Success is subjective. There’s no one way to define it, no one perspective that can capture the word's meaning. Each of us carries our own definition.
The second single released from So Far Gone was an ode to Drake’s deep desire to be successful. Money, cars, clothes, and women may be a shallow perception, but it's an accurate depiction of what is glorified in rap music.
What has always stood out about the song “Successful” is its second verse, where Drake illustrates his mother’s attempt to run away from home. There’s something poignant about the two in each other’s arms while tears begin to stream, a tender embrace to keep her from escaping. The lyrics immortalize a memory and gave listeners a glimpse into a different life, one when cameras aren’t recording, and which can only be confessed by those who lived it.
During an interview with MTV News following the release of So Far Gone, Drake admitted that the story of his mother was one of many events that put him in a dark place during the writing and recording of the acclaimed project. Money was low; all his funds made during the Degrassi years had depleted. His mid-to-late '90s-aged grandmother being sick, his mother’s breakdown, and trying to start his rap career all weighed heavily on his conscious. Drake didn’t just want success, he needed it.
“Closer To My Dreams,” a fan favorite that’s featured on the Comeback Season mixtape, gives a different portrait of success, one that pertains to his mother:
I promise mama
I'mma do it cause I know I put you through it
And I just want you to sit around with ya friends at a dinner table and say
"My baby's famous and I know it"
Every rap artist wants this—to be such a star their mother can brag about their fame and success. Lil Wayne once rapped, “It's just me and my momma, how it supposed to be, and I make sure she paid like she wrote for me,” and similar sentiments exist in Drake’s early material. Drake’s father left the family when he was five and would be in and out of his life due to drug charges that lead to his incarceration. “S.T.R.E.S.S.,” a record that can be found on the 2005 mixtape Room For Improvement, touches on the relationship between Dennis Graham and Sandi Graham. Dennis was a drummer, and his passion led him to leave home in pursuit of success in music. Insufficient funds led to him selling drugs and later locked up. Being raised by Sandi, it's natural that Drake wants to give his mother the world. As he says near the end of his first verse, “And momma I’mma support, I keep it all in order.”
Drake was greeted with all he wished for after So Far Gone. There was money from the label, women who loved his music, clothes gifted from brands, and likely a leased car to drive through Toronto with the top down.
By the time Drake released his second studio album, we got another glimpse of the mother/son relationship, delivered on the heartfelt “Look What You’ve Done.” The Take Care standout shows the dynamics of their relationship―money is still a topic of discussion, but this time it's about spending on frivolous items instead of not having enough to spend on necessities. Sandi is on pain medication and has a terrible smoking habit—the cause of an argument. Even when they argue, it comes from a place of love. Drake cares for her health, Sandi cares about his spending habits. He ends the verse by revealing that, as a result of his success in rap, he was able to get her an operation, as well as a dream trip to Rome.
In 2007, on the song "Must Hate Money,” Drake rapped, “My Momma tryna go to Rome and I just wanna take her.” Four years later, he was able to do it.
Even a potent mix of fame, money, and success doesn’t equate to a perfect life, though. “Too Much,” from Nothing Was The Same, is Drake is at his most pure. He airs out his internal conflict and deeper issues surrounding his family. In the second verse, his mother is called out for staying home in a state of solitude. She blames the lack of activity on being sick, but Drake vehemently disagrees. It pours out of him with passion, like he’s incredibly angry that he can’t be there himself. This is the only way to reach his mother―through his music. All this success, all the opportunities that music presents; he wants her to reap the benefits as well. When the sky isn’t your limit, why stay cooped up in an apartment?
One of Sandi's most famous quotes is said on “From Time”: "My mother is 66 and her favorite line to hit me with is, ‘Who the fuck wants to be 70 and alone?’" It's a question that pertains to her life, but also his. She’s saying that he may be young now, but that youth won’t last forever, and he must find a woman he wants to settle down with for years to come, not just the in the moment. You can see the contrast in Drake’s message to her on “Too Much”: she may be older, but that doesn’t mean stop living life.
When you piece together these brief conversations that Drake and his mother have in Drake's music, it creates a much bigger picture of the connection between mother and son.
An actual conversation is played out in song form on “You & The 6,” from 2015's If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Drake at this point is truly a superstar, one of the biggest rappers in the world. Unlike “Too Much,” it's Drake and not his mother who doesn’t return text messages. Google Alerts is how she keeps up with her famous son, a sad but honest reality.
Just like a true mother, it's adorable hearing about Sandi’s attempt to hook up Drake with her personal trainer. Of course, Drake dodges the blind date, but what that line also reveals is that she’s getting out more and that she’s working on improving her health. Part of me will never believe that Drake vents to his mother about the music industry, but that would be true to the man that is Aubrey. “You & The 6” shows that the years, the fame, and the money hasn’t changed their relationship much. Sandi has always been more Donda West than Deborah Mathers. It also shows that Drake’s wish for success has come at a cost―less time to call, less time for personal connections. There are aspects of his life that are a nightmare due to his dreams coming true. Sacrifice―nothing is gained without something being lost.
Sandi and Dennis are given a shoutout on “Two Birds, One Stone,” which may or may not appear on the forthcoming More Life playlist/album/whatever. Drake wishes his parents more blessings.
Blessings have come in an abundance for the Graham family, but it didn’t happen overnight. Drake’s relationship with his mom through his music captures his success, the rise of his stardom, and the effects of being a successful rapper and what it does to the people around you. We are eight years removed from So Far Gone, eight years since Sandi tried to run away from home, eight years from Drake's yearning for success.
Argue his talent if you must, mull over the ghostwriting in his notebook if you wish, but what he has accomplished as a rap artist cannot be dismissed or diminished. His start may not have begun at the very bottom, but his current position is comfortably beyond the clouds.
Sandi has every reason to brag about her son, he’s successful, and the world knows it.
By Yoh, aka $outh$ide Yoh, aka @Yoh31.