Drake's star rises with his NBA friends

INDIANAPOLIS -- Two of his best friends are LeBron James and Chris Paul.

He hangs with the University of Kentucky basketball team, coach John Calipari and the enigma that is William Wesley, better known as World Wide Wes.

He makes music with the biggest names in the industry, while ladies screech at every turn.

Drake may not be the most interesting man in the world, but he's certainly angling for its most popular.

A partnership with Lil Wayne has launched Drake's career into rarefied air and tracks "Over," "Find Your Love" and "Forever" are omnipresent on the radio and at clubs. In June, the hip-hop phenomenon debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with his album "Thank Me Later."

The Toronto native got his start in entertainment on the Canadian teen drama "Degrassi: The Next Generation" (which airs on Teen Nick in the United States) before leaving the small screen in 2009 to chase his music aspirations. Shrewd move.

Before he performed Friday at the Indiana State Fair, the admitted NBA junkie sat down with The Life to talk music, NBA relationships, Joe Carter, and of course, Bieber Fever.

(As I approached Drake, he and a woman were finishing a conversation.)

Drake: What's the last show you saw?

Woman: Cleveland.

Drake: With LeBron? Oh god … (to The Life) LeBron basically performed at my last show. He took over. He stayed for like half the show.

The Life: How's LeBron's voice? Can he pull it off?

Drake: Yeah, he's dope. LeBron's hip-hop knowledge and capabilities are up there. We talk about hip-hop a lot. LeBron is going to start rapping soon, I bet. Watch.

The Life: Is his rap game going to be better than Shaq, better than Kobe's?

Drake: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah … Kobe never rapped did he?

The Life: He had that YouTube thing, I think, whatever …

Drake: I don't know, "Shaq Fu" and all that old Shaq music was kind of dope. Don't shake your head. Shaq is dope.

The Life: OK, OK. To you, congrats on the album.

Drake: Thank you.

The Life: First week, it goes No. 1, that has to be pretty surreal.

Drake: Yeah, it's pretty dope man. I had to actually ask yesterday what a No. 1 album was. "What does that exactly mean?" They tell me it means that it goes No. 1 right off the bat and that's a great thing. I always hear J [Jay-Z], "Yeah, I've got 10 No. 1 albums." I've got one No. 1 now, starting out on the right foot.

The Life: You were spotted at four Kentucky basketball games this year, you're obviously a big Kentucky basketball fan. How did that all come about, you and Coach Cal's relationship?

Drake: I linked up with him through … we're all connected, a lot of family, um, and …

The Life: You say family, is that World Wide Wes-like family?

Drake: (laughs) A lot of family. We're all connected. I met him through a lot of great people. Seeing him speak at [Big Blue Madness] when the players came out, seeing him speak there, I was inspired by him. It was very moving. Just talking and meeting the guys, I was like, man my heart was in it.

I took a lot of days off to see Kentucky basketball games and me and John [Calipari] became good friends. And becoming friends with John, I became closer with John [Wall], DeMarcus [Cousins] and Patrick [Patterson]. So it was cool, man. It was a great year.

I connected with them because they're young and their lives are changing, and my life is changing. It's sort of like on my album, "Sports and music are so synonymous. Because we want to be them and they want to be us." It's kind of that kind of thing.

The Life: Do you still keep in contact with DeMarcus and John?

Drake: Oh yeah, definitely. I talk to John. I talk to DeMarcus sometimes. I got my eyes on the ESPN channel, watching what's going on.

The Life: Nice plug.

Drake: Thank you.

The Life: Now do you think Coach Cal is bumping to your music in his office or possibly just using you as a recruiting tool to keep a hip image with young players?

Drake: I don't know if anyone sees Coach Cal in his private office time, but if I had to guess, I think he lights candles and listens to Phil Collins to calm himself down.

The Life: So no Drake?

