Learn how Drake’s concise classic paved the way for OVO Sound to take flight, allowing The Boy to occupy all lanes for a decade and counting.
Combing through clouds in a baby blue jet designed by Virgil Abloh, Drake’s sky-high status in 2023 is one that affords $242 million private planes and stadium stints that land like residencies.
Toronto’s chosen son and OVO Sound co-founder is the international player his Southern predecessors prophesized, capable of crooning coyly on soul samples and barring up the best. Drake’s ability to rap and sing simultaneously and spectacularly makes him not only a master of ceremony but a master of surprise.
This proved true in 2023 more than ever.
Coming off a year when he released both rap and house projects, the Her Loss rapper doubled down by announcing his fourth album in three years while touring North America. He possesses the gravity to conquer New York City arenas for seven-night stretches, diving into Diamond singles and album cuts alone on stage.
Despite levitating in an atmosphere all his own and amassing enough streams to drown The Atlantic, his focus has always been the open road.
“I make my music strictly for the purpose of driving at night time,” Drake told CBC News in 2013.
Ten years ago, long before the self-proclaimed 6 God was pushing a 767, the nocturnal Northern was working hard on the art of duality.
Releasing Nothing Was the Same, a concentrated classic even the artist born Aubrey Graham calls his best, the then-26-year-old outliner was able to blend and balance genres by building out OVO Sound.
“I tried to find the perfect balance between rapping and melody,” Drake noted. “To blur the lines so that even when I am singing it doesn’t feel like singing, and even when I’m rapping the cadences are almost melodic to the point that they stick in your head.”
Signing talent and penning personal tracks, he laid a foundation with his core audience even at his highest heights. The immediate result was a 4x Platinum project that spawned seven singles and attained critical praise. The longtail earnings were far greater.
Leading up to the release of For All the Dogs and on the heels of the 10th anniversary of Drake’s pivotal project, learn how Nothing Was the Same changed everything for the force who prophesized still being around a decade from now a decade ago.
At its core, hip-hop is the most confrontational and aspirational art form.
Coming off the release of his sophomore studio album Take Care, Drake had become more successful than any So Far Gone single could’ve yearned for.
His second straight No. 1 album afforded the money and the clothes, landing him $20 million off the record and paving the way for an Air Jordan apparel partnership. Drake was popular, paid, and praised. For the first time in his career, the critics and consumers were completely aligned with Aubrey.
Take Care delivered Drake’s first Grammy for Best Rap Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards and sold roughly 10 million copies worldwide.
Drake was on top, but with success can come envy.
Over the course of his come-up, hip-hop gods took shots at Drake in an attempt to sell records while rap royalty even formed a throne.
Tensions definitely rose as subtle swings and a more aggressive edge from The Boy began popping up on features like Rick Ross’ “Stay Schemin” and 2 Chainz’s “No Lie.” If there was any question of where Drake was willing to take it, he answered all by setting the tone in the spring of 2013.
Days before grabbing his first Grammy at the 55th annual ceremony, Drake uploaded “Started From the Bottom” as the first record from Nothing Was the Same. Far firmer than “Best I Ever Had,” “Over,” or even “Headlines,” he recast revenge weeks later with “5 AM in Toronto.”
For an artist once criticized for being too emotional, he was handling anger and handing out punchlines that landed harder than melodic hooks. In a matter of months, rap’s rising pop prince was war-ready, putting out music fit for UFC entrances.
As always, the master of surprise always knew there were two sides to the OVO coin.
It’s Hard to Do These Things Alone
In the late aughts, rap rollouts came with a fool-proof two-pronged formula: feed fans of all spectrums through a street single and a pop play.
Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” was to be boosted by “Stronger” and Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” by “Lollipop,” giving an artist MTV Jam of the Week and a TRL charter all at once. Sensing smoke from bullies and battle rappers alike would make most emcees duck for cover or goon up.
Knowing himself, Drake brought his bars to the booth and signed singers. In 2013, OVO Sound became home to names such as Partynextdoor and Majid Jordan.
Each R&B act came equipped with strong vocals, potent pens, and lush production. Nothing Was the Same meant more of everything diluted down to the purest level.
Pulling in producers like Nineteen85 and OG Ron C, Drake and 40’s vision for OVO Sound became a boutique brand that could deliver high-level music across genres of R&B, dancehall, pop, and more.
From Toronto to Tokyo, OVO Sound was born and bred as a trustworthy brand for both fans and artists alike. A decade after the debut of Nothing Was the Same, it’s changed the lives of many and put out praised projects in rap, R&B, dancehall, and more.
Rather than rev off the sizzle of “Started From the Bottom,” Drake directed his team to enter an unexpected realm.
“The first single was ‘Started From the Bottom,'” OVO producer Nineteen85 told Boardroom in February. “I met Majid Jordan in person. We started going back and forth on some ideas, working on Drake’s direction of ‘I just need something different. I need something that’s going to force me to be in a different space.'”
Going outside of one’s comfort zone is always challenging, especially for someone who makes others uncomfortable. Upon arrival, there was skepticism surrounding Drake and anyone who was deemed two things at once.
