Drake the TV producer: How the rapper went from winning Grammys to reviving Top Boy for Netflix
Sept. 12, 2019
Drake is a rapper. Not just any rapper, a rapper whose album Scorpion was streamed over a billion times in just one week and who has the most charted songs of any solo artist in Billboard history. He’s a rapper with five studio albums, three compilation albums and six mixtapes. He’s won four Grammys and two Brits. As a Canadian, he’s almost as big an export as maple syrup. So why was he on stage at an east London cinema last week, introducing a new series of Channel 4’s long dead drug-dealing drama, Top Boy?
“I want to thank you all so much for allowing me to be a part of this,” Drake told the audience at Hackney Picturehouse, where the premiere for the third season was held. “I just hope it’s half as captivating as Love Island and we’ll be on our way.” He is executive producer on the drama and is credited with being the catalyst for the show’s revival after he posted a screenshot from the first series on Instagram back in 2014.
Given Drake’s appreciation for British rap (J Hus, Skepta and Giggs are just a few of the MCs who have joined the Canadian on stage), his involvement in Top Boy’s revival isn’t that surprising; the leads are Kano (Kane Robinson) and former member of So Solid Crew Asher D (Ashley Walters). What is impressive, however, is just how committed he was to getting it off the ground. Speaking on Lauren Laverne’s Radio 6 Music show, Walters said: “I thought he watched it on Netflix, but he told me he actually watched it on YouTube. He was literally having to find part one, part two to piece it together - his dedication is real.
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“He got in contact with me after he’d seen it and was asking when the next season was coming out and I said, ‘it’s not happening, it’s been cancelled’. He said, ‘We’ll see about that’.” A new 10-minute documentary charting Top Boy’s legacy reiterates the rapper’s dedication: it was Drake who did the bulk of the pitch to Netflix, where the show now lives; he went to the first table-read; he tells the cast they’ll all be back together when they’re “winning awards.” For Drake, this is so much more than a financial investment.
Most people will have either willingly or unwittingly heard a Drake song, but perhaps not many will realise that the young Aubrey Drake Graham started his career on TV. Starting as all child stars do - with adverts - he was eventually signed up to the teen drama, Degrassi: The Next Generation and his character, Jimmy Brooks quickly became a show favourite.
Following his exit in 2009, Drake scored minor roles in The Border and romance dramas Sophie and Being Erica, before making music his full-time job. That’s not to say he wasn’t still reaping the benefits of his on screen time: in 2017 he posted a royalty cheque from the Degrassi production team for the grand total of $8.25 (£6.70) on Instagram.
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In 2017 the Hotline Bling star dipped his toe back into the world of TV but in a more behind-the-scenes role. He was executive producer on The Carter Effect, a documentary about the NBA star, Vince Carter, whom he credits with inspiring him to try his hand at something new: “It just let me know that it was possible. It was confidence. It was the realisation that it was attainable.”
In the same year, Drake announced that he was working on various projects with Steve Golin (The Revenant, Spotlight), film studio A24 and - to seal a hattrick of television deals - Apple, who are due to release their own streaming service later this year. "My taste in television or movies is always kind of similar to my approach to music, which is, I like when people really hit the nail on the head with real human emotions,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
Drake’s next move was as executive producer on HBO’s Euphoria, a controversial and often explicit drama series about American teenagers. With naked penises and scenes of drug-taking from the off, the show has been praised for its complex characters and sensitive handling of often difficult subjects. Drake lauded the show as “one of the most remarkable creations I have ever been a part of.”
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Drake is committed to hyping up “authentic” drama from across the world - and with the power he has to step in and save a production he deems worthy of continuing such as Top Boy, it seems there is no stopping his growing TV presence. Next, he’s set to executive produce Ready For War, a documentary about immigrants to America who serve in the military, then are deported from the country once their duty is over.
Just three projects in to his producing career, it already looks like Drake has the golden touch. If you thought he’d peaked with his musical output, just wait - the Drake era of TV is upon us.
Top Boy series three will be available to stream on Netflix from 13 September.
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