The Inside Story of “So Far Gone,” The Album That Turned Drake Into a Superstar

Success doesn’t happen overnight. Though that album is the first one we hear, though that single is the first that gets radio play, it’s rarely actually their first. New artists might be green to the world but they’ve really been at it for years, honing their crafts in basement and bedroom closets so that one day, when their chance arrives, they’re ready. Even then for most artists, their time in the spotlight doesn’t last long.

Drake isn’t most artists.

A few weeks ago, I took a stroll through the history of the OVO blog and found some interesting stuff. Sure, photos of Drake looking like a goober are hilarious but, believe it or not, I actually learned something. I saw Drake in a different light, specifically, around the time he released So Far Gone.

Drake is an occupational hazard, though he’s often the source of content, I can’t really say I’m a die hard fan. I respect the man’s work and his success, but his come up has never resonated with me the way Kanye’s hero’s tale has been told, or the way I watched Chance The Rapper rise. “November 18th” is my favorite Drake song, but I didn’t love So Far Gone and I didn’t really appreciate it until, almost seven years to the day it was released, I went back and traced it through the OVO blog.

Now, I know what you are thinking, “But Drake already had a project at this point, So Far Gone wasn’t his first.” You’re right, but comparing Comeback Season to So Far Gone would be like comparing 10 Day to Acid Rap. Though at the time Drake had a small buzz, he was getting major label attention and was poised to blow, people were still unfamiliar, people weren’t sure where Drake was headed. He was in this weird space where he had buzz, but nobody knew what that buzz meant, exactly. He was still the opposite of a proven commodity. Nowhere is that more clear than an interview from May 2008:

CORPORATE TAKEOVER: I’ve heard the album is going to be an independent release, which is surprising since you had every major label trying to sign you. Are you still going for an independent release?
DRAKE: Not necessarily. I’m working towards a couple of different situations. I just have to find the right setup. I want it to come out with the right cosign and at the right time. It’s not 100% concrete that it’s going to be independent, but even if it is, it’ll still be available like every other album. It’s nothing to worry about for anybody who plans to get it.

Sounds like we have a Mindie situation, no? Drake was being asked about major label attention, and was doing the whole “I’m gonna answer but totally not answer” the question thing. He sounded like he was already a proven commodity, but take a look at the comment section.

Very good interview. I would have to differ about Drake running T Dot though. Is not Mr. Kardinal not still the hottest thing north of the border?
Good interview with the Hip Hop’s Hannah Montana. It will be interesting 2 see what mark he makes on the game in 2008… I foresee him doing a little rappin’ & a lot more actin’ via the Hollyweird route

The fact people were even debating Kardinal Offishal versus Drake is probably eye-opening to anyone outside of the Toronto borders. Now, we’re comparing Drake to Jay and Kanye, we’re debating if the man is becoming a hip-hop legend, but back then, it was whether or not he could escape Kardinal’s shadow and put T-Dot on the map. To be fair somebody had it right.

If Drake plays it right, which seems to be doing, he should rake in sales like Vince Carter did all-star votes when he played for TO.

Before he could rake in votes like Carter during Vinsanity’s peak, he had to, you know, release a project. After all, everyone was watching to see if he’d be able to grow. Drake still had a long way to go until he turned from a tadpole into a beautiful butterfly. Nowhere is that more clear than Drizzy’s post on November 20, 2008, where he finally leaks a track from So Far Gone.

This is a record off of So Far Gone, the new mixtape which I am in Atlanta finishing right now. I chose to leak this song so that people can get a vibe for the tape. I am a true fan of this artist and I am looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks. ZS. Enjoy.

The song was the “Little Bit (Remix),” which for the record is still one of my favorite Drake songs. Back then, when it was the first real bit of info released about So Far Gone, it threw his fans for a loop.

ummmmm im a fan kid i dunno i would have to say its cool not touchin anything that was on comback season but it was cool maybe i have to listen to it again hurry up with that mixtape lol
Ive been a fan of lykke li for a hot minute. im really feeling this experimental crossover movement. no stan, real talk. good to see rapper becoming more open minded about music than most fans/haters. overall, dope shit. can’t wait for the mixtape AND album, lol

“Little Bit (Remix)” and the way he blends R&B with hip-hop is quintessential Drake, or at least now it is. I guess that’s revisionist history because, back then, everything we heard from Drake was brand new. As we got nearer to the release date, the blog posts were less about girls Drake was creeping on and more about So Far Gone. Reading the comments, and looking at the posts, you could begin to feel some real momentum building. Case in point, this one from December, 13, 2009.

And so it begins… This is the first piece of artwork for So Far Gone, my next OFFICIAL mixtape which is coming out in the next few weeks. The tape is a conceptual journey of my life since January 2008 and it’ my way of telling the stories that people want to hear in a more entertaining fashion. This particular piece is done by Oliver’s boy Darkie and it’s an adaptation of a classic cover from the international affairs magazine “The Economist”.

Here he is, two days before the release, previewing the album while driving through LA.

It’s a much less awkward album preview than this one I dug up. I love watching Drake talk about how you have to hear the music way louder (already making excuses), while moving his hands like he’s rapping. Super awkward.

