Drake isn't a singer-and he's the first to admit it. When he released his highly touted 2009 mixtape "So Far Gone," which finds the Toronto-raised artist singing and rapping, he thought he made a huge mistake. "People were like, 'What is this? There's way too much singing on here,' " he says. "We were really nervous about it and for like a week I was having a serious breakdown."
But a month later, Drake, born Aubrey Graham, realized there was a method to the madness. "Within like four weeks I noticed I had a brand-new sound that takes a while to digest and understand. Things started to pick up and I started to learn the value of taking risks," he says.
Now, the venture is paying off. Last month when the Grammy nominations were announced, Drake learned he was up for best rap solo performance and best rap song for "Best I Ever Had" off "So Far Gone."
"I can't say this is unexpected, because, I mean, it's something that's kept me up many nights," the 23-year-old says. "I dreamed about this for a lot of years and have lost lots of sleep over it. This is like the highest honor and I am humbled by this. It's one of the few awards that isn't a popularity contest; you have to make great music to be honored, and this is completely surreal to me."
It's an honor, however, that has an unintended side effect. With the two nominations that stemmed from his mixtape, that puts Drake out of the running for best new artist in 2010, when his debut album is released.
Lady Gaga experienced a similar technicality in 2009, as she was ineligible for best new artist since her track "Just Dance" was nominated for best dance recording the previous year. The best new artist rules say the nominated performer is eligible for "the first recording which establishes public identity," and a prior nomination indicates that this threshold has already been reached.
But that may be just a tiny regret for Drake, who is set up to receive tremendous exposure for his forthcoming set. Drake, who got signed to Universal Motown through mentor Lil Wayne's Young Money label shortly after the release of "So Far Gone," is prepping "Thank Me Later," slated for a February release. "The best part about 'So Far Gone' was that I didn't focus on structure. The only thing that was consistent was the story and the emotion. That's what I want to do with this album," Drake says. "I make music for people to get lost in it, so, as long as it takes you somewhere, then I've succeeded."
So far, the album features Kanye West, Wayne, Young Jeezy and Jay-Z, and a collaboration with Sade is on Drake's wish list. "Something happened last night too that might be great-it might serve as the legendary sprinkle for the album," Drake says about another potential partnership on the set. "Shut It Down" and "Fireworks" are two tracks slated to make the album's final cut.
"In 2010 I'm really hoping I can stay true to this new way of life I've committed myself to," he says. "I have a special plan to keep the free flow of music going after the album is released. This is definitely a unique path I'm setting out on, and honestly, it's great. I'm honored to be in this position."