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While Drake has scores of supporters, he also has nonbelievers-naysayers who question his talent and criticize everything from his singing to his videos-especially the West-directed "Best I Ever Had" clip. But Drake isn't phased by them. "When people really listen to the album, I think they'll say, 'There's some really interesting songs on here, really interesting lyrics, really interesting layers,' " he says. "It's very reflective, very personal, but at the same time, it's fun. It's about my induction into the rap game, into Hollywood, having famous people that are friends with me. It's all very overwhelming."

EMI West Coast creative president/head of urban "Big" Jon Platt signed Drake to a publishing deal in June 2009-in the artist's dressing room at the BET Awards. "I went to see him in Toronto well before everything really exploded," Platt says about snatching Drake before anyone else did. "We just hung out all day and had a great conversation. I knew then that he was the real deal."

For Robert Gibbs, Drake's music agent at International Creative Management, Drake's appeal makes booking him for shows that much easier. After his Away From Home tour, Drake will go on a club/festival/radio tour and then head to Europe in July where he will support Jay-Z on a couple of U.K. stops as well as play the Wireless Festival with him. Afterward, Drake will hit Toronto for Caribbean music festival Caribana. He is also negotiating a fall tour, which AT&T will sponsor.

In addition, Drake has been reading movie scripts, although he's turned down a number of roles already. Dana Sims, Drake's motion picture talent agent at ICM, says, "Until the album is out, [Drake will] be putting the acting on hold."

To promote the new album, Drake will make appearances on late-night TV shows, an iPad giveaway promotion is in the works, and an MTV documentary will premiere on the music channel the week of June 20. Drake also says that as soon as "Thank Me Later" is released, he will start working on a follow-up-a move that Branch encourages, stating he'd like for Drake to release another album less than a year later, "like Justin Bieber did."

Although this is only his first album, Drake understands that his swift ascension from underground mixtape rapper to the next Biggie/Lil Wayne/insert-legend-here means that listeners are expecting not just quality, but greatness.

"I know I have a lot of growing up to do, but I guess unfortunately, people won't judge me as if this is my first album or my first year in the game," he says. "This is a crucial moment for me. It actually feels like my last album, not my first. I'll be working hard to make sure you remember it. I'll be in your city, performing all the songs, and hopefully looking at you in your eyes and letting you know it's real out here, man. I'm ready."