Back to the blog. February 12, 2009.

So Far Gone will be available for download right here on October’s Very Own before midnight, Thursday February 12, 2009. Artwork by Darkie.

The posts didn’t stop either. During the final stages, 40 was constantly updating the blog while finishing the album, and in those updates you can feel the pressure and excitement mounting.

I’m in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in LA editing and mixing the tape right now. Im gonna post it as soon as i finnish putting it together. Ima be up all night working, but its all good…

Another update:

Im in LA, so I got till 12 PM PACIFIC TIME!!! We still recording, CEO Jas took that picture like 10 min ago, as soon as we done this interlude Ill upload the links. But I got till midnight PACIFIC TIME!! thats 3 HRS!!!

Another one! (DJ Khaled voice):

Honestly, i am sorry, give me 1.5 hours more. Its done, its just printing and i have to ID the tracks, almost there.

“Fashionably Late

In 2016, Drake projects are mysterious. His releases come in the middle of the night with no warning, so it’s fascinating to see every single move documented in what feels like a countdown. There’s no mystery, no aura, no branding, just a group of friends excited to release a project, documenting every single move. It sounds dramatic, but that day really did change Drake’s life.

Naturally, the blog reflected that. It’s amazing how green he really was when So Far Gone dropped. In this interview (posted on OVO blogspot, but the interview can be found here) Drake talks about touring with Wayne. Though a tour with Wayne gives the illusion Drake is already a star, the way he talked about it he was anything but…

This is Drake’s first-ever tour and though he’s only onstage for a couple of songs, he’s still been losing his performance cherry in front of 20,000 people a night. “I’ve never done my own full-fledged show. Prior to this, I’d probably performed maybe 10 times in my life,” he says, seated in a resto in Toronto’s hip Little Italy neighborhood. “It’s like skydiving every night. You’re nervous [but once] you hit the ground, you wanna do it again.”

More than any one post, though, it’s the lack of posts that tell the whole story. In 2008, he was posting often, posting about girls, posting pictures, anything really, but after So Far Gone the posts were few and far between. Drake went from posting every day to dealing with fake Twitter accounts, shooting music videos with Kanye and even attending Kanye’s brithday party.

But in August of 2009, Drake posted twice, now coping with his new found fame at the same time with a major knee injury:

…even with this new found success I am still the kid who wanted this more than anything in the world. Its funny when I read comments from previous fans who have lost interest because of the radio play and exposure I have. I just want to assure anyone reading that nothing has changed on my end. I refuse to get comfortable, I refuse to fall in line and follow anyone elses formulas. I still work as if So Far Gone had never dropped and I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to gain entry to this game…

A few weeks later he posted “UNLEARN”:

People often ask me the craziest part about becoming “famous” and I’ve never had an answer until yesterday. “You’ll spend half of your time defending yourself and the other half trying to stay sane resulting in you being forced to find time to be creative”
I often wonder in a time where new artists exist in a impersonal cyber world of instantaneous information, if we will ever have another rap legend that can manage to maintain the image that our idols had prior to this method of promotion. I am not suggesting that this person should be me, I am just urging a generation to understand that in order to have anyone of any significance in our lives that we can look up to there will be things that we must look past. There are people that buy sell and trade evil on a daily basis…when u believe in their brand is when they win.

Then in February of 2010, he posted “ONE YEAR AGO” and it really hit me. So Far Gone was responsible for all of this. In one short year he literally turned into a superstar. The blog went from a fascinating look into the early career of superstar to the superstar we know now. Private planes, jet skis, and pictures with Lebron don’t have the same magic as Drake sitting outside a studio or posting about random girls. You could feel Drake the human being grow into Drake the superstar and grow out of posting. The blog was on life support, it was bittersweet. Finally, in February of 2011, almost two years to the day of So Far Gone’s release, Drake pulled the plug with his post “Life As We Know It”:

It’s been so long since I have wrote anything on here because I feel like for a while I was trying to digest it all and save it for the music. But its finally set in that I am living my dreams and doing with all my closest friends from Toronto. I wake up and never know what to expect from any given day but good or bad I always learn something from it. I have decided that I am going to push “It’s Never Enough” and focus completely on delivering Take Care to you all…OVO gang is all smiles and 40 is making some of the best music I have heard in my entire career. I am in the airport right now headed to LA to meet up with Boi 1da tonight. It’s all feeling right. Its truly been a pleasure to speak again. Thank you for all your energy.,..I need it to last until I’m part of the past.

That’s the end of the “secret” OVO blog. The secret was out. Drake didn’t have time to post anymore, he was too busy hopping on flights to party with the big boys. With that post, Aubrey officially died and Drake took over. After he arrived, he left us. He was no longer a human, he had morphed into the brand he is now. Every move calculated and coordinated. You can’t blog your every thought when you’re living in the fog of stardom.

Rarely does one project truly make you a star, but for Drake, that’s just not the case. One day he was an outsider, then So Far Gone dropped and he was thrust into the spotlight he had always dreamed of. After February 12, 2009, Drake truly became the living embodiment of the title of his most important release to date.

[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is College Dropout but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth. Photo by Jason Bergman.]


Originally published at DJBooth.net on February 22, 2016.

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