Drake: (Laughs) I hope so. That would be an honor, but I don't know if Coach listens to my music. But I know he's got a lot of love for me, and I've got a lot of love for him. It's a rebuilding year for Kentucky, and I'm really excited to see what he does with the team. I'm hoping to get out to some games and hoping to maybe get out to some other games this year as well. I only saw Kentucky games last year, so I'm going to make my way around this year and try and be more involved with college basketball overall.

The Life: So you're not going to try and unseat Ashley Judd as the Wildcats' top cheerleader?

Drake: I don't think I can ever do that, definitely not.

The Life: I take it you go to meet her at some of these games.

Drake: Yeah, we sat near each other, beside, in front, behind.

The Life: You get any hugs?

Drake: Yeah, yeah. Hugs, always cheering, she gets me into it, for sure.

The Life: You're from Toronto, are you a Raptors fan or just NBA fan in general?

Drake: I am Raptors fan to the death. We just, I (sigh) … I'm a Raptors fan. I'm very patriotic about my city, but now that Chris [Bosh] isn't there we need something. Something has to give. We'll pull it together, Toronto is a great city. We've had some great players, we have a great facility, great spirit. I think eventually Toronto could be one of the top contenders in the league, I hope.

The Life: I know you and Chris are real big into Twitter, were you going back and forth at all?

Drake: Not really on Twitter. I would see Chris a lot in the city, we'd do dinners, drinks, clubs whatever. I'd see him out, we're definitely cool. I would say as far as my relationships, no relationship to me is closer than me and LeBron. LeBron is basically family to me, like a brother. LeBron and Chris Paul are two people that constantly check on me, constantly make sure I'm good, listen to my music, come to shows, and I really love both of those guys.

The Life: What's that like? Those are two world-class athletes, two of the best at what they do and you get to hang with them?

Drake: I think when you make that life music when you're at these turning points, I think all these athletes just come to roadblocks. Life becomes difficult when you're in this public eye, and I think that we all relate to each other and I try and really talk about it in my music.

And I do it knowing that they are going to listen. So I always know what lines they are going to call me about or what songs they're going to like. Same thing with Kobe. Kobe has really reached out and embraced me and my music. I've got great NBA relationships.

The Life: That's got to be nuts for you.

Drake: It's great, man.

The Life: So you can't really hate on Bosh for joining your boy, LeBron, in Miami. Kind of happy for the both of them?

Drake: I'm happy for all those guys. I know a lot of things have been said, but man, listen I'm young, I'm young so I can speak from that young perspective. I'd want to go and win and have fun too or at least take my chances at having the time of my life while I'm doing this. And I think that's what those guys did.

To be able to basically play on an All-Star team every night and join Pat [Riley], it's an amazing package. And to be representing the city of Miami, beautiful weather, beautiful women. It's sort of a win-win all around. I wouldn't blame anyone for making that decision. I'm excited they did. I think it's going to make this NBA year very, very exciting. I'll be there.

The Life: You talk about an All-Star team, that's kind of what you've done linking up with Lil Wayne, Eminem and so on. What's it like working with some of the biggest names in music when you were getting your start? I mean it happened pretty quickly for you, no?

Drake: Yeah it did. I mean it's something that is always a blessing, especially when it happens in a beautiful way. You take a song like "Forever," it was like me Wayne, Eminem, Kanye. When those songs happen and they blossom and they become No. 1s and they get that response in the club, it's one of those things, it's a lot like sports and trades and decisions. It's very strategic and when it comes together and meshes in the perfect way, it's a beautiful thing and I love it. It's one of my favorite things is collaborating with the heavyweights and it working out.

The Life: In "Degrassi," Jimmy was a hoops star. Can you play?

Drake: I'm not going to lie, listen, I'm nice at basketball. The last game we played I dunked on someone, but I tore my ACL, so I haven't played in a long time.

The Life: When was this because it looked like you were walking just fine.

Drake: It was like a year ago. I'm nice.

The Life: You're nice?

Drake: I'm nice.

The Life: (To entourage) He nice?

