Outside the 6ix: other cities that have inspired Drake's sound

Drake's uncanny ability to emulate and adapt to regional sounds across North America, the Caribbean, the U.K. and Western Africa is the key to his success.

The rapper's uncanny ability to emulate and adapt to regional genres is the key to his success

Drake's latest album, Scorpion, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart this week. It's his seventh project to hit No. 1. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

On it's first day of release, Drake's fifth studio album, Scorpion, went platinum, breaking both Spotify and Apple Music's one-day record for album streams. In the process, it became the first album to hit one billion streams in a week and made for Drake's eight consecutive album to debut at number one. 

The success of Scorpion was initially built on the strength of two number one singles: first was God's Plan, which was followed up by Nice for What, a song that heavily incorporates New Orleans bounce music.

Drake may be known for creating the Toronto Sound, but he owes his current success to his uncanny ability to emulate and adapt to regional sounds across North America, the Caribbean, the U.K. and Western Africa. But more importantly than that, he's able to put his own spin on those sounds, giving them an international audience in the process. He also gives credit where it's due (for the most part), and local artists clamour for the chance to work with him. 

Below, we look at six cities outside of Toronto that have played a major role in Drake's ascendancy to becoming the biggest rapper in the world.

New Orleans, Louisiana 

New Orleans' influence on Drake runs deep, being the home of his label, Cash Money, and his mentor Lil' Wayne. Since as early as 2011, Drake's tried to channel New Orleans' bounce into his music, such as on songs like Practice and Child's Play, but to mixed results. This year he finally hit it big with Nice for What, his fifth number one song.

Traditionally, bounce artists sample a hit song, speed up the BPMs and chop the vocals, adding the signature snares from The Showboys' song Drag Rap (Trigger Man). Drake took that formula, but went one step further on Nice for What, sampling Lauryn Hill's Ex-Factor, a song artists usually stay away from for fear that the sample won't be cleared. The song was co-produced by NOLA bounce artist BlaqNmilD and and features vocals from Big Freedia, a bounce icon who also appeared on Beyoncé's Formation. BlaqNmilD also produced Drake's In My Feelings, the second bounce song on Scorpion, and which is currently behind the Shiggy Dance meme

"I was super excited about my voice being at the beginning of the song. They sent the track for me to approve it and I was like, 'Shit, I don't care what I say on it, long as I'm on it," Freedia told Fader. "We're steady moving forward to get the bounce culture even further out there and, as you can see, other artists are recognizing our music and our talent down here in New Orleans."

Drake is the only big rapper that always shows love to other rappers. - DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia

​Kingston, Jamaica

Given Toronto's ethnic makeup and the heavy influence of Caribbean culture on the city's music scene, it should come as no surprise that Drake's earliest breakout hit was the Jamaican dancehall-inflected Find Your Love, from the 2010 album Thank Me Later. The song was written and produced by Kanye West and originally intended for Rihanna, but when she passed on it, Drake turned it into top 10 hit.

Drake and Rihanna also teamed up for What's My Name that same year, making that song his first number one hit. But it was another one of their collaborations that would see Drake channeling dancehall once again.

Work followed six years later, which was a slow-winding, sweaty dancehall club track, written by PartyNextDoor and produced by Boi-1da, both Torontonians born in Jamaica. Work relies heavily on the Sail Away Riddim by Richie Stephens, a Grammy award-winning Jamaican dancehall artist and producer. The video was also shot at Toronto's East End Jamaican restaurant, The Real Jerk.

Dancehall is a style Drake's returned to many times over his career, both on production and in the patois he's incorporated into his lyrics. Even though some have accused Drake of appropriation, his obsession with dancehall has definitely helped the genre dominate the charts.

Lagos, Nigeria

Drake's 2016 album Views was billed as a love letter to his hometown of Toronto, but one of the biggest songs on that album, One Dance, was a mashup of dancehall and genre called Afrobeats. The latter is a modern take on the singular Afrobeat, the genre pioneered by Fela Kuti and which has roots in Nigeria and Ghana. One Dance also featured vocals from Nigerian Afrobeats artist Wizkid, who co-wrote the song (you can hear Wizkid's original version below). In Drake's hands, along with Toronto producer Nineteen85, who peppered it with elements of dancehall, it became an international hit and marked Drake's first number one song as a solo artist.  

