Drake: The Heeb Interview

articleimagesIt’s a brisk October night, and Aubrey “Drake” Graham – Canadian television actor-turned-fledgling hip-hop superstar — is being chauffeured around his native Toronto in a Bentley Continental Flying Spur. A skinny guy in cornrows named T. Rex drives while I sit in the backseat with Drake’s personal manager, Oliver. Drake rides shotgun, fielding a relentless stream of phone-calls. We’re making our way to a downtown Italian restaurant, Sotto Sotto, Drake’s favorite, but as we turn a corner, there’s an unpromising flapping noise.

T. Rex slows the Bentley down to a crawl — a flat tire. Irritated, Drake cuts off his phone conversation: “This is like the fourth time that’s happened,” he says to no one in particular. “The guy at the dealership threw in these fucked up rims.” At the gas station, the three of us pile into a cab (T. Rex stays behind for the car) and Drake turns with a big grin and a shoulder squeeze to addresses me directly for the first time: “So how you doing, man?”

At Sotto Sotto, Drake tucks his 6’2″ frame, decked out unassumingly in baggy jeans and a black hoodie, inside the restaurant’s low-slung alcove. We’ve been waiting for our table for less than a minute yet a torrent of obsequious well-wishers — managers, waiters, bus boys — has already approached. They pump my hand as well, figuring me for a member of the extended entourage, and apologize for the wait. The hostess tells Drake she’ll send over a specific waiter — “Angelo’s your favorite, right?” As soon as we sit, a wiry man bounds over to quickly out-sycophant the others with offers of cocktails and shrimp appetizers. He hustles over a tray of unidentified shots. “It’s light,” Angelo promises. Drake is pleased – “fuck it, let’s get sloshed.” He toasts Angelo and downs the drink.

Technically Graham’s been famous since he was fourteen. That’s when he landed the role of the popular, basketball playing Jimmy Brooks on Canada’s high-school drama Degrassi: The Next Generation. But only since last summer — and the runaway success of his single, the atypically sweet “Best I Ever Had” – has the 23-year-old begun dealing with issues like ill-fitting Bentley rims.

The rise started last winter when he posted his third mix tape, So Far Gone, for free download on his personal blog. At the time, he was unsigned and virtually unknown in America. By the modest expectations new artist mix tapes, So Far Gone was an immediate success; Drake became a steady fixture on in the rap media, most notably on the influential NahRight.com. Gone quickly became much more: By April, without a promotional push, Gone‘s single “Best I Ever Had” was getting radio airplay; by the end of May, it cracked the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop top ten. By July, it was the third most popular song in America.

“Best I Ever Had” sounds just like something hip-hop-station programmers would gravitate towards: a love song with a big fat R&B hook and just a touch of raunch and bravado. It nails average-Joe details (“know you got a roommate, call me when it’s no one there”) and brims with wide-eyed earnestness (“sweat pants, hair tied, chillin’ with no make-up on / that’s when you the prettiest”). Great pop songs about love don’t need to feel authentic to be great; this one, though, does.

At his unofficial coming out party at New York’s S.O.B.s, Drake performed a much-talked-about set for a rabid crowd featuring industry cognoscenti Talib Kweli, Bun B, Ryan Leslie, Lyor Cohen and Kanye West. As Billboard’s report from the S.O.B.s show put it, “Drake . . . has the biggest buzz in hip-hop right now.”

Though the speed of his ascendance is surprising, Drake’s background is even more so. His tenure on Degrassi, a well-intentioned, helplessly goofy TV show that routinely tackles after-school-special issues with all the subtlety of Wile E. Coyote’s anvil-deployment technique, is well covered. Less widely known, though, is his religious affiliation: Drake was born to an African-American father and a Jewish mother, who divorced when he was five. Raised by his mother in Forest Hill, a heavily Jewish neighborhood of Toronto, he attended a Jewish day school, and was even Bar Mitzvah’d (the song of the night was Backstreet Boys’s “I Want It That Way”). All of which is to say that, whatever else happens, Drake is already the first-ever black Jewish rap star.

Coming up: “I went to a Jewish school, where nobody understood what it was like to be black and Jewish.”

What do you think?

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About The Author

Amos Barshad

Amos Barshad has written for Spin, SLAM, the Weekly Dig, Real Detroit Weekly, and the Arkansas Times. He's an assistant editor at New York Magazine's entertainment blog, Vulture, which means he's typed the words "Lil Wayne" more times than Lil Wayne's personal stenographer.

