Launching his career as a child actor (on Canadian TV show Degrassi: The Next Generation), Drake’s musical journey began with the self-release of two mixtapes: 2006’s Room For Improvement and 2007’s Comeback Season. Both were blessed with the type of charismatic turns that Drake would later become famous for, though the sheer variety of styles covered betrayed an artist still searching for his musical voice.
Impressed by the immense potential shown by the mixtapes, however, New Orleans rapper and entrepreneur Lil Wayne invited Drake to tour with him in 2008 and soon established himself as the young Canadian’s mentor. The following year, a still-unsigned Drake released his third mixtape, So Far Gone, on February 13, as a free download on his OVO blog. The results led to a highly publicized bidding war to sign him; Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment emerged victorious and subsequently used the mixtape as the basis for the So Far Gone EP, released on September 15, 2009.
Influenced by Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak in both sound and emotional openness, Drake’s frank lyrics – which told of heartache, loneliness and his hunger for fame – were delivered with a mixture of singing and rapping. Fellow Canadians Noah “40” Shebib and Boi-1Da were behind the majority of the mixtape’s productions – their winning combinations of electro-soul, pop, and tough hip-hop beats adding a crucial element to his sound; collectively, they provided a template that would set Drake on his path to superstardom.
Two singles, the silky-smooth, Trey Songz collaboration “Successful” and the bright and breezy “Best I Ever Had” led the way. The former proved a sizeable hit, reaching No.17 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it was the latter track that provided Drake with his first genuine smash, charting for 24 weeks and peaking at No.2 before being certified double-platinum by the RIAA.
Other highlights, such as the Lil Wayne-guesting, 80s boogie-referencing “Ignant S__t,” the Billy Joel-sampling “Uptown,” the brilliantly murky “The Calm” and the experimental, electro-pop of the Santigold collaboration “Unstoppable” provided an impressive demonstration of versatility on a release would mark a huge turning point in Drake’s career.
Only five of the mixtape’s tracks (“Houstatlantavegas,” “Successful.” “Best I Ever Had,” “Uptown” and “The Calm”) would, however, make it to Drake’s first official release, the So Far Gone EP, for which Drake recorded two new songs, “Fear” and “I’m Going In.” Debuting at No.6 on the Billboard 200, the EP shifted over 500,000 copies to earn gold status, paving the way for Drake’s US chart-topping debut, Thank Me Later.