Drake’s gamble takes him a huge leap forward

By Quinton J. Hobson

Toronto-born Drake is the first rapper to hold number one on the Billboard Artist 100.
Toronto-born Drake is the first rapper to hold number one on the Billboard Artist 100.

Given the bout of shootings and murders that has plagued North America during the last three years that appear to have civil rights heading to a downward spiral, things just might be looking up for one Canadian young Black man.

On Feb. 19, Drake became the first rapper – and first Canadian artist – to soar to number one atop Billboard magazine’s Artist 100, dethroning pop singer Taylor Swift. The reason? The surprise release of Drake’s album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 with album sales surpassing 495,000.

Born Aubrey Drake Graham in Toronto, the renowned “Started from the Bottom” singer’s first claim to fame was not with music but rather acting, having starred on the Canadian television drama Degrassi: The Next Generation prior to pursuing a music career under the tutelage of rapper Lil Wayne.

After releasing three successful studio albums and numerous mixtapes to critical and commercial acclaim, the artist instantly sparked an international social media frenzy when he decided to surprise his fans by releasing If Youre Reading This Its Too Late overnight without the aid of traditional TV appearances or promotional tours, what one would call “pulling a Beyoncé”, in allusion to when the former Destiny’s Child singer used a similar method to release her self-titled studio album in 2013.

Created nearly one year ago in July 2014, Billboard’s Artist 100 analyzes album sales, digital downloads, radio airplay and social media in order to determine the current week’s most popular recording artist.

Although the very first artist to appear atop the chart was in fact an African-American R&B singer named Trey Songz, only two Black R&B / hip hop artists have since graced the summit of the Artist 100: Chris Brown in October 2014 and now Drake.

The reason for Drake’s sudden surge in success? Music critics attribute this to the sheer surprise factor that came with the album’s release; its title literally taunts his fans to purchase it before “it’s too late” so they did, keeping in mind the album has only been released digitally, meaning physical copies have yet to be available in stores – the more traditional method of purchasing albums.

Now Billboard is not particularly a stranger to Canadian musicians – legendary crooners such as Celine Dion and Shania Twain, both of whom have since become two of the world’s best-selling artists, have each had their share of success with the magazine. But for a Black Canadian artist under thirty, specifically a rapper, to grace the top of one of the magazine’s several charts is virtually unheard of.

In addition to the success of his album, on March 2, Drake became the second of only two artists – the other being none other than the iconic Beatles – to have 14 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 simultaneously.

It’s been a long time coming but this deceptively simple accomplishment could suggest the music industry is heading in a more diverse, positive direction.