show. When ex-girlfriend Ashley bombs her set, Jimmy rushes on stage to save the day with a freestyle.
The performance is reminiscent of early Drake, and appears around the same time the artist began releasing his own music outside of the show. Jimmy certainly doesn’t have the same swagger and confidence on stage as his real-life counterpart, but rewatching the scene reveals traces of a budding musician, finding his own place in a city that had not yet become the hip-hop mecca it is today.
Season 7, Episode 4: “It’s Tricky“
The pair receives great acclaim and are asked for a demo. That’s when Ashley, jealous of Jimmy’s popularity, does the unthinkable: she deletes his rap.
Jimmy eventually turns down the popularity and potential for career when an agent wants to make him a star by profiting off of his disability.
In real life, Drake was just getting started. Soon after, he left the show, choosing to pursue music over acting.
There’s little hope that Drake will ever return to his Degrassi roots with a cameo. But, at least we know the 6ix god remembers where he came from: he still makes references to the show where he started in his songs.
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