Drake talks about making his upcoming album, growing as a rapper, and finding a mentor in Stevie Wonder: An EW Q&A
The summer’s nearly over. But rap wiz Drake is feeling the heat. The deadline to submit the final version of his sophomore album, Take Care, is one month out. To say the least, it’s crunch time. Though, it seems he’s comfy in the clutch.
While holed up in his “quaint” Toronto studio recently, Drake checked in with EW to give us a progress report on the album, due on his birthday, October 24. Creatively, he says he’s “at a great place” and has a tons a recorded material to select from.
In the EW story on stands now, he gave us five recording rules to live by. Here, though, we get into the rest of the conversation—one that includes, among other things, how Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne album impacted his project, how his song with Stevie Wonder might make you shed a tear, and why you won’t hear him crying about his riches this go around.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In what ways are you challenging yourself this album?
DRAKE: I push myself in a lot of aspects when I write a song. I write a piece and where most people would stop and say “Oh, that’s the hook right there,” I’ll move that to the first four bars of the verse and do a new hook. That makes the song easy to learn and catchy. That’s how I like to challenge myself. I’ll write something and everyone that’s around might be like “Oh that’s that hook right there.” And then I’ll write something better than that.
How many tracks are you shooting for here?
Obviously, I can only fit so many songs on a CD. So what I’m doing is there will be a Take Care physical edition in stores that’ll hopefully have 15 to 17 songs on it. Then I know a lot of people do deluxe editions. But since October 24 is a special day for me, I got, like, a Take Care birthday edition that I’m going to put on iTunes that will have extra songs. I really want to encourage people to be excited about the album releasing. I remember how excited a lot of artists used to make me. I used to want to buy the physical copy to see the artwork. And if there were any bonus tracks, I’d go find them. I’m definitely trying to cause some of that excitement. I hope people go get the songs off the birthday edition. It’s going to be great, man. I’ve got a wide array of music this time. I’m very excited.
Talk to me about your team. Who are the people who are helping guide you through the album?
There are about three or four major opinions that I respect. Obviously, the main one would be [engineer and producer] 40 (Noah Shebib). He’s worked with me every single night I’ve set foot in the studio since Comeback Season. He knows what I’m capable of and he’s not afraid to say “You can do that better” or “That’s it” or “I know you can write a better verse than that.” And Oliver El-Khatib, who has progressed from my friend who just used to advise me on how to dress to a guy who came up with the artwork for So Far Gone to, since he’s such a creative brain, that he’s become one of my managers. Then my DJ Future the Prince has a great ear for music. And probably the most important person in the equation is Hush, who is a friend of mine who grew up rapping in Toronto and he’s present every night. If anyone knows what I’m capable of, it’s Hush. We love rap the same way and we have the same exact ear. So I know he’s hearing what I’m hearing. I never take criticism personally from anyone. I love feedback, but especially when it comes to Hush. He understands rap probably better than anyone else I mentioned. And he’s a close friend of mine.
Rap has become like fast food. Fans want it quickly and a lot of it. It’s only been a year since Thank Me Later and your fans seem to be starving for Take Care. Do you think they’ve forgotten that artists need life experiences to craft their art?
Yeah! You’ve got to live, man. Exactly. I remember when artist used to take, like, four years to make an album. Usher used to disappear for three years. It took Justin Timberlake a really long time to craft Justified. Even Beyoncé’s albums are spanned three years apart. You’ve got to live, man. And now we’ve sort of birthed and encouraged this generation of instant gratification. Where it’s like “The Weeknd’s about to release his new mixtape on Twitter and I can get it right away with the click of a button.” He just released House of Balloons a couple of months ago and they’re already like, “We need new s—! You’re taking too long.” It’s crazy, man.
I really hope that there’s people who sit with the music and drive to it and just really soak it in—not just run back to the computer and demand more. It’s important for our generation to know that it’s okay to take some time. It’s okay if an album takes a year or two to make. That just means it’s probably going to be better than if they took two months and released it.
