With four Grammy awards and 170 million record sales under his belt, Drake is one of the music world’s biggest names. But the Canadian star’s first break had nothing to do with rapping.
Aged 15, Drake was cast as the basketball-loving Jimmy Brooks in the Canadian teenage TV drama Degrassi: The Next Generation. He appeared in the hit show from 2001 through to 2009, under his birth name, Aubrey Graham. Drake is his middle name. This is how Drake initially became famous, but his rapping talents grew the star into the level of fame he is today.
You can read more about Drake’s early career on TV, and find out how he made the move from acting to music.
How did Drake become an actor?
It’s no surprise that the Toronto-born rapper ended up in music. His father, Dennis Graham, played drums for rock’n’roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis and his uncle Larry was in the 1960s funk band Sly and the Family Stone.
Yet his first brush with fame had nothing to do with his skills on the mic. One of Drake’s classmates at high school put him in touch with his father, a casting agent. Drake later explained: “His dad would say, if there’s anyone in the class that makes you laugh, have them audition for me.”
His friend evidently had an eye for talent: Drake won the role of Jimmy in Degrassi: The Next Generation in 2001. Set in a multicultural school in Toronto, the show explored issues such as teenage pregnancy, bullying and drug abuse.
Drake appeared in 100 episodes of the hit show – and, in a shocking twist, his character was confined to a wheelchair after being shot by another student in season 4.
In 2002, the cast of Degrassi received a Young Artist Award, “a junior Oscar”. He stayed on the drama until 2009 and even got to show off his musical chops, joining the school band in season 5, then rapping at an open-mic night in season 7, when his music career was taking off.
The show was a hit in Canada and earned a cult following in the USA, where it was screened on The N (now TeenNick). In fact, when Drake first appeared on stage in the USA as a rapper, touring with his mentor Lil Wayne, the crowd chanted “Jimmy! Jimmy! Jimmy!”.
When Did Drake Start Rapping?
Drake posted early songs on MySpace, the biggest social networking website from 2005 to 2008. His original page no longer exists, but a screenshot from 2006 reveals he had been writing songs since 1996, when he was 10 years old. And before he was known as Drizzy or Champagne Papi, Drake sweetly styled himself “Mr Big Dreams”.
Drake released his first mixtape in 2006. His MySpace video for Replacement Girl caught the attention of Jas Prince, whose father, J Prince, founded the Rap-a-Lot record label. Jas introduced himself to Drake and promised to make him famous.
Jas played Drake’s songs to the hip-hop superstar Lil Wayne, whose initial reaction to the Canadian’s unique singing-rapping style was: “He sucks!” Jas kept going, though, and in 2009 Drake signed to Lil Wayne’s Young Money label.
It proved a shrewd move, as Drizzy scored five consecutive No 1 albums and became one of the biggest stars in the world.
Should Drake Have Stuck With Acting?
Music has always been Drake’s main passion. He claims he lost his role in Degrassi: The Next Generation because he spent too much time working on his songs: “They realized I was juggling two professions and told me I had to choose.”
His stellar career proves he made the right choice. However good his acting skills are, it’s hard to imagine Drake achieving the global fame rapping has earned him. And his fans haven’t forgotten his TV days, judging by these “Wheelchair Jimmy” memes.