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Drake smiles for the camera at the launch party for the new Blackberry Torch in LA Aug. 11.

In the Grammy voters' eyes, Drake delivered on the potential he had when he entered 2010. The Toronto rapper capped off a fantastic year on Wednesday night (Dec. 1) when he nabbed four nominations, including best new artist and best rap album, for his debut album "Thank Me Later."

Though he was already nominated twice last year for his debut single "Best I Ever Had," Drake tells Billboard.com that hearing his name called as a Grammy nominee is still a surreal experience. "People have always told me, 'Don't get your hopes up,' " he says. " ' It's always better to act like it doesn't exist, because it's difficult to get nominated and it's 20 times more difficult to win.' "

"There's just something inside me that can't let it go as easy as people want," the Young Money MC continues. "I've had this vision of being at this podium and finally being able to thank all the people that have done so much for me in my life, and being able to say some things that I really have always wanted to say. It's a vision that I've been having since I was like 16."

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After the success of "Best I Ever Had" last year, all signs pointed to 2010 being another huge step forward Drake. But things grew complicated when Lil Wayne, the leader of Young Money, went to jail for eight months beginning in March. With his mentor behind bars, Drake says that he wanted to "take the helm and lead the way" for Nicki Minaj and the rest of his Young Money crew.

"When Wayne was going to jail it was a bit nerve-racking for me, because I knew how much talent our team has but I didn't know how the world would feel about us losing the leader to something like that," says Drake, who sold 447,000 copies of "Thank Me Later" in its first week, according to Nielsen Soundscan. "I was the first [one] off the label slated to drop, and...it was a very proud moment for me. I'm a very team-oriented person, and me and Nicki were able to lift [the team] to a higher position than it was in before Wayne had that unfortunate situation happen. To thrive in that unfortunate situation, and to get to the Grammys, is the ultimate respect I could ever dream of."

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Drake is also nominated for best rap solo performance for "Over" and best rap performance by a duo or group for "Fancy," his collaboration with T.I. and Swizz Beatz. However, he says it's the best new artist nod that means the most to him -- not just because of the prestigious honor, but to be a part of a fresh-faced class that includes Justin Bieber, Florence & the Machine, Mumford & Sons and Esperanza Spalding.

"I think for guys like me and Justin, being in that category marks a new generation of artist, being that we were birthed on the Internet," says Drake. "It's a bit of a moment for me to see him, who was discovered off of YouTube, and me, who got discovered over MySpace. ... I'm very close with Florence as well, and I'm very proud of her. It's just a great category."

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Although Drake -- who is currently prepping his sophomore album, "Take Care" -- is looking forward to finding out who will win at the Feb. 13 ceremony, he's hesitant to predict his chances of coming out on top. Even if he goes 0 for 4 on the night, he says that he'll be "all smiles."

"I'll probably be somewhere sitting next to Lil Wayne, just smiling," he says, "because it still boggles my mind that somehow he took a chance on some kid from Canada, and we made it to the Grammys."


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Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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