Entourage: No comment.

The Life: So you're a big NBA fan obviously, so you know Juwan Howard. My buddy tells me that your hairline is the straightest he's seen since Juwan's.

Drake: Not tonight.

The Life: You're right, not today, you're looking a little shaggy. Kind of ruined my research.

(Entourage uncomfortably laughs … Drake checks himself out in the mirror.) I'm kidding, you look fine.

Drake: I think Steve Harvey probably has the sharpest one. Juwan Howard is pretty sharp. I'm kind of going for more of this bearded like little Denzel-ish looser lineup look.

The Life: OK, I could see the Denzel.

Drake: Oh man, thanks. You don't have to lie.

The Life: You say you love Toronto. You were 6 years old when Joe Carter hit that home run in the 1993 World Series, do you remember anything?

Drake: Woo, do I. I remember having the pennants in my room. I remember Roberto Alomar, Kelly Gruber, um, who else was on the team? Joe, Paul Molitor. Did I say Roberto Alomar? Yeah man, the Blue Jays were awesome man. They were like the most exciting team we've ever had.

The Life: The best thing to hit Toronto. Nobody cares about the Maple Leafs now with a last-place finish.

Drake: I'm a big Leafs fan and Toronto is a great hockey city, but you know yeah, lately it hasn't been good over there. But yeah, the Blue Jays, the old jerseys, the fitted. I mean, the Blue Jays years were an exciting time for Toronto.

The Life: Did you play hockey growing up?

Drake: Yeah, I did. I played for the Weston Red Wings.

The Life: Were you pretty good? What position did you play first of all?

Drake: Right wing.

The Life: A fast little guy?

Drake: Yeah, I was all right. I ended up making it to Upper Canada College hockey camp, which is where good kids get sent.

The Life: And then what happened?

Drake: And then I got cross checked in the neck and my mother wouldn't let me play anymore.

The Life: And then you went into acting and played a guy that ended up in a wheelchair, so it was bound to happen eventually.

Drake: There you go, in a wheelchair one way or the other.

The Life: What is your go-to sports cap that you wear if you're trying to look your best?

Drake: Ooh … Colorado Rockies. The Rockies hat is dope.

Entourage: Kansas City Royals.

Drake: Nah, I don't really wear the Royals hat … I'm hard on the Rockies and Detroit because it has the D on it.

The Life: This is the most people I've seen out here since Obama came and spoke here.

Drake: Obama was here?

The Life: Yeah, two times I think.

Drake: Wow.

The Life: I heard you'd like to portray Obama on TV or in a movie, can you tell me a little bit about that, you know being Canadian, not that you're not an adopted American …

Drake: I feel American now …

The Life: We'll take you. You and Michael J. Fox.

Drake: (Laughs) Thanks.

The Life: You can keep Bryan Adams.

Drake: What about Justin Bieber.

The Life: Is he Canadian?

Drake: Yeah.

The Life: Are you into Bieber Fever? You going to work together?

Drake: I hope so, yeah. I just went to his show last night and he's here at my show tonight. So I hope so, if we can make it make sense.

The Life: Where in Canada is he from?

Drake: He is from Stratford, Ontario. That's where they do Shakespeare in the Park.

The Life: Some of my family is from Kenora on the other side of Ontario near Winnipeg.

Drake: Oh yeah? Nice. That's why this is going so well.

The Life: It's going well? Good. Well I'll go out on top then. Final question then I'll let you get out of here, or I'll get out of here, you can stay … What project do you have going in 2011 that our readers should look out for and what crossovers are you having into the sports world?

Drake: Well, I have my album, and I will be releasing that in 2011. I've got my season tickets to the Heat that I'm working on right now, so that will cross over into the sports world. And other than that, just focusing on music trying to get better much like an athlete, training myself and I want to learn instruments. I want to start rapping better, singing better, all of the above. I want to get better. That's the only way to progress. So yeah. I'm just young having fun making music.

Matthew Glenesk is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis.