If you know me, you know I launched my CRWN live experience in spring 2013 with Tyler the Creator at NYC’s always underrated (and currently shuttered) Highline Ballroom. Five months later, after live talks with J. Cole (also at the Highline), Wale at Washington DC’s Howard Theater, and Macklemore at Seattle’s ACT Theater, CRWN reached new heights in September 2013: Aubrey Drake Graham and I sat-down together at New York University’s Skirball Center. What an evening for team CRWN.
It was a Sunday night, and we filled nine thousand seats for 90 minutes of animated and deep conversation about music. I can still hear the loud cheers, and feel the goosebumps. This was a couple of days before the release of Drake’s tremendous third album, Nothing Was The Same — which I’d already been listening to. A day or two before, Drake had a private room at the Caribbean hotspot Negril Village, and when I walked in, he and his boys were rocking out to “Worst Behavior.” Just like Drake did with 2011’s Take Care, he handed me a red iPod mini with the full album. No jerk chicken for me. I went directly back to Brooklyn and knew, by the end of “Tuscan Leather,” that things really were about to be different.
At Skirball, Drake was in an ultra-macho Fonzie swag moment. Even when pressed about Kendrick Lamar, who was sitting atop with the instant classic good kid, m.A.A.d city, Drake was unfazed. It was Drizzy’s night — but also mine. I was inspired by the fact that we were part of an unforgettable moment in hip-hop history. You could feel the magic. And it was under the auspices of a brand I’d created. Below ⬇️ read some select moments from a never-before-published transcript.
⤴️ photo: Ravie B.
photo of Elliott Wilson and Drake by Ravie B
Elliott: You took your time putting Nothing Was The Same together. You literally told us to “just wait on it” as you pieced together this project. How were you able to maintain the public’s interest, and roll out the music the way you wanted?
Drake: I think 40 (producer Noah Shebib) was a big factor in that. 40 challenged me for the first time. A lot of our projects have been like 17, 18 songs, a collection of music that I never feel like it’s enough, so what I do is I overcompensate. I do as much as I can. I try and include as much as I can. And for the first time, he challenged me to make a concise project. And he actually challenged me to hold it to 13 songs, which because he is not only my friend and not only my partner, but he’s also a mentor to me. I accepted the challenge.
I was trying to make a body of work that from front to back was … complex … but an easy listen. I wanted it to be such a journey that, once it’s over, you’re like, man — I got to listen again… I really tried to make a piece that wasn’t too much music to the point where you have to pick out your favorites. I just wanted it to flow from front to back. And in order to do that it took me a lot of time, just as far as transitions, as far as making sure the songs made sense. I didn’t tell my story using like, you know, sometimes people will tell stories using like interludes or skits or stuff like that. I tried to tell the story with the music. So, to do that it took me about a year. It’s been two years since Take Care almost, which is crazy.
Elliott: With your first album, Thank Me Later … you’ve said certain things … didn’t go the way you wanted to go. I feel like with Take Care you nailed it — and it lifted a weight off your shoulder. Since then, you’ve had extra confidence in your music. Is that fair to say?
Drake: I wouldn’t say necessarily that I nailed it on Take Care. Me and 40 have our issues with Take Care as well…there’s just moments where I feel like two songs could have been one great song. Or, you know, arrangements could have been a little different. I do love that album, and it was a time in my life where that album told that story. And for this album, I needed to tell a different story. I’m at a very different place in my life. I feel great with me. This is the first time that I’m not searching for what I had in the past. I’m not even waiting for what’s to come in the future. I mean, I’m excited for it, but the present, the life that I’m living right now is the greatest thing I could ever ask for — and I wanted to make that album.
“I was in Atlanta with 40 and I was like, man, just make me some Dip Set, that Heatmakerz shit…I was like, I really want to go off.” — Drake
Elliott: How does the album express that?
Drake: You can hear me reflecting on things, but not longing for them…I try and make like, a life soundtrack.You know, if I … write about my life, people may say about me like, oh man, everything is so emotional. But if I didn’t write about that … what the fuck else would I write about?
Elliott: But people also say that out of all the artists in hip hop, you best reflect this generation. I was at a barber shop and this dude was saying how like he loved…
Drake: You don’t go to the barber shop. That’s a lie. This guy gets like private haircuts with like warm facial massages and stuff like that. I’m at the barber shop… that was like the most hip hop thing you could say.
