Last night, a line spilled out the door and wound around the block alongside NYU's Skirball Center, where Drake spoke to self-proclaimed "GOAT of Hip Hop Journalism" Elliott Wilson as a part of Wilson's #CRWN series. (The conversation will be broadcast in three parts on Myspace, starting this Wednesday.) Wilson sauntered through the crowd, shaking hands and posing for dozens of pictures, wearing a hoodie and mohawk. When Skirball's doors opened, there was a mad rush for the auditorium's front row seats. People squealed. On stage there were two bottles of rosé on ice—of course there were.
Drake's crew emerged, heading to a private seating area in the back. The group numbered about ten—the redhead cashier from the "Started From the Bottom" video among them—and they all wore Nothing Was the Same shirts and gold chains. 40 followed behind, noticeably not in OVO uniform.
As the evening began, Wilson gushed for a few minutes—"album of the year," "voice of a generation"—and then Drake appeared, in head-to-toe black down to his unlaced Timbs. He politely forced some laughs at a "champagne papi" joke as Wilson popped one of the bottles, then promptly offered a glass to a woman in the front of the audience, who he called "mom." Drake was born to charm moms. Charisma evaporates out of his pores.
"I wouldn't say I nailed it with Take Care," he said later. "Me and 40 have our issues with it—like two songs could've been one song." He described his natural impulse to overcompensate, to never feel like a project is enough, and said 40 challenged him on Nothing Was the Same to trim the fat, keeping it to 13 songs. The goal there, Drake said, was flow rather than hits—an easy but complex listen that might not even be immediately enjoyable. "I almost want you to not understand it. I want it to take like three weeks," he said. Someone brought him a mysterious double Solo cup from backstage upon his command.
Wilson desperately wanted to talk about Kendrick's "Control" verse, which drops Drake's name. He approached the subject from several angles before Drake began to respond, in a magnanimous but slightly back-handed way. He said he respected Kendrick's potential but that one album is not enough to support his boasts. "That ['Control'] verse was a moment. Are you listening to it now? How does that verse start?" His crew stood up as one, hollering; the audience exploded. Meanwhile, Drake appeared generally disinterested in the question. He didn't want to talk about Kendrick; he wanted to talk about himself. He refilled the mom's champagne glass.
Drake also doesn't care who misses the old Drake. "I understand that people need something new to love. [If you miss the So Far Gone era] you're probably missing that feeling back in college when you were dating that girl and you got that Drake mixtape before anyone else heard of me. You want that moment back. I can't give you that moment," he said, talking like he raps, with anecdotes signaling grander emotions. He really likes the word "moments."
There were facts dropped, too. A video for "Hold On We're Going Home" will be released this week. Jay-Z's "Pound Cake" verses were intended for Magna Carta Holy Grail and given over to Drake as a favor. Wu-Tang's Cappadonna did the ad-lib on "Wu Tang Forever." These revelations, though, were less interesting than watching Drake be Drake. He talked like he was several steps ahead of everyone, called himself "the guy with the clouds in the background," and made a Matisyahu joke. Apropos of nothing, he exclaimed, "Fuck everybody, man!" He subtly teased Wilson, like a comic or politician might. When Wilson talked about hanging out in barbershops, Drake clowned: "The barbershop? You don't get that haircut at the barbershop. You get that at the salon. The barbershop, that was just like, the most hip-hop thing you could say."
40 later joined Drake onstage to quietly describe he and Drake's two-man hit-making process, explaining that together they strive to do away with clutter and make more with less. He said he has no desire to work with anyone else, while Drake interjected with effusive compliments like "my sound is our sound." Drake is 40's task force.
Over the course of the night, Drake laughed off memes—"Yes, I wear sweaters! No, I don't give a fuck!"—rap critics and Twitter. "Twitter isn't real," he said. "That's a terrible medium to exist in. Just don't live your life by that weird code." He was most raw, or doing his best at feigning it, when he talked about his mom. He said the disclaimer before his "Too Much" performance on Fallon was a step towards an apology for airing out her personal life in his lyrics. "She's like, really upset with me. It warranted a personal conversation before putting it in a song," he said, continuing to claim that he doesn't want to exploit the people in his life in lyrics, but adding with a smile, "And every girl I've ever met loves me anyway."
With Wilson, Drake seemed sincere, but it's hard to tell. Drake, apparently, answers the questions only the way he wants to answer them. In his own mind, he's perfected the art of being himself. "I feel great with me. I'm not searching for what I had in the past, I'm not looking towards the future. I'm happy with the present," he said. He likes to reflect, but he doesn't want for much: "I don't wanna talk about classic. I don't wanna talk about history. I hate those words. It's happening right now."
Photo via Ajon Brodie.