How Did Drake Become The World’s Biggest Pop Star?

Back in March, Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham scored his 208th hit single on the US Billboard Hot 100 charts. “Oprah’s Bank Account” with Lil Yachty and DaBaby came hot on the heels of other huge releases from the rapper, from his first hit single “Best I Ever Had” in 2009 through to 2015’s “Hotline Bling” and featuring on Rihanna’s 2016 smash “Work”. In May, Drake matched Queen of Pop Madonna when “Pain 1993”, featuring Playboi Carti, became his 38th top-10 single in the US. Drake is so successful that one mattress in his 50,000sq ft, $100 million (£82 million) Toronto home — humbly titled The Embassy — costs $400,000 (£330,000) – included in the price is someone who visits the property to turn it over.

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For a non-US rapper to have made such a mark in hip-hop is one thing, but Drake far surpasses the realms of rap. He was Spotify’s most-streamed artist of the decade, with more than 28 billion streams. All of his five albums, plus three of his mixtapes, have reached number one in the US Billboard charts — and topped charts around the world. He was the first artist on Apple Music to surpass 10 billion streams and 2018’s biggest artist on Spotify with 8.2 billion streams. With a new mixtape (Dark Lane Demo Tapes) and a forthcoming album due this summer, it’s pretty much guaranteed Drake will break more records in 2020.

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Drake backstage at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards.Photography Getty Images

Drake has the every-person effect

Given his start in life as a child actor from Toronto — neither being key signifiers for rap glory — no one could have predicted how successful Drake would become. Until his mainstream debut in 2009, there hadn’t been a non-US rapper (besides the moderately successful British Slick Rick back in the ’80s) to really, truly break not only the American hip-hop market but the global one, too.

The son of an African-American drummer father and Jewish-Canadian teacher mother — rap isn’t known for its plethora of black or biracial Jewish rhymers — Drake’s family was far from wealthy, but he didn’t come from a particularly socially challenging environment. Nor did he have a sketchy background steeped in illegal activities, like some of his peers, to draw on. He wasn’t very political or socially minded, neither was he a verbose lyricist like, say, Eminem.


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Despite, or perhaps because of these factors, he drew attention almost effortlessly. After the release of his third mixtape, 2009’s So Far Gone (funded in part by a teenage role in Degrassi: The Next Generation), every major rapper and record label wanted to sign the then-22-year-old. Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment sealed the deal and within months, Drake’s mellifluous blend of R&B hooks teamed with hard-hitting raps quickly won over hip-hop heads around the world.

He is digital savvy

Drake had to slightly postpone “So Far Gone”’s follow-up, “Thank Me Later”, due to an onstage fall exacerbating an already-injured knee. However, Drake’s dodgy ACL soon took on a life of its own, quickly becoming a satirical Twitter hashtag and an account, @DrAkesKnee (which remains active today). Maybe that’s when Drake realised the power of a viral moment.

Since then, he’s been super savvy; the success of “Hotline Bling” — 1.6 billion views — is almost certainly down to his infamous ‘dad dancing’ in the video, while many fans turned amateur investigators to find out who the real Kiki might be. He’s enhanced the success of singles with memes in mind (he’s been touted as the most meme-able rapper on the planet), conquered the streaming world and more recently taken on TikTok, clearly choosing to write “Toosie Slide” specifically for the dance-based platform. Essentially, @champagnepapi knows that going viral is the way to win online, and win big.

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Photography Getty Images

Drake knows the streaming business

While there were fears platforms such as Spotify would decimate the industry, Drake has worked out exactly how to play it. The more songs you have, the more streams. The more streams, the more plentiful the chart positions. The more number ones, the more attention and acclaim you gain and the higher your fee for touring and collaboration climbs.

Every time he releases a record, you can expect to see most, if not all, of a Drake album throughout the top 40. If he’s not releasing his own records, he can be found on any one of his famous friend’s hits. Drake is so savvy about streaming that in 2017, he decided to release not an album per se but a ‘playlist’. That idea didn’t particularly catch on, but More Life was so successful it broke previous records set by, well, Drake. On its first day of release, Apple Music reported More Life was played 89.9 million times in 24 hours. He was also among the first to jump over to the gaming world, breaking more records by working with platform Twitch, with more than half a million people tuning in to watch Drake play Fortnite in 2018.


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His beef

Feuds: he’s had a few, and it’s helped keep him relevant in the rap game while he’s carefully crossed over into the pop world. From falling out with Chris Brown to allegedly being punched by Diddy (which Diddy later denied), Drake has had arguments with Meek Mill and Joe Budden, Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z. A long-running tension with Kanye West culminated in 2018 with the revelation, via Pusha T, that Drake had recently fathered a son. He remained silent on the subject until recently when he finally posted a picture of himself with his son, Adonis and the child’s mother, Sophie Brussaux.

Drake puts privacy first

While he gave a plethora of interviews in his early days, for the last few years Drake has adopted the Jay-Z and Beyoncé philosophy towards press; less is more. He rarely, if ever, talks to the media, saving his rare appearances for freestyles on British channels such as Link Up TV and Charlie Sloth’s Fire in the Booth.

He’s even relatively low key on social media, though he has started to open up a little more recently. As well as posting a picture of his family, he also acknowledged Adonis and Brussaux for the first time lyrically on Dark Lane Demo Tapes. He also invited Architectural Digest into his Toronto mega-mansion in April, giving the world an unprecedented look at his bedside champagne bar and indoor basketball court.

He found the formula and stuck to it — but he keeps evolving

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