Last year when Drake remixed afropop artist Wizkid’s single “Ojuelegba” alongside British-Nigerian grime pioneer Skepta, it was a signal of things to come. In February 2016, he followed the collaboration with the announcement that he’d signed to Skepta’s label Boy Better Know, sparking speculation about what his role there would be.
As an artist, Drake has shown himself to be incredibly calculating; like a well-versed surfer he seems to catch each wave before it reaches full swell. It’s a quality that frequently leads to his insertion into dialogues about what it means to be a culture vulture. Regardless of what you believe, it’s undeniable that Drake’s precognition of musical trends and ability to cultivate them in his favor is written all over his discography. So is the fact that he’s been dabbling in increasingly global sounds.
Now that VIEWS has finally arrived it may just be Drake’s most globally-informed album to date, here’s why…
The Ethnic Background of the OVO Sound Roster (& the Dangers of Collaborating)
The current OVO Sound roster is comprised of in-house producers Noah “40” Shebib, Mike Zombie, Boi-1da, Ninteen85 and Future the Prince. On the artist side the label counts Roy Woods, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Majid Jordan, dvsn and OB O’Brien as signees.
Like Drake, many of his artists come from multicultural backgrounds, a fact that sometimes announces itself in their music. A recent example would be Boi-1da and PARTYNEXTDOOR; they are both of Jamaican ancestry, and both are also partly responsible for the success of Rihanna’s dancehall-flavored single, “Work.” 1da is the mind behind production while PND claims songwriting credits alongside Rihanna and Drake.
Though OVO tends to keep its ranks fairly closed, we do know their creative process is incredibly collaborative. Ahead of the release of their debut studio album, Majid Al Masakati and Jordan Ullman – the duo behind Majid Jordan – stopped by our office and shed some little light on how Drake’s third album, Nothing Was The Same, came together.
Majid Al Maskati
“It was eye opening to see how his team operates. We were at this studio called Metal Works and there were a bunch of producers in different rooms. Drake would sort of come into each one and listen to what they were creating. We were really just working together as a team to produce a really great album.”
Al Maskati’s (who is originally from Bahrain) description suggests that Drake is a pragmatist of the highest degree. Rather than calling in a potentially overly-talkative team of outsiders, Drake seems to have built a personal hit-making machine at his own label. The Quentin Miller debacle, and the recent claims made by Toronto rapper Mo-G may just lend credence to this line of thinking. Last year, Meek Mill doused internet conspiracies with gasoline when he alleged that Miller was Drake’s ghostwriter. Shortly after, Atlanta-based rapper OG Maco confirmed the claim and took it a step further by suggesting that Drake had actually appropriated Miller’s flow and lyrics.
“I’m talking specifically about If You’re Reading This. Anything else before that I won’t speak on, because I don’t know what he did and what he didn’t. Before I found out months ago about what was going on with the writing situation, I was a huge Drake fan. I found myself listening to him less and less, knowing that he wasn’t the one behind the biggest songs that were being circulated.”
Next came Mo-G, a former OVO affiliate who appears to have gone rogue last month. The Halal Gang emcee uploaded a series of Instagram videos eviscerating Drake and OVO for allegedly using his writing services without providing compensation. While none of us are naive enough to believe that artists – rappers included – are a one-man show, fans of hip-hop in particular have been slower to accept the idea that a team of creatives might be behind their favorite’s albums. Outside of a Grammy-nominated diss track that many would argue ruined the end of Meek Mill’s 2015, Drake has done little to address any of these claims. So in the end, the question of whether he’s simply a musical chameleon rather than an industrious curator of other people’s sound remains unanswered.
The Mutliculturalism of Toronto
Drake has explained VIEWS as a tour of the city that shaped him. It also just so happens his old stomping ground is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. A 2006 census revealed that Toronto held 8% of Canada’s entire population and 20% of all of the country’s immigrants. Additionally, about 30% of recent Canadian immigrants move to Toronto. And as of 2006, roughly half of the city’s population was born outside of Canada; only Miami boasts a higher number of foreign-born residents.
Drake has always championed Toronto as his home city, but these days he seems to be trying to situate himself as its musical ambassador. His visibility affords him the opportunity to reveal the presence of the many identities of the diaspora, and he’s been doing just that. We’ve seen him reflexively slipping into patois while playfully offering up Somali phrases, holding both aloft as definitive Toronto slang rather than something exclusive to only certain communities.
And even though it seems he’s run afoul of former friends like Mo-G of the Halal Gang, one only has to take a look at their backgrounds to conclude that Drake may have learned a thing or two from them. The group is comprised of rappers Puffy L’z, Mo-G, Smoke Dawg and SAFE. Both Puffy and Mo are Somali, SAFE is Eritrean and Smoke is Jamaican. With so many first and second-generation associates, it’s little wonder Drake is rapping about knowing Somalis who say they got walahi.
Drake has even shown himself game to try out new languages. In “One Dance,” which sees him collaborating for a second time with Nigerian artist Wizkid, he sings, “oti, oti, there’s never much love when we go OT.” Commenters were quick to note that what seems liked straightforward wordplay may have actually been Drake trying his hand at speaking some Yoruba. Aside from being an allusion to going overtime, “oti” also means “no” in Yoruba, leading many to suspect that Drake’s new flirtation with African hip-hop could end up turning into a full-blown affair.
Previous Efforts That Are Geographically Diverse
If nothing else, Drake’s discography proves that he’s sonically experimental. Since the days of “Replacement Girl” and “Best I Ever Had” we’ve seen him carry out extended experimentation with the tropes of Southern rap, citing his father’s Memphis roots as part of his influence.
In the song “Paris Morton Music” he reminiscences on summers spent in the South rapping, “I miss Memphis, Tennessee, my cousins my dad / The simplistic beauty that all of them Southerners have.” He also returns to this past in the music video for “Energy,” which features Memphis as the backdrop of more than a few scenes. Drake even made an appearance on Louisiana-born Pimp C’s posthumous The Naked Soul of Sweet Jones album via the song “What Up,” proclaiming himself “an honorary resident of UGK town.”
In 2010 his love of Caribbean music was revealed when he dropped the video for “Find Your Love,” which featured Jamaican artist Mavado as the central villain. Later on, in 2012, Drake shouted out Popcaan on Twitter, quoting lyrics from his first majorly-recognized song “Only Man She Want.”
Later that year he also tweeted “Free Kartel” in reference to Popcaan’s mentor Vybz Kartel, who is sentenced to life in prison for murder.
Since then, what many took for casual admiration seems to have solidified into friendships with more than a few of Jamaica’s leading dancehall artists. So much so that when If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late dropped Drake personally thanked the Unruly Boss for both inspiring him and making appearances throughout the project. He also thanked Aidonia and Kingston-based dancehall crew Chromatic for their contributions.
When you take this past into consideration, Drake’s seemingly sudden interest in Wizkid feels more like a natural progression. While dancehall and afropop are different genres, they have more than enough similarities to catch Drake’s attention. Furthermore, Nigerian artists like Wizkid and Davido are gaining increasingly global visibility, as is African hip-hop as a whole.
Musicians like Patoranking and Burna Boy are also garnering attention with their mastery of the kind of reggae and afrobeat-infused sounds that are right up Drake’s alley. And we all know, if there’s one thing Drake is good at it’s spotting a trend and jumping on it early. Between his alliance with London’s grime scene via Skepta and Boy Better Know, and his collaborative songs with Wizkid and Popcaan, VIEWS seems to be Drake’s most globally-influenced album to date.