If one were to measure celebrity status by the level of gossip that surrounds it, Drake would be an even bigger star than he already is.
Take last weekend's Grammy Awards. The Canadian rapper introduced Nicki Minaj's bizarre exorcism production number, thus rekindling long-brewing rumors that the two were an item.
Rihanna was there that night, too. And since she was Drake's duet partner on the title tune to his current album, Take Care (and its accompanying video), there was undoubtedly tabloid talk there as well.
Then, Monday morning, the Internet lit up with buzz that Drake and fellow rapper Common got into a backstage brawl at the ceremony.
Oh, to be young, bankable and insanely popular. Drake — born in Toronto as Aubrey Drake Graham — knows it, too. The most involving track on Take Care is a curiously melancholy meditation called Headlines. Set against a Philip Glass-like wash of electronica (and, coincidentally in its video, light-speed edits that could pass for a rap version of Koyaanisqatsi), Drake, 25, reflects on security, affluence, friendship and their fragile co-existence once success gets thrown into the mix.
"I might be too strung out on compliments/ Overdosed on confidence/ Started not to give a (expletive) and stopped fearing the consequence."
The music is all light, fanciful and, well, musical — something a lot of chart-topping rap tunes simply aren't. But the words suggest almost folkish introspection. Similarly, the story line might seem self-consuming at first — you know, another parable of the tortured pop star. Yet Drake, when he chooses to, scans the soul pretty convincingly. Take Care (the song) has the kind of pop accessibility that will maintain Drake's crossover appeal for the time being, but songs like Headlines approximate the kind of brittle, literate self-appraisals that bring to mind the latter recordings of Eminem.
OK, Drake's extremes might not be that unsettled. But in a Lil' Wayne world, he sounds positively scholarly.
He also is accessible. The gossip surrounding Take Care (the album) as it was being recorded was that Drake was going to forsake rap and cut a straight-up R&B project. That might always be outside his reach for no other reason than that he just has too much to say to squeeze it all into a few standardized verses, a chorus and a refrain. But the vocal flow throughout Take Care, especially on the gospel-informed Lord Knows and the chiming Doing It Wrong (which pairs Drake's rhymes with the immediately recognizable harmonica sunshine of Stevie Wonder) definitely hint at soul tradition. Even on the aforementioned Headlines, the mantra-like chorus ("they know, they know, they know ... yeah, they know") is half-sung.
Of course, Drake has always been aware of his knack of making headlines, but Lexington audiences have been very much in tune with the sweater-loving sensation.
An avid University of Kentucky basketball fan, Drake — who declined an interview with the Herald-Leader, as he does with most news outlets — has been spotted regularly sitting near courtside at games. In April 2010, he invited Coach John Calipari and the entire men's team (then with star players John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins) onstage at a concert at Memorial Coliseum.
That should have been, all puns intended, a tip-off to Drake's star-making credentials. The performance sold out with next to no publicity and with the rapper's major-label debut album, Thank Me Later, two months away from release.
Selling out large venue concerts and buddying up with the Cats: Now, that will win you some local fans.
And, hey, the guy has a sense of humor to boot. Aside from performing Make Me Proud (with Minaj) and Headlines last October on Saturday Night Live, Drake took comic turns in several of the show's skits. One of them, a "Weekend Update" segment, had Drake and comic Jay Pharaoh playing a pair of high schoolers outlining their plans for stealing Halloween candy from children in a makeshift rap tune called Bagjacking. Another involved a trio of individually titled interview parodies, each more askew than the one before ("An Extremely Sarcastic Interview With Drake," "A Matching Sweaters Interview With Drake," "A Horribly Dubbed Interview With Drake").
So there you have the reach of Drake's appeal. How many artists can balance heady narrative introspection on his records and then share a stage with Nicki Minaj, Coach Cal and the SNL crew?