Elliott: Not in the ‘hood. Not in the ‘hood.
Drake: I was at the barber — you were at the salon. Okay, go ahead. They don’t give that cut at the barber shop.
Elliott: Yeah, and after my mani/pedi … Nah, on the record “From Time” you talk about reconnecting to your father, and this guy at the shop related to that. A lot of brothers don’t have a father when they’re coming up, so that’s a great example of how you’re rapping about your experience and connecting with someone who doesn’t really like too much singing in his hip hop.
Drake: That guy. I know that guy.
Elliott: Do you feel like that’s your strength now, that you’re able to do that despite the initial biases against you?
Drake: When it comes to somebody like that, you know, I’ll never be that guy to him. I’ll never be the guy that’s aggressive enough. I’ll never be the guy that you know is rap or hip hop enough. And that’s fine. I accept that. I mean… look at it like this: I have enough love. I don’t need everybody’s love, you know what I’m saying? I get it… But, it does, you know, make me happy that when there is somebody who … is like…I’m not a Drake fan, but I’ve got to say there’s some joints on here. That’s what it’s about. That’s evolution. That’s converting people’s minds.
Elliott: On this album, your bars are way more aggressive, man. You’re rapping with a certain tenacity.
Drake: Because I’m a good rapper, man. I just want to let you know that. I don’t know if you guys forgot recently, but I rap. That’s what I do.
Elliott: How have you become a better rapper? Because you’re a better rapper.
Drake: I don’t know ... how to answer that question. I just — I always want to outdo myself. I always want to outdo everybody ... around me. I’m a very competitive person. I’m just quiet about it. I’m not really out there talking about who I want to outdo. I’d rather just go and outdo it…I just want to put my music out… I push myself really hard. I have great opinions in the studio. You know, like me ... 40 [Noah Shebib], Hush [Anthony Palman], we all sit in the studio...I will sit there on the last two lines of a verse for three, four days if I need to, you know, just to figure out how to end it. I want it to be cohesive. I always want the beginning of a verse to be strong. I always want the end to be strong. I really, really spend a lot of time on bars...luckily for me, melodies come extremely easy — knock on wood, but they do. I mean, that is something that naturally like I just get in there and it starts flowing, and by forty minutes in, or an hour in I have pretty much the direction I’m going in. But when it comes to raps, I spend a lot of time on it, man. I’m not going to sit here and be like, Oh, you know, that’s all off the top, baby. You know what I’m saying? Nah. I spend a lot of time.
“Here’s what’s funny about you and Kendrick Lamar. It’s like, people forget. You had him on Take Care. You had him on “Buried Alive.” — Elliott Wilson
Elliott: You spend a lot of time on that intro of “Tuscan Leather.”
Drake: I do. I do spend a lot of time on my intros.
Elliott: Talk about that record. Like why do you think it was so important to kind of set the tone of the album with that type of song and literally say that you’re spending time with this and firing bars and bars and bars?
Drake: This album I set out to have the most aggressive intro to date. You know, all my other intros, like if you talk about “Lust for Life,” then “Fireworks.” Then “Over My Dead Body.” They’re all sort of like these lead-ins that when it comes to the production they’re like sort of somber and they’re impactful but they weren’t “Tuscan Leather.” I was in Atlanta with 40 and I was like, man, just make me some Dip Set, that Heatmakerz shit…I was like, I really want to go off. And he made this beat and I did the verse and then…throughout the course of that album, the beat just kept evolving. And I would take it somewhere else for the second verse. And then the third verse went somewhere else. And then Curtis Mayfield is on the end. And it was just like… an art piece. It became an album in and of itself.
Elliott: Someone just yelled out, “Kendrick!” It seems like nowadays people want to build Kendrick…
Drake: Nobody yelled out Kendrick. You just heard that in your head. When you go to sleep you just hear somebody be like, “Kendrick Lamar!”
Elliott: No. But here’s what’s funny about you and Lamar. It’s like, people forget. You had him on Take Care. You had him on “Buried Alive.” There’s a skit on Take Care, where y’all talk about a meeting that you guys had, where you kind of were schooling him on game. And there’s a great line about how he realized he’s the same age as you, and it made him rude and impatient. It’s foreshadowing, you know, he ended up making a great record, good kid, maad city.
