The co-sign is a manoeuvre as old as time, one that can be done in earnest or for mutual gain. But a superstar like Drake jumping on an unknown rapper's track, posting a budding singer on Instagram, or signing an up-and-coming star to his record label, OVO Sound is a total game-changer. After almost a decade at the top, the Canadian rapper has taken to loaning the weight his name to other artists in a bid to bring them a taste of his own success.
Why does he do it? Drake's journey into the music industry was fraught with his own difficulties. A child actor on Degrassi, it seemed as though his middle-class upbringing wouldn't thrive next to the nitty-gritty, “started from the bottom” narrative hip-hop largely focused on. He was however in good company. During this time, Kanye West had almost single-handedly subverted the typical braggadocio in hip-hop with chopped up soul samples and heartfelt salvos previously absent from the genre.
Lil Wayne, who was then one of the most influential figures in hip-hop saw promise in Drake and took a chance on his sad-boy meditations on breakups and hookups. Wayne's co-sign of the rapper from the 6 was key to his breakthrough.
Since then, Drake has spent much of his career paying forward Wayne's kindness, helping regional artists, R&B singers and indie rappers make it big.
Canadian R&B duo DVSN (pronounced ‘Division’) signed to OVO in 2016. While Drake made a few mysterious Instagram posts teasing their album, Sept. 5th, he did little else to push the up-and-coming stars. Their exuberant extended version of Drake's song Faithful, titled Keep The Faith scored the duo some attention and the nod from the rapper's fans.
Their virtual anonymity quelled any potential interest, but their second album Morning After garnered some positive critical reception. Since then, DVSN has continued to thrive, recently releasing two singles Miss Me? and In Between and a brand new collab with Future called No Cryin. Vocalist Daniel Daley and producer Nineteen85 continue their winning streak since the success of their sophomore album.
Before Abel Tesfaye was being chased down by TMZ and dating Bella Hadid, he was an indie musician whose identity was shrouded in mystery. Then, an enigmatic R&B mixtape crooner, The Weeknd's House Of Balloons tape had the internet up in arms. His sophomore release Thursday turned the heat up, with Drizzy hopping on The Zone.
As interest in The Weeknd swelled, Drake doubled down and featured his fellow Canadian on his second studio album, Take Care. With writing credits on five songs and as a feature artist on Crew Love, The Weeknd was thrust in front of Drake's ever-growing fanbase and it wasn't long before he was burning up the pop charts with his breakout hit, I Can't Feel My Face.
Jhené Aiko started her career with several features for 2000s r&b boy band, B2K. But the release of her mixtape Sailing Soul(s) in 2007 called music fans to attention. Featuring collaborations with heavyweights like Miguel, Drake and Kanye West, Aiko didn’t just show promise but proved that her name was worth getting behind.
In 2013, Drake invited the Los Angeles crooner on tour as his opening act. Which made her feature on his second studio album, Take Care, an exciting prospect for Aiko. The slow-burning R&B duet From Time sees Aiko’s mellifluous voice going toe-to-toe with Drake's nascent sing-song flow.
Today, she's a revered voice in soulful R&B, known for her iconic verse on Post To Be. Maybe that Drake co-sign just did something.
A$AP Mob doesn't just have a cult following in New York, but their reach stretches across the world. However their most popular member, New York rapper A$AP Rocky credits Drake for his sprawling success. “I forever, forever owe Drake,” he once said in an interview.
In 2011, during a performance at a Fashion's Night Out event, Drake brought out Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Mob to perform alongside him. Upon the release of Rocky's debut record, Long. Live. A$AP. his hit single, and arguably what remains to be his most recognisable song, Fuckin' Problems, became a global hit. The song featured none other than Drake and Kendrick Lamar.
It's almost hard to imagine a time before the Migos were world-renowned stars. Years before the success of Bad and Boujee Quavo, Offset and Takeoff had garnered a reputation in Atlanta. The then-regional stars slowly grew to prominence for their distinctive trill tempered by synchronised ad-libs that made for some of the most exuberant trap in the game.
With the release of Versace - you know, the song that repeats the word 'Versace' 18 times in the chorus alone - the trio gained national attention in 2013. While the hit was played on the radio, things turned up a notch when Drake jumped on the remix. The song went viral. Peaking at #99 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, Versace was Migos’ first taste of commercial success. It helped that Drake went onto perform the hit at the 2013 iHeartRadio Music Festival. Since then, Versace has gone gold and Migos have become the genre’s biggest stars, their reach spanning pop and R&B features — much like Drake.
It all began at 18 when PARTYNEXTDOOR signed a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell as a songwriter. He’d dreamt of working with Drake and in 2013 his prayers were answered when he signed to OVO Sound. Since then, Party has released two studio albums PartyNextDoor Two and PartyNextDoor 3, but most notably, the Canadian talent has become the imprint's go-to songwriter. Boasting writing credits on Elevate, Preach, Ratchet Happy Birthday and With You his songwriting finesse soon extended beyond Drake.
While PND's solo career never reached the heights of Drake's other successful co-signees, his production and writing credits span the likes of Rihanna's Work, DJ Khaled's Wild Thoughts, Kanye West's Ghost Town and Shot Clock by Ella Mai.
In 2016, the release of his fourth studio album Views brought Drake's fascination with The Islands to the forefront — likely inspired by his on-again-off-again relationship with Barbados pop star, Rihanna.
Dancehall-inspired tracks like Controlla, which featured Jamaican treasure Popcaan sauntered into the charts introducing those previously unaware of the genre to a novel sound. It was during this time that the success of Work and Drake's sudden inclination to repeat the word "ting" despite his very Canadian heritage became prominent. This culmination swirled like a storm in a teacup and inadvertently gave Popcaan some mainstream momentum.
In 2018, Popcaan was signed to OVO Sound.
UK grime fans were already well-acquainted with Skepta before his feature on Drake's 2017 mixtape More Life but his presence was yet to be felt in the US. As with every Drake release, he co-opted a new sound he'd become obsessed with, this time focussing on UK Grime.
The two worked again together on Wizkid's Ojuelegeba (Remix) with Drizzy yet to leave grime behind him. It’s hard to deny Skepta’s newfound renown in mainstream hip-hop following his encounter with Drake.
James Lee Baker, better known as BlocBoy JB burst onto the scene with his breakout hit, Look Alive featuring none other than Drake.
His first mixtape, Who Am I which dropped in 2016 saw his track No Chorus Pt. 6 make waves on YouTube reaching two million views. The following year he released Shoot which accompanied a dance sensation with the "shoot dance", further popularised by viral video game Fortnite. If there's one thing we know about Drake, is that he loves an internet trend even more than his love for emulating viral dances.
Drake's remix was already heavily speculated, but when Look Alive dropped, rumours began to swirl of the Tennessee rapper's imminent signing to OVO Sound. Nothing ever came of it. Look Alive charted at #5 in the US and #24 in Australia, though we haven't heard too much from BlocBoy since.