The backyard of Drake’s mansion is indistinguishable from the set of one of those late-night Lifetime soft-core romance flicks. Waterfalls gush all around, surging over enormous boulders. Bronze animals—lions, elephants, giraffes!—checker the lawn, glimmering in the last light of the San Fernando Valley sun. A giant fire, fit for a king from Middle-earth, burns in an outdoor fireplace, and a flat-screen TV plays Sixteen Candles.
In the foreground of this lady-fantasy tableau sits Drake, who has the six-one body of a well-built man but the dodgy eye contact of a teenager. (At first, anyway.) He awaits me on a couch with more chintz pillows than I can count, wearing baggy jeans and Jordans, his simple gray T-shirt accentuated by two long diamond-rope necklaces, lest I forget that he is 25 sittin’ on 25 mil. At the ready are a bottle of chilled white wine and a pitcher of ice, for tonight we shall drink wine spritzers, his favorite beverage and also mine.
“If you went down the waterslide,” he says, taking my hand, helping me over the stones that cross his blue lagoon, pointing to a chute running down a steep two-story cliff above the pool, which, by the way, is filled with statues of nude women, “how amazing would that be for your article?”
Dreams have come true for Drake, and tonight he looks to be in a sharing mood. He’s going to ignore my pen and my tape recorder and my list of questions and open up his soft, emotive heart as if we were on the most amazing first date ever.
Less than four years ago, he was just Aubrey Drake Graham, a high school dropout and former child actor writing rhymes in the basement of his mom’s house in Toronto, stopping only to trip out on text messages from girls or find out where that night’s party might be. Drake’s parents split up when he was 5, and he lived in a bifurcated world, between everyday life with his mom—affluent, white, and Jewish Canadian—and the special visits and occasional summers with his father, who’s black, from Memphis, and a bit of a ne’erdo-well. When I ask him about his dad, his voice tightens, and he looks away. “Me and my dad are friends. We’re cool. I’ll never be disappointed again, because I don’t expect anything anymore from him. I just let him exist, and that’s how we get along. We laugh. We have drinks together. But I spent too many nights looking by the window, seeing if the car was going to pull up. And the car never came.”
Still, he identifies with his father and his ability to hustle, to get what he wants while having a good time. “I’ve never been reckless—it’s always calculated,” Drake says. “I’m mischievous, but I’m calculated.” So as a 15-year-old, with a successful acting career in motion, he quietly plotted his second act: hip-hop superstar. He borrowed money from his uncle and recorded Room for Improvement, his first mixtape, full of bass and braggadocio. And just like that, Lil Wayne was on the phone, calling to say he liked what he heard. Twelve number one singles, a few mixtapes, and a pair of studio albums later, it’s hard to listen to the radio and not hear Drake’s voice, telling you he’s too strung out on compliments, overdosed on confidence.
Staring into the fire, he tells me he’s part of a new generation of rappers, one that is less defined by aggression and street credibility. “Rap now is just being young and fly and having your shit together,” he says. “The mood of rap has changed.” So has the way you get huge as a rapper. Drake launched his career via a blog and Myspace; now he’s one of the biggest artists in the world. He’s keenly aware of the power—and the panoptic demands—of the social networks that made him. “Some of my favorite rappers, some of my heroes”—DJ Screw, Aaliyah—”there might be like 200 pictures of them because there was no Internet,” he says. “Whereas with us, it’s like every moment is documented.”
While he’s quick to say, “I’m actually really happy,” the fame dome has its challenges, and much of the music on his latest album, Take Care, reveals a conflicted soul. “I’m trying to find the same feelings that I had for women when I had very little going on, which is tough,” he says. “When I was in my mom’s house, I had nowhere to go, no real obligations. My girlfriend at the time, if she was mad at me, my day was all fucked-up. I didn’t have anything else. And that made for some of the best music, I think, to date. Records where I felt small. That feeling is hard to capture when you’re sitting out here in a space like this.” He gestures to the pool, the tennis court, the volleyball court, the stables. “It’s really difficult for me to find something that makes me feel small.”
Spritzer in hand, he spreads himself out on the couch and acknowledges that, yes, he had a spell there when he was fucking tons of girls…but that just wasn’t right for him: “There’s just a time where it was like, just getting pussy. Where I was in that sort of ‘I’m young, I’m going to disconnect from my emotions and just do what everyone else tells me I should do and just be a rapper and have my fun.’ And for me as a person, it just doesn’t work. I just need something else. The seconds after a man reaches climax, that’s like the realest moment of your life. If I don’t want you next to me in that fifteen, twenty seconds, then there’s something wrong.”
The fire starts to die out, Sixteen Candles comes to an end, and I ask if I can see his closet—after all, he designed his own $5,000 arctic-fox-fur, gold-hardware bomber jacket. We wander into the house, a woody manor. Drake enters some numbers into a keypad on a bookshelf and—presto!— it swings open into his massive, paisley-swathed sleeping chamber, complete with a California king bed, for which he must purchase custom sheets.
When I ask about the strange square above the bed, he grabs a remote, and a projection system emerges from the ceiling. Neato, I say.
“Would I have you already?” he asks. “Are you sleeping with me?”
Time to go!
It’s a hypothetical question (I think), but Drake, being Drake, still wants an answer: “We had wine and dinner by the pool, I brought you inside, I brought the projector down; are you or are you not sleeping with me?”