Drake on His ‘Nerve-Racking’ New Sotheby’s Collaboration

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Drake. Photo: Chase Stevens/Corbis

On Thursday night in Manhattan, Drake sat in a green room at Sotheby’s Upper East Side showroom, leafing through a catalogue. He was here to see “I Like It Like This,” a collection of works by eminent black contemporary artists — Basquiat, Glenn Ligon, Theaster Gates, Kara Walker, and David Hammons among them — curated by the auction house for its S|2 gallery and on view through June 12. There are over 50 pieces included in the show, and the superstar was elated to finally see them in person after spending weeks working on his pro-bono contribution: a tracklist of 21 songs paired with selected sculptures and paintings throughout the space. (Visitors can hear the songs at listening stations adjacent to the works.) Dressed casually in a light blue denim jacket and Timberland boots, he didn't exactly look like one of the auction house's usual denizens, but that’s sort of the point — this is all new to him, and to Sotheby’s.

This burgeoning relationship got off to a slightly rocky start when, during the press preview for “I Like It Like This,” organizers paired his song choices with the wrong art, using, for example, Robert Johnson’s “32-20 Blues” instead of Drake's own “Wu-Tang Forever” as the pairing for Glenn Ligon’s Figure #29.  When I asked him about the blunder during last night’s crowded party and reception, he shrugged it off, but it’s clear that he takes his Sotheby's work seriously — so seriously that he and his team cut me off when I broached any non-art-related questions during our interview. So you'll have to wait for more info about Views From the 6, but here's what he had to say about his latest project. 

How did this collaboration come together?
My management team, who are also my best friends, hit me with the opportunity. Whenever I’m traveling abroad, one of my managers is really into art, so we talk art a lot and we go to Sotheby’s or Peter Harrington or wherever and try and see what we can when we’re traveling. My manager told me that there a was an opportunity for me to be able to curate the music to go with some extremely incredible pieces of work. From there we took it on, and I’m just blown away to see these pieces in person. I’ve been staring at them, obviously on paper, for a month. It’s so incredible to see it in person and be able to put the headphones on and realize, like, you know, okay, yeah, this really works.

What kind of interest did you have in visual art before this?
I’m always super curious how people choose to relieve themselves of the thoughts that are in their head. For me, it’s words. That’s my craft. When I piece the right words together, it’s a very euphoric feeling, and I’m sure for these artists, when they get the right image on canvas, it must be the same thing. It’s such a euphoric feeling; so I’ve always been interested. I’ve always liked to see how people express themselves from start to finish, especially when it’s things I can’t do. Like, I’m not good at drawing, or doing anything, for that matter, with a brush or a pen, so I’m very intrigued to see that side of it. And one of my biggest things in life is creating a home for myself. So I’m always looking for things, pieces to collect and put inside of this dream home that I have in my head, which will be done one day.

What makes a great piece of art for you?
If I can, and I’m not forcing this answer, the way we curated this event is thinking of the paintings as artwork for singles, like giving these songs new cover art. You might not pair a Kehinde [Wiley] with an A$AP Rocky song, but it’s great to be able to give the songs a new look. When I look at visual art, I automatically think about how I can relate it to my music, or music in general.

What’s your favorite piece in the show?
My favorite piece in the show is, well, I obviously like the Kehinde piece a lot, I really like ... I’m trying to do this without looking at the catalogue.

Go ahead and look. That’s what it’s there for.
No, I don’t want to do it because for me, it’s not about favorite pieces, it’s more about my favorite pairings, so I really like
the Popcaan song with the Barkley [L. Hendricks] piece. That’s one of my favorite pairings in the show. I really like the Anthony Hamilton “Lucille” pairing [with Jacob Lawrence’s The Lovers], and I like the [Terry] Adkins pairing with the Jamie xx record. I’m really proud of how the music ties in with the art. But visually, I would say Kehinde is my favorite artist here.

You only picked one of your own songs  — “Wu-Tang Forever” — and it’s paired with Glenn Ligon’s Figure #29. Did you feel a personal connection to his work?
It was less about the artists and who did these pieces. The majority of the time, I didn’t even really look at the name. Obviously, certain artists, I can tell what their works are, like [the Basquiat] behind me, for example. It was more about what I heard when I looked at the visual. Like, when I looked at the visual imagery, where is the first place my mind goes. I really like other people’s music a lot, but I guess I felt obligated to maybe include one song of my own, but I could have keep going just with other people’s music. I like the whole idea of pairing music that I actually listen to with these things that you almost never get to see in person your lifetime.

“Wu-Tang Forever” is an interesting song choice. What happened to the video for the remix from last year?
Oh, man, that’s kind of behind us. That was two projects ago. There was a remix that 40 [Noah Shebib] was working on. He has a really personal relationship with a lot of those guys from Wu-Tang, and me and Rocky were working on a video at one point in Harlem, and it was cool, but with schedules and all that, different things came into play and we never really got to finish, which is not something I recommend. You should always try and finish your music video.

Rihanna is the only female artist on the playlist. Did you notice that?
No, I didn’t. I just went where my mind took me. I guess it’s ironic that there’s one female musician, but to me, I just picked the songs that I listened to, you know? When it comes to male and female musicians, I feel like these records that I chose are records that are constantly on a playlist of mine, and I feel like the one female artist that is on the playlist is able to make songs that guys can vibe to. She’s good at that. She’s got that talent.

Does going from the music world to the art world feel natural to you?
I hope so. I guess that’s up to the people who come to see the exhibit, right? For me, it was just an enjoyable experience and a chance to partner with Sotheby’s, which is just something legendary to look back on and say that we did. I hope people enjoy the exhibit and I can do it again or be a part of something else that the company wants me involved in. It was definitely an experience. It was a bit nerve-racking, too, because you want people to enjoy it. I hope that for the people who may see art one way, that we bring something new to them, and for the people that just know the music and don’t understand the art, I hope that they get more into it by using the songs that we picked to associate with these images. The art world is seen by outsiders as a very formal world, but we tried to make it an enjoyable experience for everybody. I hope I can do more.

Hear songs from Drake's "I Like It Like This" playlist here.