Stepping into Drake’s apartment on the 52nd floor of a Toronto high-rise, with sweeping, unobstructed views of the CN Tower and Lake Ontario in the distance, all is quiet, save for a large-screen TV playing nonstop coverage of Hurricane Irma on CNN. Though he no longer has a house in Miami, Drake is transfixed by the news. That’s just the way he approaches any subject that interests him. He dives deep, albeit on his own schedule. “This interview is kind of early for me,” he admits, though it’s presently 1:45 p.m. The night before, he started plowing through musical ideas — an instrumentation, a beat, an arrangement — well after midnight, and he didn’t stop until 10 a.m. “My wheels just start spinning faster than most people’s at that hour,” says the 31-year-old rapper-musician and former teen actor, dressed in a navy blue tracksuit and plain white Nikes. “It’s best for me to find an atmosphere that’s quiet. I don’t like a lot of people around when there’s a task at hand.”
Case in point, I find no entourage here, only longtime manager and business partner Adel “Future” Nur, 32 (not to be confused with Future, the Atlanta-born rapper). The duo is in their hometown of Toronto on this brisk September afternoon to debut their first movie as producers, The Carter Effect, a documentary about high-flying former NBA star Vince Carter, which is premiering at the Toronto Film Festival. The previous night, LeBron James swung into town to host a celebratory dinner at Drake’s pan-Asian restaurant Fring’s for a group of 30, including executives from HBO Sports and Universal Pictures and such stars as Idris Elba (who rolled in from his Molly’s Game premiere with an entourage of about 12). After heaping congratulations on his friend, James joked in a toast that they both now have “day jobs” — a reference to their budding Hollywood careers.
Drake is eager to talk about his ambitious push into film and TV, which includes teaming with Netflix to revive the critically acclaimed but short-lived British crime series Top Boy(think an across-the-pond version of The Wire). Drake and Future along with James’ SpringHill Entertainment will executive produce the series, which will go into production early next year for a 2019 debut. The pair also is shopping the Sean Menard-helmed Carter Effect, which also may land at Netflix. But the biggest indicator of Drake’s big Hollywood push is whom he is partnering with next: Steve Golin, who runs Anonymous Content (one of Hollywood’s hottest production houses and home of Spotlight and Mr. Robot), for an untitled TV series; film studio A24; and, perhaps most significantly, Apple, which has given him the go-ahead to produce whatever he chooses — at least, according to Jimmy Iovine — just as the cash-flush titan is poised to shake up the content space.
If some of the details seem vague, chalk it up to the fact that everything Drake touches becomes a news story or internet meme, with lengthy trademark battles ensuing. He once popularized the term “YOLO,” the acronym for “you only live once,” on “The Motto,” a bonus track from his 2011 album, Take Care. The term wound up on unauthorized clothing and merchandise and became a legal headache. That’s why he and Future won’t even divulge the name of their new company yet. Ditto for the specifics on their film and TV projects. Everything needs to be locked down first, including the rights to a magazine story that will serve as the basis of the Golin collaboration.
Yet, despite all the monetary success, three Grammys and artistic cred, Drake possesses a self-deprecating streak, which throws me. The 15-foot white walls of his apartment are mostly bare, save for a neon art piece that says: “Less Drake, More Tupac,” from L.A. artist Patrick Martinez. “I love it,” he says of the piece that set him back a mere $6,000 but allows him to take a certain ownership of the haters, and there are many who think he’s not hard enough. “I mean, people are entitled to their opinion, but this opinion, I’d just rather it be here than anywhere else.”
If it were up to Hollywood, that art piece would simply read: “More Drake.” At a time when the film business is arguably broken, an increasingly bifurcated system of globally consumed tentpoles lacking any cultural specificity and small movies that fall into the ether, Hollywood certainly can learn something from the Drake model. “They’re really geniuses with the marketing of their music,” says Golin. “Their social media, the way they do all that, that’s very interesting to us. I’m kind of enamored of the way that they communicate and interact with their fans and their audience.” He also just finds them pleasant to be around. “There’s a lot of vain musicians at that age who are successful that I can’t deal with, but those guys are very accessible. Drake doesn’t mind when it comes to meetings and being involved; he wants to be proactive.”