That’s why I felt like with the Thank Me Later process I was almost trying to create some stories for myself to rap about because everything was going so fast. I was in such demand at the time that I was almost disconnecting with what was going on around me. It was kind of hard to tap into the psyche of myself. I could still make great songs. But it was hard to give people a huge part of Aubrey at that time. I didn’t have that much going on other than work. For this album I spent a lot of time in Toronto. I’ve been here for the longest time since my career started. I’ve been here for like four months now, just seeing people I know, seeing my family, seeing friends, going out, driving in the city again. It’s incredible. I think words are something I’m eager for people to hear. That’s why I’m not doing any listening sessions. I really don’t want your first impression to be from some—and no offense to you obviously—from some writer that sees it through one set of eyes and ears and then the whole world goes and forms an opinion based off that article. I want people to get it all on the same day. Even if it leaks, I want people to hear it together, as opposed to reading an in depth article about every song. I don’t people to know what to expect. There’s a lot of shocking sonic music on this album.
What do you think of how Jay-Z and Kanye West released Watch the Throne? They did a couple of exclusive sessions. I went to the first one. And they kept the album from leaking by going straight to iTunes.
With Jay and with Watch the Throne, I’m so glad that it came out. As artists, we all need extra motivation. And I feel like in these last 30 days, that album is going to make me go 10 times harder from just, you know, hearing all the bars and all the sounds.
Have you thought of adopting their release approach?
I think with the Jay and ‘Ye thing, that was their approach—releasing it exclusively to digital, and doing the listening parties, and getting everybody involved and excited. I think that it was a brilliant approach. Do I necessarily think that Jay or ‘Ye would do that for a solo project? No. Do I think that Jay would release exclusively to digital and, like, play all of his music off a solo album to be dissected by critics? No. I’ve discussed doing projects with is obviously Lil Wayne. And one of the people of the people I enjoy rapping with most in this business is Rozay [Rick Ross]. Me and him have talked about potentially doing something after our albums comes out. I just love making songs with him. Every time we make a song it just seems to be something I love listening to after the fact when I’m in my car.
So no press previews, huh?
I just want people to be able to form their own opinion. It’ll drop in that fall season. I thrive in the fall. And I just want everybody to have that experience, whatever city you’re in, to listen to it in your atmosphere. Whether it’s in your headphones at the gym, or your car, however you do your music thing. I just want you to have that experience before you read how this beat sounds or this person’s favorite line or them saying what the worst song on the album is. Reviews condition people. At the end of the day, a lot of human minds are malleable. They can be easily shaped with strong words. You get a figure like Elliott Wilson who, to a lot of these kids, is a go-to for news and information—you get him writing a certain thing about your album, it may change the way people feel. I just want people to be able to form their own opinion.
I know you can’t confirm producers and features yet since the album isn’t done. But I have read that Stevie Wonder’s a role on the album as a writer. Am I right?
Less writing and more music. The only person I really wrote with is Abel. We have a bond with words. Getting the right words is like a euphoric feeling. There are a lot of records that we collaborated on. With Stevie it was a musical thing. I had a song that’s very powerful, it’s called “Doing It Wrong,” and Stevie boosted it to another level. 40 produced it, but Stevie has a solo on it that he plays. It’s a great piece of music.
Specifically, what did he bring to the record?
He brought life to it. I was only trying to use extremely strong R&B songs on this album if I’m going to use R&B at all. Before I’d have scattered interludes and songs where I’m experimenting with things. Here I wanted to get back to “Brand New,” “Bria’s Interlude” days. It’s going to be really tight writing and s— that’s sexy as f—. That’s my thing. I’m going to do the type of R&B I’m good at. With Stevie it’s hard for me to explain. It’s an incredible thing I witnessed that night. He heard a song that he saw some potential in and he added some key pieces that made it come to life. I’ve never played a song for people and they’ve cried and gone into their own private zone in their mind where they’re really thinking about some situations that hit home. And this song has done that for me. I’ve never seen that before. I’ve heard stories where it’s like “So and so cried when they heard this.” And I’d be like, “Yeah, okay, cool.” [Laughs] But I’ve seen people tear up listening to this song that me and Stevie did. Other than that, I just played him music for approval. That’s always reassuring, to be able to play Stevie Wonder music and have him say that it’s incredible. I think me and Stevie immediately formed a relationship where he wants to see me do well. He’s expressed to me adamantly that he wants to see me succeed. He wants to see me on the moon. It’s boosted my confidence.
That should be the tag of the album: “Stevie liked it.”
[Laughs] I mean, he heard a few things. I leave it to guys like you to approve the rap stuff. But from a singing and melody standpoint, he was proud of what 40 and me had crafted at that time. When he came to the studio to do his parts on “Doing It Wrong,” a few hours after, I made “Marvin’s Room.” It’s a great story, this album is.
