Earlier this week, Drake announced he'd give away shirts promoting his new album to fans today at a trio of pop-up shops in Toronto, New York and Los Angeles. Nothing Was The Same drops next Tuesday but leaked online this week—an early review says that the album, with its self-aware oversharing and striving, positions Drake as "the defining millennial hip-hop superstar." Just before doors were scheduled to open at today's New York pop-up, I went down to Alife, the Lower East Side boutique, to talk to some of the hundreds of millennials lined up for a chance to advertise Drake's album on their backs.
The line stretched around three city blocks; I'd guess there were somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people. Some had arrived with sleeping bags the night before but most had come in the morning, around 10AM. Pacing in and out of the store, Alife employees and a rep from Drake's OVO label welcomed in an NYPD community affairs officer who hoped the sidewalk could be cleared a bit. Alife hosted the pop-up because "Drake's been a friend of the store," said Malik, an Alife employee. "We had a session a few years ago when his first album came out. So it made sense that he did it here."
Allowed inside before the crowd, I glimpsed 16 shirts and hoodies on a rack, clearly not enough to go around. (Disclosure: I didn't get one.) "I know, it's kind of fucked up," Malik conceded. Outside, kids—the vast majority under 30, with a squarely 50-50 mix of girls and boys—waited. "Keyword: free," said 20-year-old Keyjonte, explaining his motivation for queuing up. "Everybody loves free stuff," echoed Terrence, a 23-year-old Brooklyn student.
"It’s a shame that a lot of people are cutting, but it's been a fun experience," said Joey, a 22 year old who skipped work that morning. "You can spend a lot of money on a media buy or you can give something to your fans; and they’ll wear it and walk around the whole city and rep your brand, rep your album rep the release date." Jeremiah, a New Jersey 12-year-old with a foot injury from football, was skipping a day of 7th grade; Nyasia, a high school junior, was also skipping class. "I’m a good student, I never do anything, so I came just to treat myself to something. I’ll be devastated if I don’t get a shirt," she said. All week, she'd avoided listening to the leaked album: "I’m waiting till it comes out, to get the physical copy."
Most fans, though, saw no problem in listening before buying, and a few were playing it through their phones' speakers. "I downloaded the leak, but I’m gonna buy the album. I only buy Drake albums," said Anthony from Queens. "It’s not better than his other albums, but I like it. My favorite Drake album is Take Care. It has more bangers, and he did more features on that." Most who'd heard the album said they liked it less than its predecessor. "Take Care was better, in terms of rapping and singing, said Tonya, a 25-year-old downloader. Terrence from Brooklyn was Nothing Was the Same’s sole champion. "Take Care was very emotional, this is kinda like a fuck it attitude: 'I’m Drake.' He's like, 'I came in, I’m #1 right now, and until somebody else does something about it, this is how it’s gonna be,'" he said, sounding not unlike the album's professional defenders.
By 1:30, the store had yet to open. I asked another Alife guy if the 16 shirts I'd seen on the rack were really all they had—he said there were 60 sweatshirts in the back. Later, plenty of New York fans went home empty-handed. According to Twitter, things weren't any better in Toronto. Perhaps, though, there was a secret reserve of some kind stashed away. As I headed back to the train in the morning, I saw fashion photographer Mister Mort walking ahead, with an awed look on his face, and an Alife bag in hand.