Drake’s hip-hop lament: ‘Everybody makes it feel like they’re so much doper than me’


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Given the kind of saturation radio play he’s been getting around the FM dial for the last few months, you’d be forgiven for lumping Canadian hip-hop supremo Drake in with the likes of Justin Bieber or the Black Eyed Peas -- as little more than a mainstream mainstay. A pop prince more concerned with mass appeal than artistic integrity.

But to hear it from Drizzy (who is profiled in this Sunday Calendar story), nothing could be further from the truth. Despite a demonstrated crossover appeal that resulted in an intense major label bidding war in 2009, Drake considers himself a true hip-hop head -- an unreconstructed “backpack rapper” who has somehow convinced the mainstream to remake itself in his image rather than vice versa.


In an interview with Pop & Hiss at a penthouse suite of the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills last month, Drake emphasized his “credibility,” recalling a phase when he held certain strong convictions at odds with his present situation as rap’s No. 1 draft pick. “Everything mainstream is wack. I just want to rap, man. I want to rap like Jay[-Z] but my favorite rapper is Phonte” of North Carolina alt-hip-hop duo Little Brother.

Moreover, Drake seemed downright apprehensive about being tarred and feathered by rap aficionados as “not hip-hop enough.” In the lead-up to his much-anticipated debut album “Thank Me Later,” which goes on sale Tuesday, the 23-year-old MC took pains to portray even his biggest hits -- like “Best I Ever Had,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 last year -- as “real” rap records, not gimmick-y pop ditties.

In the process, he gave an explicit shout-out to A Tribe Called Quest band members Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. “I used to be a real backpack rapper. That was my thing,” Drake said, leaning back on a white leather sofa. “I even say on this album, ‘I’m just trying to kick it like Ali Shaheed and Phife Dawg/Because people really hate when a backpack rapper get rich or start living that life, dog.’”

Growing more emphatic as he considered a song off of “Thank Me Later,” Drake continued: “‘Find Your Love’ is the first time I’ve ever done something for the mainstream. ‘Successful’ is a hip-hop record. ‘Best I Ever Had’ is a real hip-hop record. It’s a sample with some gritty drums. I’m rapping on there. It’s not a pop record. Coin me as mainstream or pop, man, I make real hip-hop records.”

He paused to address the knock against him among hip-hop’s blognoscenti.

“That’s one of the things that gets under my skin: when people say I’m not ‘doing it for hip-hop,’” Drake said. “Or that I’m not ‘as hip-hop’ as so-and-so. ‘Cause there’s a lot of new kids that are coming out that are dope. Everybody makes it feel like they’re so much doper than me.”

“Hip-hop isn’t not being famous. Hip-hop isn’t struggling. Hip-hop is music!” he exclaimed. “It’s a sound, a feeling, an emotion. It’s not about where you’re at in your career. I’m proud of what I’m doing in the mainstream. I wouldn’t do it any different. All the things about life I want to say, I say. And they play my songs on the radio.”

-- Chris Lee

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