Drake: A phenomenal album by the way. Phenomenal album [Skirball audience claps] Yeah, round of applause.
Elliott: And now he takes the competitive stance with a verse like “Control.” Do you feel like the public is trying to create a competition, hype this up and elevate it too much?
Drake: It’s like, you know, he’s the new guy to love. And, of course … rightfully so. He’s super talented. He is the underdog that’s extremely hungry. And he’s doing his thing really well. And that verse was — he’s giving people … moments, you know, like that verse was a moment to talk about. And then … it was real cool for like… a couple weeks. But like if I asked you, for example, like, how does that verse start?
Elliott: [hesitates with response…]
[Skirball audience ERUPTS!]
Drake: And now mind you, it’ll go on Complex, and Rap Radar will give it like Verse of the Millennium and all that … I remember … somebody like asking me — maybe it was you — if Kendrick is my biggest competition in this generation … I think Kendrick has the utmost potential, man. I see Kendrick tomorrow? I’m gonna dap him. I didn’t feel a way about that verse. I get it. I get the moment. When it comes to competition…I’m more worried about consistency. I’m more worried about bodies of work. I’m talking about hit records … I can’t wait to see what [Kendrick] does, because now it’s time to show and prove and consistency…I look forward to seeing what he does, man. He’s fuckin’ super talented, so, yeah, cheers to Kendrick Lamar.
“I’m a good rapper, man. I just want to let you know that. I don’t know if you guys forgot recently, but I rap. That’s what I do.” — Drake
Elliott: “Too Much.” You debuted it on Fallon. And you gave a little disclaimer actually before you performed it. Why did you do that?
Drake: Oh, that’s a great question. So, yeah, why did I give a disclaimer before? I’ll be very honest and candid with you. I gave a disclaimer before because a couple nights before I did that performance I gave my mother an iPod. I gave my mother an iPod with the album on it and I told her to listen to that song. I had told her about it previously, but I told her to listen to it, partly to make sure that she was comfortable with it, but I didn’t say that. I just said just make sure you listen to this one song.
And for the first time my mom was extremely upset. She was like really upset with me. She was upset because she felt like it warranted a personal conversation before I went and said that in the song. And what I had to remind her of is that we had had this personal conversation many times over and I felt like it wasn’t going anywhere and it was sitting on my chest so heavy that one night when I had that second verse to finish —it was like a huge release. I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything like that before. I mean, I wasn’t even writing the words down, and I’m not just saying that to sound cool. I wasn’t even writing it down. I was just in the booth running in and out going line by line because thoughts were racing through my head so fast.
And, yeah, I’ve got hit up by like girls before, like whatever, you know, people that feel like they got mis-mentioned in a song. And I never do it out of malice. I don’t try and exploit the people in my life. If you listen to my music, it’s not like I’m here like, oh this girl, you know what I’m saying, she done been with this guy. I don’t out people. I do tell my story, though.
And any girl that I’ve ever mentioned, she loves it anyway. She just does.
But, yeah, with that being said, I gave that disclaimer on TV because I knew my mother would be watching. And since I chose to communicate that message to her publicly, I also wanted to communicate another message to her publicly which was that, just like I love you, you know, I do. I love you with all my heart and I want the best for you.
“I feel great with me. This is the first time that I’m not searching for what I had in the past. I’m not even waiting for what’s to come in the future.” — Drake
Elliott: Back to the album’s intro you have a powerful line where you say “we’ll see who’s still around a decade for now.” Why will you still be here a decade for now?
Drake: I’m definitely in this for the long-term. I have a long-term vision. And I feel like I built a strong enough relationship with the people. No offense to anybody else, I respect what everybody does. I respect what you do. I respect that, but I don’t care about anything … except for the people. Because the people will dictate how long you stay in this game. So with that being said, my duty is to give them what they need, what they want. I work tirelessly to stay on their mind. To give the moments where it’s going to be hard for us to just disconnect or fall apart.
I want to build personal relationships, even if we’ve never met personally. So, why I think I’ll be here in a decade is just because I’m dedicated to that…we’ve grown together. I mean, from the looks of this crowd, we’ve grown from like Jimmy Brooks in the wheelchair, to So Far Gone, to Thank Me Later, to Take Care, to Nothing Was The Same. And Comeback Season…And with that being said, you know, I feel like we have so much more growing to do.
a danyelliott production
Danyel Smith + Elliott Wilson