Few personal stories better epitomize the movement of late-aughts rap away from gangsta authenticity in the direction of clubby hedonism than that of Drake. Canadian Aubrey Drake Graham got his start in showbusiness acting on the Nickelodeon teen soap opera Degrassi: The Next Generation, appearing as a regular for seven seasons. Then he made the leap from kiddie actor to rap star with shocking ease. Drake began releasing his music, a worldly bounce replete with clever punch lines and cocksure wordplay, via mixtapes and MySpace, and after picking up a little buzz he was invited to join Lil' Wayne's Young Money collective in late 2008.

The mixtape So Far Gone, released in early 2009, was an instant success. Its lead single, "Best I Ever Had," became the highest-charting song ever by an unsigned artist, owning the summer of 2009 with its chintzy synths and Drake's monotone croon. Other songs from the album, like the sparse, downbeat "Successful" and the Santogold-samping "Unstoppable," proved that Drake had a Kanye-like range. He could go from moody and introspective to myopic and decadent in the time required to draw a breath, and he could hang lyrically with the likes of Bun B and his mentor Lil Wayne. After Drake signed with Universal, So Far Gone was slimmed down into an EP for sale, and it became the fifth-best selling rap album of 2009 -- despite the fact that the all of the material on the EP had previously been available for free.

During the months after the release of So Far Gone, Drake made his name as a featured performer, showing up on Jay-Z's The Blueprint III, and dropped the posse single "Forever," featuring Eminem, Wayne, and Kanye. Drake's full-length major-label debut, Thank Me Later, is slated to be released in summer 2010, and rumored collaborators include Kanye West, Dr. Dre, and The-Dream, among others. ~Wilson McBee


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