"You know, hun, I'm a bit concerned about this negative tone that I'm hearing in your voice these days. I can appreciate where your uncertainty stems from and you have reason to question your anxieties and how disillusioned you feel, as well as feeling skeptical about who you believe you can trust. But that attitude will just hold you back in this life, and you're going to continue to feel alienated. Give some thought to this, because I’m confident in you, and I know you can reach your desired destination and accomplish your goals much more quickly without this confrontation I'm hearing in your tone these days. When others go low, we go high." —Sandi Graham, "Can't Have Everything"
Trust and betrayal, paranoia and skepticism, fake love and scheming peers—Aubrey Graham is all too familiar with these concepts as if he was more mob boss than rapper. He believes in keeping the family close and keeping away from new friends, but these thoughts stem from the many blades being lunged into his spinal column. Think back on the confrontation with Meek Mill, how it began with a tweet exposing information that wasn’t common knowledge, information sent from a former friend that took on the role of a foe. Meek wasn't a journalist who discovered a treasure chest of reference tracks, he was Nicki's boyfriend, an artist signed to Rick Ross, a frequent collaborator—but none of that mattered once he hit send.
Even if Meek was pissed at Drake, he did more than start a beef, he threw away an entire relationship. DJ Drama and Don Cannon were involved, friends who were like family to the Young Money label. Drake's beef with and victory over Meek can be likened to Caesar instead killing Brutus and surviving the Ides Of March, but what happens to Caesar after cutting down someone close who tried to bring him down?
To conquer is to risk being conquered, a risk that has constantly been a part of Drake’s world since before fame. That’s the significance of his mother’s voicemail on More Life. She can hear it in his music, a change happening in her son; her sweet Aubrey went from boy to beast, a man devoured by his rise of celebrity and those conspiring to end his reign. Inside the ivory tower, King Drake is trying to protect all they want to take.
"Certain rappers would call me to say "What up, though?" / I used to brag about it to my friends / And now I'm feeling like all of these niggas cutthroat / And maybe that's all they do is just pretend / Damn, but I bought it though, I believed it" —"Club Paradise" (2011)
On “Club Paradise,” Drake admitted that his biggest fear was losing it all, he was coming to terms with fame and that the life he was living was more fantasy and fiction than reality. From the women to the rappers—just like Kendrick on TPAB—he sought solace at home.
Six years later, he’s still dealing with the pretending, a sign that his change in attitude is largely due to constant disappointment and paranoia. “Who's callin' my name? Who's involved now? Tell me who I gotta down, I'll do a song now,” he raps on “Can’t Have Everything,” a song that howls of a rapper who is prepared to take the heads of any adversary.
On “Do Not Disturb,” the final track on More Life, he confesses his inability to sleep knowing the risk of waking up to his private life being exposed to the public. I believe in this level of restlessness. What happened with Meek, Quentin Miller, and DJ Drama wasn’t just rap beef, but rather being exposed by someone who was close to him, something that continues to gnaw away at him. Not only is he dealing with the woes of the music industry, but the paranoia also stays with him even when the music stops:
"Pistol by my bed, I'm sleep but I'm awake / For that one night when niggas try and reach inside my safe / Don't push me cause I'm way too uneasy nowadays / These guys move so greasy nowadays / I tell you my life and y'all don't believe me when I say it" —"4PM In Calabasas" (2016)
Young Thug recently released a song stating how he spends more money on security than he makes, and what seems like a simple boast is more so transparency about a life surrounded by landmines. Imagine Drake, the far bigger star, less of a thug and a larger target—there’s more than one red dot on his head.
One of the most important lines regarding the change in Drake can be found near the end of “No Tellin": "Please do not speak to me like I'm that Drake from four years ago, I'm at a higher place / Thinkin' they lions and tigers and bears, I go huntin'.” The artist who is feeling uneasy about greasy guys isn’t the same wordsmith that penned “Marvin’s Room”―don’t let the perception of his persona jade the reality of who he has become.
"How they go from not wantin' me at all / To wantin' to see me lose it all?" —"Lose You" (2017)
"I tell you my life and y'all don't believe me when I say it." It’s important to highlight that last quoted bar in "4PM In Calabasas"—he makes a frank statement about the weight of his words because it’s easy to dismiss such robust lyricism as tough talk and not realism. Don't see him just as Drake, but as an artist haunted by traitors, paranoid by the phony and only slipping deeper into distrust. Drake isn’t a street guy, he isn't someone like 21 Savage who doesn't need assistance when it comes to street politics, but since Take Care he’s voiced that there are people around who are prepared to come off the hip for his wellbeing―”No Long Talk” salutes enforcement like Chubbs and Baka. You can see this as tough talk or realize he’s further surrounding himself with men who are about action as his star continues to rise.
