Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
Pitchfork pinpoints all the Toronto locales that have appeared in the rapper's lyrics.
When I listen to Drake on my way to work, I bob my head and mouth the lyrics fiercely, as if the music is coming up from the depths of my soul. I must look ridiculous, because I often catch other commuters on the metro staring at me, very concerned. I quickly rearrange my facial expression, but as long as Drake is still rapping, my insides are brimming with feeling.
It's not just that the man is talented and handsome (so many hearts for that million-dollar smile!) but his relationship with his hometown of Toronto is fascinating. That comes through quite clearly in a great Pitchfork feature by Jamieson Cox, who starts by explaining just what the city means to the rapper:
For Drake, Toronto is more than a hometown. It’s a battleground, a kingdom, something worth fighting for and celebrating...His mythological Toronto is a metropolis where everyone knows your name and exes are always lurking around the corner, a forest of penthouses with a panoramic view, a park-studded playground where the skies are free of ambient light and the highways are always clear. Like many hip-hop locales, it’s a city closer to the realm of theory—and fantasy—than reality.
In Drake's new mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, that Toronto-love reaches new heights. The album is bursting with snippets of his life in "the 6"—the Toronto region with the area codes, 416 and 647. Here's Cox on the album:
The tape is full of non-geographic Toronto-isms—characters like his before-fame friends and ominous heavies, accents ripped from the city’s Caribbean and African communities, reigning Raptors fan favorites like unrepentant gunner Lou Williams, dozens of references to “the 6”—but specific places show up along the way too. There were those hard times in the diverse, sprawling suburbs of Etobicoke, more friends in Scarborough, new haunts downtown and in adjacent neighborhoods like condo paradise CityPlace.
Although Toronto's presence is strongest on Drake's new album, the city has been a recurring character ever since the ex-Degrassi star started his rap career. Cox tracks how each of Drake's albums is a milestone in the growing relationship between the artist and his city-muse. The Pitchfork piece includes this awesome map annotated with all the Toronto locales that have appeared in Drake's lyrics:
The city has also often formed the backdrop of Drake's music videos. Take this video of his 2013 song "5AM in Toronto." In it, Drake and his buddies just wander around the city, drinking and smoking joints. (Disclaimer: obviously, there's explicit language and drug use ahead):
When the music video came out, Drake tweeted some of his city-love:
That might be like my first viral video. Doing it for the city this time around. Well every time but this time especially.— Drizzy (@Drake) April 2, 2013
Cox ends by declaring Drake the perfect ambassador for Toronto, because he focuses the attention on an ideal version of the city and helps people push past the its problems. And they're right: Drake makes the city seem like it's more than that-place-where-my-relatives-live. His music makes me want to book a flight. I say the man deserves some appreciation for championing Toronto the way he does: a key to the city, perhaps?