Drake Recalls Family Turmoil, Making ‘Successful’

Plus: We list 25 essential songs midway through 2009, in Mixtape Daily.

Man — 2009 is halfway over already? The years go by so quick. As always, though, we’re here to document everything. All this week, in addition to our regular coverage, we’re going to be highlighting all the impact players in the mixtape circuit so far this year. Who had the biggest mixtape? What MC was the most consistent? What albums have we kept in rotation? Rappers, DJs, producers, shows — we’ve got the best of the best of this year thus far. Today, we take a look at the making of “Successful,” as well as listing other essentially dope records of the year (up to this point.). Stay with us all week.

Mid-Season Salute: Drake’s “Successful”

[artist id="2545682"]Drake’s[/artist] “Successful” is one of our favorite songs of the year thus far. Guest [artist id="1838768"]Trey Songz’s[/artist] hook expresses the dreams of a young black male coming from nothing to something, and Drake’s raps put the hip-hop nation on notice, while conveying his own desperation and hope and revealing family struggles. Let’s not forget [artist id="510062"]Lil Wayne’s[/artist] magnificent at bat as cleanup hitter: “Tired of hearing bullsh–/ Bring on the cow sh–/ Haven’t met a smell that’s stankier than our sh–.” It’s not a record that will kill the clubs, but when you just want to listen to superb lyricism and enthralling harmony, it’s a must have.

“I remember hearing the record and the drums coming together, and they were just so rocking,” Drake recalled. “It has this pocket, and there was no melody yet. I remember [producer Noah '40' Shebib] kind of making the joint, and then he hit this sound, which is the chords that are in there. It was so eerie. Like it was haunting, almost. I was like, ‘Yo, that’s it. You need to use that.’ He started playing this patch, and just every note that he played fell into place. I had this beat sitting here that I love so much, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I loved it. Sometimes, as an artist, you find a musical piece that you love so much, you want to do it justice. It’s a very overwhelming feeling at times. I actually turned to Trey Songz, and I was like, ‘Yo, I got this joint, and I know how it makes me feel. I just don’t know how to say it the right way.’ ”

“Drake told me back in January he was gonna do another mixtape,” Songz told us. “At first, he was calling me about interludes and trying to segue his singing into his rapping. That didn’t work out, because we couldn’t come to terms about what records I was going to be on. Then he sent me this track one night. I was in the studio when he sent it. He said, ‘Let me know what you think about it.’ It was simplistic, but it knocks. It’s eerie, it’s dark. The first thing I laid down was the gothic, reverb-driven harmony: ‘arrrgh, arrrgh, arrrgh.’ I couldn’t think of what I wanted to hear on it, so I did a whole bunch of harmonies.”

Trey then called Drake to see what direction Drizzy wanted to go in. Unable to come up with a concrete game plan, Trey took things into his own hands.

“The first thing that came to mind was ‘I want the money, money and the cars/ Cars and the clothes/ The ho’s/ I suppose I just wanna be, I just wanna be successful,’ ” Trey remembered. “When I’m saying all that, conceptually for me, the deepest part of the record was when I say, ‘I suppose.’ I supposed that’s what success is about. That’s what [we're] led to believe.”

“I opened it up in my e-mail, and I heard this hook, and it was so powerful to me, because he says all these things: ‘I want the money, money and the cars,’ ” Drake thought back. “And it’s like, it’s almost like it made me feel like it may not be right what I want, you know? All these things, it’s like it made me feel young. It kind of made me feel ignorant to the game. But it was an exciting record even though the tempo is slow. That’s what I want. That’s what I’ve been told is success: ‘The money, the cars, the clothes and the ho’s. I suppose.’ The ‘I suppose’ moment in there is like, it’s almost like you’re doubting yourself for a second. But at the end of the day, I just want to be successful. So that’s what the record meant to me.”

One of the record’s most endearing and revealing points comes when Drake speaks about his relationship with his mother. “My mother tried to run away from home, but I left something in the car, so I caught her in the driveway,” he raps. “And she cried to me, so I cried too/ And my stomach was soaking wet, she’s only 5’2.”

“When I was going through the creative process for So Far Gone, I was actually at a pretty dark place in my life,” Drake explained. “It was a frustrating time for my family, because my grandmother — who is now in her mid- to late 90s — was just losing it. It was hard for my mother to watch. And it was just, it was really at a point where it was like, ‘Is this rap thing going to work?’ Like, ‘Is this my choice? Is this what I am committing to?’ Money was an issue. ‘Degrassi’ [which Drake starred on as a teen] had ended years ago, and we were just all kind of trying to figure stuff out.

“So my mother was going through a rough time,” he continued. “And yeah, man, one night she just broke down and tried to actually run away from the house, tried to leave it all behind. It was just a lot going on, and she never would have really left. She would’ve always come back, but it was just a frustrating moment for her. So I had forgot something in my car, and I came outside and I saw bags sitting by her car. I saw her out there, and she just started crying right away when she saw me. Anyway, I don’t wanna get too emotional, but I had to hug her. My father doesn’t stay with us, so I had to be security for her and just let her know that everything is going to be all right.”

25 Essential Records Midway Through 2009

» Kanye West (featuring Young Jeezy) – “Amazing”
» Drake – “Best I Ever Had”
» Jamie Foxx (featuring T-Pain) – “Blame It”
» Gucci Mane – “Bricks”
» Jay-Z – “Brooklyn Go Hard”
» DJ Webstar (featuring Jim Jones and Juelz Santana) – “Dancing on Me”
» Jay-Z – “D.O.A.”
» Lil Wayne and Young Money – “Every Girl”
» Cam’ron – “Get It in Ohio”
» Hurricane Chris (featuring Superstarr) – “Halle Berry (She’s Fine)”
» Red Cafe – “Hottest in the Hood”
» Jadakiss (featuring Faith Evans) – “Letter to B.I.G.”
» OJ Da Juiceman (featuring Gucci Mane) – “Make the Trap Say Aye”
» Rick Ross (featuring John Legend) – “Magnificent”
» Young Jeezy (featuring Jay-Z) – “My President” remix
» 50 Cent – “OK, You’re Right”
» Jadakiss (featuring Styles P) – “One More Step”
» Plies – “Plenty Money”
» Busta Rhymes (featuring Jadakiss and Young Jeezy) – “Respect My Conglomerate”
» The-Dream (featuring Juelz Santana, Ludacris, Rick Ross and Fabolous) – “Rockin’ That Sh–” remix
» Rick Ross (featuring Avery Storm) – “Rich Off Cocaine”
» F.L.Y. – “Swag Surfin’ “
» GS Boyz – “Stanky Leg”
» Fabolous (featuring The-Dream) – “Throw It in the Bag”
» Soulja Boy Tell’em – “Turn My Swag On”

For other artists featured in Mixtape Daily, check out Mixtape Daily Headlines.