As highly anticipated new LP release nears, Drake readies for his close-up

RapperdrakeBy Bruce Pilato

Among the most anticipated albums of 2010, “Thank Me Later,” by Canadian singer-rapper-actor Drake, drops June 15, with all the critical attention and media hoopla of a major superstar release. The 23-year-old has been on his first headlining tour since April, selling out arenas — an unheard-of feat for an emerging artist, and his first two singles, “Over” and “Find Your Love,” have risen near the top of the pop and urban charts.

Through it all, however, the soft-spoken Drake remains focused and unfazed. “If I have anything to prove it’s that I am unafraid,” he tells Variety backstage at a show held at Syracuse University. “I feel that when you care about your music, taking risks is something you should do to keep things exciting.”

Drake, who first broke into show business as an actor on the popular Canadian teen drama, “Degrassi High: The Next Generation,” is expected to take the crossover potential between street-inflected hip hop and melodic pop to new heights. In the studio he sings, raps, and composes; in concert, he performs with the charisma of a seasoned veteran. “There is a lot of song crafting involved on the new record,” he says. “There is a lot of music that will hopefully spark an emotional journey.”

Unlike his contemporaries and mentors such as Lil Wayne, he has climbed to the top of the heap without the aid of a criminal past, thug’s bravado or an embroiled ghetto-centric childhood. He is also astutely pro-active in his career: “I am cc’d on every email and I am on every conference call that I can realistically be on,” he says.

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