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How Drake's towering love for Toronto takes the long view
By
Del Cowie

Published

April 29, 2016

Genre

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Now that Drake’s latest album, Views, has been released, it’s evident that he wants to firmly solidify his status as a Toronto cheerleader — as if any doubt remained. The album digs deeper into the inimitable sound Drake has developed with his musical partner Noah "40" Shebib and the cadre of producers who have helped to purvey what is now commonly referred to as "the Toronto sound."

Nothing made this clearer than Drake’s album cover for Views (formerly known as Views from the 6), which prominently featured Toronto’s most recognizable landmark: the CN Tower. It wasn’t until most people took a second look that they noticed a (photoshopped) Drake sitting near the top of the tower. Given the album's title at the time the photo was released, this was the most literal interpretation — seen as corny by some.

Much like when the "Hotline Bling" video dropped, the Views memes followed swiftly and soon drakesviews.com, which allowed a photoshopped Drake to be randomly assigned to any photo of your choosing, was all the rage. Dropdrake.com — which allowed you to maliciously drag the Toronto hip-hop artist around and eventually off the top of the tower — also gained popularity. With the CN Tower’s Twitter account confirming the image of Drake was actually photoshopped, it was open season.

But Drake is far from the first Toronto hip-hop artist to use the CN Tower. Digging into the history in a time before vines, hashtags and memes, it’s evident there’s more to Drake’s album cover than trying to literally convey the album title.

In a recent interview with CBC Music, Director X — who has directed Drake’s videos for “Started from the Bottom” and the now infamous “Hotline Bling,” among others — highlighted this point. Discussing the shoot of Choclair’s “What It Takes,” which featured the CN Tower and Toronto skyline in the background, Director X contextualizes the influence the video had.

"What made 'What it Takes' so special was it was the first [hip-hop] video from Toronto to really say we're from Toronto and we're proud of it," Director X said. "We went out to Toronto Island with our city as a backdrop and that was really the first time anyone had done that shot. Toronto hip-hop was not waving the flag of Toronto [before that]."

That 1997 Choclair video kickstarted a number of other videos prominently featuring the CN Tower, which at the time was the tallest free-standing structure in the world. The prominent landmark shows up in videos of respected Toronto hip-hop artists like Kardinal Offishall’s videos “Husslin’” and “The Anthem,” Ghetto Concept’s “Precious Metals” and Irs’s “T-Dot Anthem,” to name a few. Interestingly, Irs, who hailed from the east end of Scarborough, and Ghetto Concept, which counts the northwest section of Rexdale as its stomping grounds, chose the CN Tower in their videos.

Representing neighbourhoods has always been important to hip-hop artists worldwide, and Toronto is no exception here. However, the CN Tower represented a unifying central theme at a time when Toronto was undergoing an amalgamation into a "megacity."

It’s highly likely Drake was influenced by what he saw in these videos and applied the imagery to his work as he gradually developed himself into an ambassador for the city. But Drake’s own history with the CN Tower goes beyond the Views cover.

Along with shooting scenes in 2012’s “Headlines” video inside the CN Tower elevator as he rapidly ascended the building, Drake got a tattoo of the building on his arm in 2015. Additionally, the 2013 Director X-helmed video “Started From the Bottom” features him flying by the building in an airplane. On Views, Drake titles one of the songs “Weston Road Flows,” reminiscing on living in an area from his childhood where, according to him, he could barely afford to buy a pizza slice, ending the track with a shout-out to Rexdale’s Jelleestone interpolating his hit “Money.”

While Weston Road is on the city’s west side, on Views opener “Keep the Family Close” Drake opines, "Kennedy Road taught me to not trust people like you," referring to the long street in the east end of the city. The album attempts to take in all of the city, presumably something you can imagine doing from the top of the CN Tower. For the Toronto MCs who have deployed the CN Tower in their imagery, the structure represents an aspirational trope that intricately ties them into the identity of the city.

But for Drake, this does not only mean the CN Tower. In the past he's erected roadside album-promoting billboards that closely emulated the city of Toronto's official logo and lettering.

With global eyes on Toronto due to the protracted nature of Views' promotional campaign, it's clear Drake's intent is to redefine, reconfigure and re-present spatial elements of Toronto on his own terms.

For Drake, doing so not only means remembering the artists who have gone before him, but also asserting the unprecedented status he has negotiated as a Toronto hip-hop artist.