My relationship with Champagne Papi has been an unusual one, for the better part of an entire decade he was a guy I seemed to keep forgetting about; yet always had positive things to say about when I inevitably rediscovered him…Fate would have me enumerated as one of October’s Very Own, on account of my being born on the 25th of that month in an infamous ghetto in my hometown in Toronto. So perhaps it is not so strange that I would feel some sort of connection to the rapper who was my contemporary in time and space; if only separated by a handful of years.
It was in 2007 when during a stress-induced bout of insomnia that I first heard Drake rap. I was involved at the time in a nine-figure real-estate deal and nothing kept me awake at night more than being responsible for hundreds-of-millions of dollars of other peoples money. My then girlfriend, now wife, however; was sleeping like a baby in the bedroom while I was pouring over data in the living room by only the light of the TV. There happened to come on some kind of ‘where are they now’ Degrassi special, that I had been too engrossed in my business musings to switch off. Why did I care where they were now when I had not watched a single episode of that series? Then I heard this ‘Wheelchair Jimmy’ kid busting what I now know is a verse from ‘Headlines’. I remembered thinking that he definitely had skills but that the rap-game doesn’t give chances to Canadians, no matter how talented. It was quickly forgotten as I returned to my figures.
It was in 2009 when I learned that my initial assessment of Drizzy was only half-right. Fittingly enough, it was in a hot-tub half-filled with bikini-clad young women on the rooftop of a downtown boutique hotel(if you know Toronto you will know which one) when the conversation first turned to Drake. As I sat there, glass of wine in hand, a giant projector was playing music-videos on a rather large section of wall. As a Justin Bieber track was winding down to the derision of all, I had been thinking to myself that nothing was spoiling the ‘baller’ atmosphere more than the Biebs. I was hoping for something a little fresher when thankfully Drake came on. I sort of half-to-myself remarked ‘that’s more like it’ while one of the girls asked who it was. ‘Oh that’s Drake” replied this smoking hot, yet highly stuck-up white chick. “My boyfriend chills with him” she continued, launching into a tirade. “I’ve seen him at the club and everyone used to kiss his ass because he was on Degrassi, and now they kiss his ass even more since this whole rap thing; He thinks he’s all that, just because he is the hottest new mc.” Then I made the connection, remembering that night of insomnia. I thought to myself that I was happy for him, that this kid from Toronto actually was making it, yet the haters were there from the start. It was only after his mix-tape days that I started listening to him regularly, And now I’ve even got a few Drake tracks in my G.O.A.T. playlist.
It was a few weeks ago whilst going through a box of old papers that this story takes a strange twist. I happened across a photo of myself taken in 2001. There was 21 year old me, in all of my gangsta glory. Instead of suit-and-tie there was the red-bandana underneath the old-school Raptors hat cocked to the side; a smile peeking out over the five pointed spikes of my goatee. In my hand was an obscenely large joint, so large it needed to be immortalized in print…Ah the days of my misspent youth…The photo got me thinking about the circumstances of that day; and then it all came flooding back…
Back in ’01 I was living in the hood in North York, I had met my then current girlfriend while attending a high-school that seemed to be, unofficially, for wayward youths. She had been expelled from a more affluent school in Midtown the year previously but still had friends from that area. She would occasionally drag me to parties with the rich white-kid set, as I would refer to them at that time. It was at one such party, that the photo was taken. I recall spending most of that night out on the patio, smoking and for the most part being antisocial. My girlfriend’s best-friend’s little brother had invited all of his friends and I generally felt that hanging-out with a bunch of 16 year olds was beneath me; especially with those kids(If you know Toronto then you know how pretentious the mid-town set is). I spent the greater part of 4 hours or so talking with this one kid, who despite of it all seemed like a really cool guy. We talked about philosophy and metaphysics while I was continually trying to corrupt him into partaking in that massive joint or at least having a drink. At first I took him for some kind of straight-edge freak, but he eventually confided that he had to work at 5 a.m. and needed to be straight. I could respect that but I still tried the whole after-school special type peer pressure routine…He did eventually leave after my repeated entreaties for him to stay and enjoy the party. He was the only interesting person I’d met that night and I was actually sad to see him go. As he was leaving I realized that I hadn’t even asked his name. “It’s Aubrey”, he confided with a self-deprecating tone “But pretty much everyone calls me Drake”.
The next couple of parties I went to there always seemed to be a buzz amongst the guests. “Is Drake coming?”, “I hear Drake is coming”, “Drake is supposed to be stopping by”. I was puzzled, I thought he was cool but damn; I couldn’t see why everyone was so interested in whether he was coming or not; I know my regular homies weren’t going around asking about where I was when I was off chilling with this other crew. I know now of course that he was a minor celebrity and his so-called friends just wanted to be able to name-drop that they partied with him…I saw him a few times after that first night but he would only make an appearance for a few minutes and then be gone again if he even came at all.
In retrospect it all seems to make sense although I was pretty clueless at the time. Maybe he was out on that patio being antisocial because everyone knew all too well who he was. Maybe he talked to me because I didn’t know that the ‘work’ he talked about having to go to was Degrassi; I didn’t ask, he didn’t brag…Just two real guys talking about real things…I will always remember the impression that I had of that chance encounter; even if it took me so many years to piece it all together.