28 Responses

  1. Leahli

    Love, love, love this article!!!! I’m so happy that you guys did the obligatory Drake article. And I’m so happy that Drake is a proud Jew and doesn’t shy away from pronouncing that. I really do hope he follows his mom’s desire and marries a nice Jewish girl- and I really hope that girl is me!

  2. Sue

    I’m a Black Jewish Canadian mom with a beautiful son of my own. Drake’s story is a 1-in-a-billion fairytale. If he continues to be proud of who he is, the success will always follow.

  3. wcgcapone

    This seems like pretty much every article on Drake, I wish his Judaism would have been explored for more than just a paragraph.

  4. Wow.

    You’re not black Drake, you may think you are, but you aren’t. Nothing about you is black.

  5. Sue

    Really “Wow”? You really want to debate Drake’s “Blackness”? So, what is a Black person to you? Woolly hair, big rubbery lips and an affectation? Or is it one’s ability to pop n’ lock? Ooh, ooh, maybe how well they keep their pimp-hand strong! It’s 2010 and there are still miscreants like yourself who measure and place people into their little assigned racial boxes in order to make your own miserable existence make sense. There all ranges of “being” in every race and not all of us fit the stereotypes society tosses around. We are free express ourselves and choose any identity we desire. For example, I respect your choice to be an a$$hole of the highest order. But I have to go now – the chitlins and gefilte fish won’t make themselves! Shalom Beotch!

  6. A

    “first-ever black Jewish rap star”- any research to back the claim? What about Y-love? Also Gavriel Butler is pretty famous in israel but I think he’s a Black Hebrew

  7. Courtenay

    Black and Jewish are not mutually exclusive. Never were. They have co-existed since Biblical times. I’m proud to be both, and so, it seems, is Drake. Good for him. Wish him well.

  8. beisdin tsedek

    It would have been good to see the Jewish element of this story expanded. I would have wanted to know who his rav is, and why nivul peh is mutar for him.

  9. Writing in Rochester

    I don’t know what’s sadder, that other JDS kids gave him shit about being black, or that they used the word “schwartze.” Really? That’s a rhetorical statement, but still.

  10. irie


  11. Adrakefan

    I like to listen to drake, he is one of my favorite new male rappers today. I grew up listening to Bow Wow, Jay-Z, Naz, Will Smith, who is actually my favorite rapper of all times, but I think to me that both of them are tied to who is my favorite today. I have both cds, So Far Gone & Thank Me Later, which I gotta know why isnt Trey Songz on that Cd, Drake? I just want to know because I like to listen to the both of you on a track, just wondering. Anyway, just letting you know that I am a fan and I know that your carrer is going much highter!

  12. La Kahena

    drake is not the first black and jewish hip hop star. stop exoticizing us. time to get this jewish diversity thing right, HEEB

  13. Puck

    Time to get this “English” thing right, La Kahena :P
    He’s the first hot black, Jewish hip hop star :P

  14. RGB

    Two paragraphs in, a reference to rims on a Bentley. Chris Rock would definitely say he’s Black enough, Wow.

  15. EJ

    Ummmm, Bizzy Bone was very hot when BOne-Thugs N Harmony was big and I’m sure there are other rappers with Black/Jewish heritage. Many Jews dig chocolate;-)

  16. MoMiJa

    Lol really? I’m a little late but I’m gonna jump on it anyway. This non-fictional story / interview only bring out comments on his race? Ah! I hate that word. But in truth was is race? I’ll tell you… there is no race. We are all different yet the same. I myself am classified as a black female. But really there is nothing that a white girl has that I don’t and visversa… it depends on how dominant your genes are. Up close we are all the same color. Brown. Some more brown than others. We all have the same color blood. Depending on gender we all have the same anotomy and physiology. I’m tired of “race” impacting on how people think. As for the jewish part… I don’t want to touch that. All I know is that they too went through hell in the past and today as well. I have never spent time with a jew and knew they were a jew. But I do respect them. I respect all. I don’t believe anyone is above nor below me. Can we drop it at that. Let’s acknowledge Drake for being a true artist with words. He is a great rapper and singer with an amazing mind and I’m so proud of him for showing the world who he is…. A man with a passion.

  17. Fendot

    Moses married a black woman. Whats the big deal about being black and jewish? Been going on since the ancient world mixing of cultures in the African/Middle eastern region. I suggest you folks read the book RESCUE OF JERUSALEM. Brilliantly tells the tale of how Kush/Egyptians saved Israel from annihilation. Blacks kings saved the jews. Jewish rapper saving black music…


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