Early articles magnified the dichotomy of Drake – being both a rapper and a singer, Canadian and American, Black and Jewish, a child actor and adult musician. While most men in the spotlight in their early 20s would fight for a position through an easy-to-digest identity, Drake always owned his duality in a personal, visual, and sonic sense.
Desiring different, OVO Sound’s newest signees began building a second single that would be “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Like Lauryn Hill before him, he could have his “Lost Ones” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” on one album.
He could spar at The Shelter and sing at a wedding all at once.
As Nineteen85 recalls, the original rendition of “Hold On, We’re Going Home” was a blazing house track set to 124bpm. While working on the record and tinkering with the speed, Drake stepped in and identified exactly where he wanted it.
“We kept building around the beat,” 85 said. “Drake walked in and was like, ‘Yo! Stop whatever you guys are doing. Just stop right here and don’t do anything more.’ That’s when he took over and it became this monster.”
Seated at the right hand of Whitney Houston and Paul the Apostle, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” became an instant hit that still scores weddings. The Nothing Was the Same standout shipped Platinum in seven countries and expanded Aubrey’s already rapid reach.
“In approaching this album I was like, ‘man, it would be great if we had a record that was played at weddings in 10 years,'” Drake told MTV in 2013. “Or that people that are away from their families in the Armed Forces could listen to. Something that just [has] timeless writing, timeless melody.”
An instant classic, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” hit No. 1 on the US Rhythmic and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Song charts. Nineteen85’s first single placement at OVO proved Platinum status while Majid Jordan jumped into rotation worldwide thanks to the placement.
Once again, Drake surprised fans and skeptics, attaining commercial and critical success all at once.
That year, Pitchfork named “Hold On, We’re Going Home” as the Best Song of 2013, beating out critical darlings such as Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, Ye, and HAIM. Keep in mind, this is the same year hit collaborations “Get Lucky” by Daft Pink and Pharrell as well as Disclosure and Sam Smith’s “Latch” dropped.
A pop star, not a doctor, Drake curated a surgical summer that set the way for a flourishing fall. October’s Very Own was set to own October and every autumn after.
Trying to Connect with Something
On Sept. 24, 2013, Drake released his third studio album, Nothing Was the Same.
True to its title, the original Champagne Papi’s project put out by his new label would change everything. Introducing Nineteen85, Partynexdoor, and Majid Jordan to the preliminary OVO Sound roster, each act would now live as its own entity.
“We pride ourselves on introducing artists that weren’t known,” OVO Sound president Mr. Morgan told Boardroom in February.
Since signing with OVO, 85 has won a Grammy, produced a Diamond record, and toured the world with his R&B outfit, dvsn.
Partynextdoor penned Rihanna’s 9x Platinum single “Work” featuring Drake while having hits of his own from “Not Nice” to “Believe It.”
Majid Jordan continues to put out praised projects that take them around the globe, including tracks “Gave Your Love Away” and “My Love.”
“It was always operating as a platform,” Morgan said. “Drake’s perspective was always, ‘Use our platform. It’s attached to me, but it’s about artists that can stand on their own feet.'”
Through the guidance of Drake, Morgan, Oliver El-Khatib, and 40, OVO has soared in sonics and apparel, said to do over $50 million in annual sales strictly where clothing was concerned. The OVO origin all aligns with an album and moment where Drake was seemingly everywhere at once – musically and promotionally.
“He had a very clear vision of who he was, who he wanted to be, and what he was going to accomplish,” Morgan said.
What Drake accomplished on Nothing Was the Same was a concise classic that still connects with fans ten years later. To this day, the singles and deep cuts identify with arena-sized audiences because it’s also his most personal project.
Dialed into rapping with commercial expectations and singing amidst shots from industry heroes, Drake proceeded to flex his staying power and delivered his most fluid foray; positioning himself at the center of conversation through culture and hip-hop.
Despite his skyrocketing status, it’s the songs never released for radio — or ever at all — that still score nighttime drives for fans who’ve gone on to pack stadiums just like the artist himself.
“Where do we start?” Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker told Boardroom in September. “‘Tuscan Leather’? ‘Too Much’? ‘Pound Cake’? ‘Connect’? That’s one of my favorites. It’s hard to pinpoint your favorite album when it comes to him because it just depends on what you’re going through in life at that time.”
Having amassed more slaps than The Beatles, Drake himself is at a time in life where his success means spending more time in the air than driving around the 305 or riding through the 6 on his leisure.
Time is money for the man with his head in the clouds. Even with a highly-anticipated album slated to arrive tomorrow, the context of a classic is less grounded in instant gratification but more solidified through longevity down the line.
“I make music that ages well,” Drake told Rap Radar in 2019. “So sometimes you have to revisit the projects to realize. The reason why Nothing Was the Same is my favorite album is because of the fact that it was probably my most concise album. And within that concise offering was a lot of great shit.”
Whether flying in private jets or playing packed-out arenas – or simply driving alone – an album that delivered smash singles upon release is still paying dividends today and distributes deep impact as it transcends time.
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