Prior to One Dance, Drake helped elevate Wizkid's profile by appearing on the remix to his hit song Ojuelegba, helping to introduce the Nigerian artist to an international audience. U.K. Grime artist Skepta, who introduced Drake to Ojuelegba, also appears on the remix.

Two years later, Drake jumped on Wizkid's Come Closer. On it, you can clearly hear Drake adopting elements of Wiz's phrasing and accent.  

Memphis, Tennessee

Drake comes by his Memphis influence honestly, as it's the city his father, Dennis Graham, is from. He spent summers there in his teens, hung out with Memphis rapper Juicy J of the legendary Three 6 Mafia rap crew, and often shouts out the city or pays homage to its artists by interpolating their lyrics. His video for Worst Behaviour was also shot around Memphis, with Drake's dad and Juicy J making cameos.

Memphis seems to really be on Drake's mind in 2018. Not only did Drake feature on Look Alive, a track by up and coming Memphis rapper BlocBoy JB, making it a top five Billboard hit, but Three 6 Mafia producer DJ Paul is also behind the beat on Scorpion album track Talk Up, featuring Jay-Z.

"Drake is the only big rapper that always shows love to other rappers. That's the truth," DJ Paul told Vibe. "He really does show love."   

Up-and-coming Memphis producer Tay Keith also produced Nonstop, another Scorpion track with a distinct Memphis feel that debuted at number two on the Billboard Hot 100.  

The Bay Area, California

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to some of rap's most creative, idiosyncratic artists, including Digital Underground, Too $hort, E-40 and Lil B. One of its most famous artists, however, is Mac Dre, to whom Drake famously paid homage on 2011's The Motto.

"Rest in peace, Mac Dre, I'm-a do it for the Bay," he raps over a beat produced by Toronto's T-Minus that sounds like an homage to Bay Area music — particularly Mac Dre's Feelin' Myself, which is also sampled.  

For a genre that was once considered too regional, its influence can now be heard in hits by artists such as Drake, 2 Chainz and DJ Mustard.  

Drake also interpolated Too $hort's lyrics on the song For Free, and while many accused him of stealing another rapper's flow, Too $hort saw it differently.

"It's a refreshing spin on it, you feel the energy on there," he told Genius. "I take it as, loud and clear, 'I know your music, I'm a fan.' I don't see it as any different than when I'm in the studio with my producers trying to catch a vibe off of a Motown song or George Clinton. It's the music that you grew up on."

When Drake performed in Oakland in 2016, he also brought Too $hort, Mistah F.A.B. and Mac Dre's mom out onstage.

[Drake] do a lot of sh*t for up-and-coming rappers, period. I don't think he get his respect for that. - 21 Savage

Atlanta, Georgia 

Migos is currently one of the biggest rap groups in the world. Back in 2013, they were doing well regionally, but Drake was really one of the first to blow them up internationally.

"Born in Toronto but sometimes I feel like Atlanta adopted us," Drake rapped on the 2013 remix for Migos' Versace. On that song, he adapted what's now known as the Migos flow, which has not only become a staple of Atlanta rap, but has more or less taken over the rap charts.

The Migos flow is based on rapping in rapid-fire triplets, so fast that it almost acts as secondary percussion. You can now hear it clearly on a number of Drake songs, including The Language, We Made It and a lot of the What A Time To Be Alive mixtape, by Drake and Future (who is also from Atlanta).

Drake, who also appeared on Migos' current hit Walk It Talk It, is touring North America with the rap trio on the Aubrey and the Three Amigos tour this summer and fall.

Another Atlanta artist, 21 Savage, recently said in an interview with GQ that Drake helped him launch his career.

"He do a lot of shit for up-and-coming rappers, period," he said. "I don't think he get his respect for that. Every f--kin' year, he pull a new artist up. Ain't no other artist on his level do that shit."


About the Author

Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Producer, CBC q

Jesse Kinos-Goodin is a Toronto-based journalist and digital producer for q. He can be found on Twitter @JesseKG or email jesse.kinos-goodin@cbc.ca


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