On “HYFR (Hell Ya Fuckin’ Right),” one of the few bangers off Drake’s just-leaked, slow jam-heavy sophomore album Take Care, the 25 year-old Toronto rapper calls out journalists for confusing him, with half-baked questions like “Are you high right now?” and “Are you single?” His response? “Get the fuck up out my dressing room.” That anti-press sentiment might explain why Drake has been relatively quiet in the lead-up to his album’s highly anticipated November 15th release. Or maybe he’s just taking a page out of his mysterious protégé Abel Tesfaye’s (A.K.A The Weeknd) book on how to build hype. Tesfaye—the Toronto whiz-kid whose druggy, atmospheric R&B made for some of the most talked about music of the summer—rarely talks to the press, and has only been seen on stage a handful of times.
Tesfaye lends his addictive falsetto to four tracks on Take Care, an album that’s got as many shout outs to Drake’s hometown as it does to the harem of females that dot his life. With Tesfaye by his side, Drake seems eager to convince the world that Toronto’s about more than just Feist and frostbite. We spoke to hip-hop’s current prince about his new album, coming home a savior, and why The Weeknd might be best thing to happen to music since Prince.
How is your life different when you return to Toronto now?
Torontoalways felt so large to me, and I always felt like an outsider looking in, and I never thought I would be able to penetrate that world. All of a sudden, I’m like a king in this world: the strip clubs, women, fame, money—I’ve almost become this King Mayor in this world. I mean, I have, and that’s where the new album takes place. It’s more about embracing the life that’s happening right now.
What’s it like being so loved in the city that you’re from?
That’s sort of the exact gist of the album. To go from that kid who was truly a kid, who went to Forest Hill, and then Vaughn Road. I mean, I’ve seen all corners of the city, I’ve been with all kinds of people throughout the city, and just to come back and to be respected this much, it’s like a trip because I’m 25 years old.
Do you put a lot of pressure on yourself to be the mouthpiece for Toronto’s emerging rap scene?
I feel like even when you think about the greats that became gods, most of them became kings and gods when they were older. A lot of people that we respect put out their first album when they were 26, 27, and I’m 25 now, and I’m being treated like this savior. It’s the utmost form of respect, and I give it right back to them. I love them. I do everything I can for this city, and that’s really what Take Care is all about.
Are you ever blown away when you think about the amount of success you’ve had, and all the giants you’ve had a chance to work with so early in your career?
Yeah, it’s like a combination of winning the lotto ticket, and when you get the lotto ticket, you feel like lightning hitting you. That’s the best way I can put it. Winning the lottery and as you walk in to cash your ticket, you get hit by lightning. It’s rare. I used to sit at home and watch people, just watch people. I used to have pictures on my wall as a kid. I was a kid, man, and just to be able to say that in my lifetime, that everybody I had a picture on my wall of, I’ve now worked with, is an incredible thing.
You’ve been singing a lot more on your songs, and with The Weeknd’s contributions, is Take Care an R&B album as much as it is a rap album?
I think I really made a rap album. Of course, I always incorporate melody because to be honest with you, I like melodies more than rap. I thrive on writing melodies and hooks, and I love writing R&B songs within my raps. I think I really found a great balance between rap and R&B. There’s actually not a song on this album that is not straight through R&B. I think that at any point, I’m either singing, rapping, or doing both on a song. I’m not just singing. I know on the last album I had “Cece’s Interlude” and a couple of others like “Shut It Down,” but on this album, all of my R&B is more purposeful, like to tell bits of a story as opposed to slow jams out of nowhere. I’m more using R&B as transitions on this album, as opposed to making R&B songs.
Where does your love for R&B come from?
I used to take this road to Memphis with my dad, 22, 23 hours, whatever it was, and he used to let me rap for one hour. He’d give me one hour of rap, so I could play Doggystyle, Queen Latifah, whatever it was I was listening to, and then I had to listen to R&B the rest of the way, and that really shaped my ear. I used to have to listen to R&B 20 hours straight, like full albums. Then my dad told me I could bring my own R&B into the car, so I started bringing R&B artists that I liked, and that was how I discovered Aaliyah.
Are you thrilled that audiences have embraced this whole “Internet R&B” movement?
Yeah, I think it’s a different brand of R&B, and if you think about great music like Jimi Hendrix or Bob Marley, all these artists that cool kids put on their Tumblr as their icons and heroes, they all had melodies, so it’s great It’s great that it’s finding its way back to people like The Weeknd, like Frank Ocean, and myself, because melody is love, man. That’s what really commands the world, that’s what changes the world. The artist that changes the world has used melody at some point or another. The greatest artists that we all cherish and look up to have used it, so I think it’s only right. It only makes sense.
What was going through your mind during The Weeknd’s debut show this past summer in Toronto?
You know, I’ve heard him sing in front of me a lot, but it doesn’t really register with me sometimes. It’s getting on that stage that’s a different thing. Getting on that stage and being able to translate music and make it authentic to people, making it sound the way they’ve been listening to it on their iPods, or in their cars the past few months. It’s a very difficult thing to make music translate.
Were you worried he wouldn’t pull it off?
I knew he had the voice, that was never a doubt of mine. I just didn’t know how it was going to translate, and I’ll never forget being up on that balcony, and my heart was beating faster than any other show I’ve ever done. Even when Jay-Z brought me out, my heart was just beating so fast with excitement, and I was just so eager to see. I felt just like everyone else in that crowd, just eager to see what was going to happen.
And what happened?
I’ll never forget when those curtains opened and his demeanor within the first five seconds, I just knew what was about to happen. I knew it. I just knew it right away. A lot of people caught it after the first song or maybe mid-way through the show, but I knew. I knew within the first five seconds, this kid is the one.
There was a lot of chatter before the show that he wouldn’t be able to live up to the hype. Was that vindication for you, when he came out and killed it?
Nah, because you know what? I’m never that guy that goes “I told you so.” I don’t get joy out of that. I’m more the “Fuck yes!” guy. Like when I see somebody over-deliver, it’s never like a sort of “Ah, man, see, see?” It’s never that. For example, I had a show at Sound Academy, my first show in Toronto for So Far Gone. It was a crazy show, and I delivered. I went out there, and I was Drake. That’s what people wanted to see. I delivered my songs. They yelled, they screamed. I was from Toronto, so it was great.
But The Weeknd came out there and did something that I’ve never seen before in my life. He was basically up there saying, “This is why I’m here, because none of you could ever do this in your life. I am probably one of three people in the world, if that, that can sing in this high register, that can write these words down, that can put them over these beats, and give you this feeling. I am the only person. Like when I say one of three people, I’m talking like, I don’t know who else can give you this feeling. I had like Sade, Prince-type feelings when he came out on stage. I had real legendary emotions coursing through my body during his performance. It was an incredible night for him.
Did you feel that way about him when you first heard him sing?
One thing I was never able to do was doubt him, because he’s delivered on so many occasions. When he came out with the demo of House of Balloons, I remember I was in Oliver’s car, and I heard the demos, and to hear his music grow from that, I was like, Oh my God, this kid, he gets it. And then not only that, but for him to shift over and start working on Take Care with me and deliver in that realm, for me, that’s one thing I’ll never forget. So did I worry? No, because that’s my brother, that’s my friend, and I know we think the same way, and I know he wasn’t going to let it be bad. But how good it was, was mind-blowing to me. It could have just been good and it still would have been great and gotten rave reviews, but every positive word that was written about him, he deserved because it was truly something, for Toronto especially. It was the most epic performance I can remember.