Thank Me Later had quite a bit of features on it. Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz, Jay, Jeezy, Wayne, Nicki, The-Dream, T.I…. Think you’re going to relax on the guest appearances this time?
Yeah, I was in my mind, I think, as it is for every kid that this happens to, to do a that dream album where you kind of want to flex a little bit of muscle. The best way I can put it, I guess, is that like at OVO Fest, although it should be my most nerve-racking show because it’s 18,000 people sold out in my hometown, there’s a calm that comes over me because I know have this roster of special guests. I know that you’re about to see Wayne, Stevie, Jay, Eminem, you know? It’s a calming feeling when you know you’ve got some cards to pull. And I think that was the deal with Thank Me Later. It was my first album. It was a bit rushed. And I think I found solitude in having features from people I love. It was a heavy feature album. And this album is the complete opposite.
Some early Drake fans aren’t as big on you anymore, but not for any good reasons. I’m sure you get “We want the kid from So Far Gone!” a lot. That must be frustrating.
Yeah, people always say “I miss the old you.” And I take it. I go, “I hear you man.” I don’t ever lash out on online or whatever. What’s interesting is that they don’t really miss the old me, because any real fan would want me to evolve and get better. And think what people miss are the time markers. For a lot of people our albums are time markers. So Far Gone is a time marker. You may have had a different girlfriend at that time or not graduated for school yet. Life may have been simpler. So when people say that, I just think they’re saying they miss that time in their lives. Great. They associate me with that time in their life.
People always give you a hard time because, in a way, you frequently sound sorry about being rich and famous. Content-wise, what can we expect from Take Care?
With this record, I knew I couldn’t talk about “Oh, I miss my old friends.” On Thank Me Later I said something like “I wish wasn’t famous. I wish I was still in school.” At that time that was really how I felt. But when I listen back to it… I’m more confident now. I just got my mother into a nice apartment. And she just got surgery and she’s healthy. And my friends all have money and they’re getting their own places. I can’t do another album about wanting to go backwards. If I do that, people are going to be like, “Man, f— you! Tell me what’s real. Tell me what’s good about this s—. Make me want to chase this. Let me know the ups and downs of this shit for real. Don’t tell you about what you miss.” That’s why I came back [to Toronto], so I couldn’t say, “I miss Toronto.” I have one song that’s sort of about that, but this album isn’t about missing anything. This album is about living it and owning it and letting you know exactly what I go through. It’s not Drake on So Far Gone and it’s not Drake on Thank Me Later. I can’t go back to the old me. It’s impossible. I’m proud of who I’ve evolved into, for sure.
As a listener, I can tell you’ve grown a lot as a rapper. Have you made the same realization? I’ve heard you say that you really want to step it up on this album.
The other day me and 40 found a box of So Far Gone CDs—like actual CDs that we gave out around the city when I dropped the mixtape. That night I drove home listening to it and it hit me right there. As well put together and different as it was, it hit me that “You can rap better than this now.” It was like I told myself, “Congratulations, you can spit better than this now.” But it’s hard for me to pat myself on the back. My arms don’t reach that far. I can’t really get a good pat. [Laughs] I’m pushing myself. I’m 24 and there are a lot of eyes on me, a lot of pressure on me. And I just want to be someone they remember. I want to speak for this generation.
You’ve leaked a few “singles” this summer. What of the bunch is actually on Take Care?
“Headlines” and “Marvin’s Room” are on the album. But “Dreams Money Can Buy” and “Trust Issues,” those joints are on that birthday edition. That birthday edition might be a stupid amount of songs. I’m just forewarning everybody. [Laughs] I want to service people a lot of music to get you through fall, winter, spring, and into the next summer. I want this music to last. That’s not to say I won’t be working on new things. But I just want to create something that has a long shelf life than the average album these days.
Is your Universal [his record label] pissed that you give so much music away for free on your site?
I did this for the people from the jump. I’ve put myself in a position where nobody can tell me what kind of songs to do or how many to put on the album. There are no restrictions. I want people to know that. That doesn’t mean there’s no fighting. But I don’t care about anybody’s voice outside of my fans’. I’m never trying to take the political road and play things safe. I just want people to have great music. Music got me through a lot of s—. I just want to give people enough to where they’re satisfied.