"Lately I just feel so out of character / The paranoia can start to turn into arrogance / Thoughts too deep to go work 'em out with a therapist" —"Views" (2016)
Why would Drake, of all rappers, need this kind of protection? The answer lies in the past. In May of 2009, a 22-year-old Drake was robbed at gunpoint for $4,000 and a chain gifted by Lil Wayne. He was in Toronto on a date, a date that ended with staring down the barrel of a gun. Before So Far Gone, he was known more for being in a wheelchair than rapping—a grown child star and not yet a country’s shining deity. The woman was unharmed, her purse unsnatched. A tiny detail, but one that led Drake to believe he had been set up.
Drake walked away from the incident physically unscathed, but the event changed him. The good kid in a good city had encountered his own Master Splinter's daughter. You can hear it through his music how this one incident molded his mindset concerning women—like he mentions on "No Tellin," he can’t even find comfort in being invited to a hotel, feeling obligated to bring a knife with him years after the occurrence ("Yeah, she invite me to the telly, keep the blade with me / When I go to check a bitch, ain't no tellin").
"The other day Lissa told me that she missed the old me / Which made me question when I went missing / And when I started treating my friends different / Maybe it was the fast paced switch up / Or the two guns in my face during the stick up / Maybe cause a girl I thought I trusted / Was who set the whole shit up" —"The Resistance" (2010)
Betrayed by a woman in his own city months before becoming the biggest newcomer on the blogosphere—imagine how that must affect the psyche? Set up in your beloved hometown before the claws of fame lift you into the public spotlight must blacken the soul a hue or two. This is an event that’s been long forgotten but it's imperative in understanding the change in Drake’s mentality. I believe the signs of paranoia started with the aptly-titled “Trust Issues.” The first verse clearly states his growing mistrust of new women—he won’t trust the mixing of his drink to just anyone in fear of being caught slipping—an experience he’s felt before.
The second verse is a little bit more extreme and insightful into his mindstate:
"Certain people don't like me no more / New shit don't excite me no more / Guess that they don't really make them like me no more / You can look me in my eyes and see I ain't myself / Cause if y'all what I created then I hate myself / But still, let them girls in and tell 'em all / Leave their cell phones on the table where we see them" —"Trust Issues" (2011)
“Lord Knows” paints a more vivid picture of how the robbery impacted the way he moved: “And this girl right here, who knows what she knows? / So I'm going through her phone if she go to the bathroom / And her purse right there, I don't trust these hoes at all”—clearly a shining light on his nervous anxiousness. While deceitful, this is an attempt to calm an unwavering uneasiness that she might be the next one to put a knife in his back. The wound still burns, dating starts to feel like life or death even while Take Care-era Drake was considered softer than Young Thug’s voice during interviews and more fragile than Iggy Azalea reading her Twitter mentions.
An old flame would bring Drake’s second betrayal, Ericka Lee, the woman who is heard on “Marvin’s Room.” She used text messages from Drake—which reportedly read “U basically made that song” and “It’s shit without you”—against him as a way of getting co-writer credits along with other damages. She was offered a percentage of publishing but she wanted more. Ericka saw an opportunity and took it ("Ericka sued me and opened a business"), another knife in Drake’s back.
The after-effects of this incident can be found in the final verse on Views' “Redemption”:
"I'm a walkin' come-up, I'm a bank deposit / Sell my secrets and get top dollar / Sell my secrets for a Range Rover / Opportunity and temptation / They would sell my secrets for a tropical vacation / Sell my secrets back to me if I was payin' / Who's gonna save me when I need savin'?" —"Redemption" (2016)
"Redemption" represents a painful realization of who Drake is and what that means to people on the outside. Coming from a voice who constantly preaches keeping family close, to turn against a brother is a sin in the book of Drake. I believe this is what triggered his reaction to Kendrick’s “Control” verse, he didn’t see it as a competitive nod but another rapper he saw as a brother being disloyal. In a way, he reacted to “Control” in a similar fashion to T-Pain's reaction to “D.O.A.,” he took Jay’s assault on his signature effect personal. Too personal. Drake and Kendrick’s beef never heated up because it didn’t have a reason to escalate, but once again, like on “Club Paradise,” Drake felt a blade from a hand he considered a friend's, or at least a good acquaintance's.
He would mention it on “Two Birds, One Stone,” the lack of rappers who cared to stay in his good graces ("It seems like nobody wants to stay in my good graces / I'm like a real estate agent, putting you all in your places / Look what happens soon as you talk to me crazy"), almost exhausted waking up to new headlines with his name thrown in the mud by a new friend-turned-foe.
