Why is Canadian hip hop culture gaining so much recognition? Drake.
Before the Drake era, Canadian rap had only around four appearances on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and the highest peak position was Dangerous by Kardinal Official at #5. He and K’Naan accounted for all four top charting tracks. Kardinal Official or K’Naan.
But in the past decade there have been 36 Canadian hip hop songs that have made the Billboard Hot 100 with top peaks of #2 and #6 — and that’s not including Drake.
Since 2012, Drake has signed, promoted, and has even done features for many Canadian artists to gain recognition like Partynextdoor, The Weeknd, and Smiley. Drake has mentored a new wave of Canadian artists to prove themselves in the music industry.
Drake was himself once on the other end of a mentoring relationship. When Drake was starting out, he signed to Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment At the time Lil Wayne was one of, if not the most mainstream and popular rappers, so for Drake this was beyond a blessing. Lil Wayne took Drake under his wing, giving him features, but more importantly became best friends in the process. Drake constantly reminds us of how much Lil Wayne helped him, from his songs like “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” or simply on his Instagram story.
With all this in mind, Drake wanted to do the same thing by signing and befriending his city’s underground talent.
In 2012 Drake and long-time friends and producers “40” and Oliver El-Khatib started their own record label called OVO Sound. They have been signing Canadian talent since April 2013 when they signed PartyNextDoor.
OVO sound prioritizes Canadian artists with 6 out of 7 artists being Canadian. They promote and project the newest Canadian artists to the international music industry. Drake would often mentor these artists to help them find their sound and give them proper tools and opportunities, become good friends with them, shout them out on his heavy social media following and sometimes do a feature which is usually worth upwards of half a million dollars. Those features often help the artist gain traction and a following, such as in the case of Smiley.
Smiley is an artist recently signed to OVO Sound after he and Drake released their hit song “Over the Top” which peaked at 57 on the US billboard Hot 100.
Smiley said in an interview with Complex that Drake first was listening to Smiley before he became popular in 2014. Drake even showed him support by messaging him on Instagram while he was in jail for gun charges, this was before he and Drake ever talked. This gesture came unexpectedly, and Smiley was starstruck thinking to himself “Why me?”
He later says the message gave him a new energy to succeed and to pursue music more seriously. While smiley was in jail, Drake dropped his album Scorpion and listed Smiley’s Bye or Buy album as one of his inspirations for it.
Smiley says after that their relationship really started. Smiley also said refers to Drake as family and said, “I feel like I wouldn’t choose it any other way [signing with OVO sound].”
Drake has signed or promoted other artists like PartyNextDoor and Roy Woods, both from the Toronto area. Drake has also had a relationship with The Weeknd and others, although it has been rocky.
In early 2011, The Weeknd was still a smaller artist trying desperately to make it mainstream. Drake on the other hand was rising quicker than gas prices. After one of The Weeknds performances, Drake went up to talk to him backstage and asked if he wanted to collab with him. Later that year The Weeknd featured on Drakes OVO Sound blog as well as on Drakes second studio album “Take Care.”
This boosted The Weeknd to become a household name.
On an interview with Captial Xtra, The Weeknd said that Drake was one of his “closest friends in the industry.” He also said, “if it wasn’t for the light [Drake] shined on me who knows where I’d be.”
Although The Weeknd and Drake had a little dispute over The Weeknd not signing to OVO Sound, they are better now. The Weeknd is still appreciative on what Drake did for him despite their past tension.
During the Drake and Weeknd fallout, OVO Sound signed their first artist PartyNextDoor, a Toronto artist and song writer who has written for and work with Drake, Rihanna, Kanye West, Zayn, and others. PartynNextDoor is the most successful artist that OVO Sound has signed. He was a small artist with lots of potential when Drake signed him. Now Party has three top 15 albums on the billboard 200 and 12 songs on the hot 100 over his career.
Drake has featured on many of Party’s songs and is usually promoting his work on his social media and has become great personal friends as well as co-workers.
Party said on an interview with MTV that Drake understands and trusts him and lets him be himself. He later says, “It really helps when a superstar making number ones, number ones, number ones, actually understands you.” Drake seems like he is more than a mentor, Party refers to him being a “big Bro” across multiple interviews.
Drake’s label is succeeding in growing the Canadian sound and brand, working on finding and supporting new talent as Lil Wayne once did for him.
As Drake once said on his song “When to say When,” “I got all these blessing to give it to others anyway.”
cover image: flickr.com/Aaron McMurtry