The paranoia and skepticism had only increased by the release of Nothing Was The Same, and one of the best examples can be found in the first verse of “Wu-Tang Forever”:
"People like Mazin who was a best friend to me / Start to become a distant memory, things change in that life / And this life started lacking synergy / And fuckin' with me mentally, I think it's meant to be / Paranoid, always rolling with my mothafuckin' boys / But you gotta understand when it's yours / They don't really leave your ass with a mothafuckin' choice, man" —"Wu-Tang Forever" (2013)
Nothing Was The Same saw more creepin' and low moving, rap had finally overshadowed Degrassi and Toronto’s most prominent star was on his worst behavior, but also introspective on all that was changing around him. Around this time is when we got the infamous Rolling Stone interview, the one that would soil his relationship with the media (immortalized on "You & The 6" with "Gotta be careful around Rolling Stone / Or anyone that's tryna throw stones at me, momma"). The altercation with Diddy over the “0 to 100” beat occurred, he traded shots with his idols Jay Z and Kanye—more friends turned to rivals or foes.
By the release of If You’re Reading This It's Too Late, Drake has reached superstar status. He was the 6 God of Toronto, but there was such a strong sense of paranoia on the album that makes him seem more Achilles than Zeus. Just look at his conversation with Sandi:
"I got no friends in this, momma / I don't pretend with this, momma / I'on joke with this, momma / I pull the knife out my back and cut they throat with it, momma / I'm 'Game of Thrones' with it, momma / I'm 'Home Alone' with it, momma / I'm t- / I really hate using this tone with you, momma / I really hate getting aggressive on this phone with you, momma" —"You & The 6" (2015)
Songs about dying a legend and being worried about not making it to his destination, about taking a blade when invited to hotels by women, uncertain of where the night might lead; whispered accomplishments and screamed out failures; checks not in the mail and fighting with the label; energy draining enemies and a brand new Beretta—on More Life he has a quote about being angry writing Views, but there is far more tension and animosity being spilled across IYRTITL. The trap album signifies the death of Drake the soft, sensitive rapper and the birth of what the music industry made him. This is what it sounds like when fame and fortune are met with paranoia and anxiety—you become a different person.
What’s most important is to remember that Drake is a man before a brand, only a robot would be unaffected by all that’s been thrown at him in the industry. No matter how much he might mask it, with more knives in his back than Caesar, there’s a reason why his raps sound so anti.
"Winnin' is problematic / People like you more when you workin' towards somethin' / Not when you have it / Way less support from my peers / In recent years as I get established / Unforgivin' times, but fuck it, I manage" —"Lose You" (2017)
Old friends, the higher-ups, beloved idols, revered peers, former lovers—who hasn’t tried to take Drake’s head? Attacks on his authenticity, cultural appreciation being called cultural appropriation, distrust of media and critics, all while balancing being a rap star and pop star—who does Aubrey Graham become? Not the rapper, not the brand, but the man?
“Fake Love,” despite being so sonically cheerful, epitomizes all his distrust; the feeling that everyone he encounters is hiding their true intentions. He's paranoid, ready for war against anyone who wants this spot he’s worked so hard to earn. It takes me back to Jay Z’s verse on “Light Up." Drake didn’t take his advice, but he eventually became Jay:
"And since no good deed go unpunished / I'm not as cool with niggas as I once was / I once was cool as the Fonz was / But these bright lights turned me to a monster / Sorry, mama, I promised it wouldn't change me / But I would have went insane had I remained the same me" —Jay Z, "Light Up" (2010)
Acceptance is something Drake has always wanted, being embraced as an outsider never came to fruition the way he imagined. He once promised that when rap ceased to be fun that he would be done, and he even confessed last year that he doesn't love it like he used to (though he won’t be leaving), but he has achieved too much and spent too much energy to not protect his position.
He’s adapted to a new role, a lion dominating the animal kingdom. This isn’t his natural habitat, and Drake isn’t the aggressor, but the industry has a way of transforming nice guys into mob bosses. There are obviously unsaid and unknown events that also contributed to his metamorphosis, but I believe that more than fame, and more than fortune, it’s paranoia that drove Drake to the place he is today.
Reaching Mount Olympus changes how the world sees you, the lonely top is the best position to watch those that want what you have. Who Drake is today isn't simply a tougher persona but the person he had to become, or else risk falling victim to the jungle. You either hang the bears or be the face atop a fireplace. Drake would make an interesting study of what happens if, say, Carlton had to survive the streets of Philly instead of Will being sent to Bel-Air.
Don’t let the politician's image fool you, Drake may be Toronto’s Harvey Dent but he’s also Two-Face, the hero who lived long enough to see himself become the villain.
"What do you see when you see me?" —"Lose You" (2017)
That's a great question Drake, I truly don't know.
By Yoh, aka Yoh Not Nice, aka @Yoh31