Drake is known for his red-hot music career, as evidenced by his newest album, Certified Lover Boy, topping the Billboard 200 album chart again this week.
But long before people associated “Hotline Bling” with the Canadian rapper, he first gained acclaim as Aubrey Graham, his birth name, when he starred as Jimmy Brooks on the Canadian drama Degrassi: The Next Generation from 2001 to 2008.
Writer James Hurst celebrated the show’s 20th anniversary in a recent wide-ranging interview with AV Club and revealed that Drake nearly exited the series after his character, Jimmy, was paralyzed in a school shooting.
Hurst, who helmed the series’ fifth and sixth seasons, claims Drake’s camp didn’t like the idea of his character being relegated to a wheelchair and threatened via a strongly-worded letter that he would quit “unless his injury is healed, and he’s out of the wheelchair.”
Hurst arranged a meeting with the young actor and said that, while Drake didn’t know about the note, he asked why there was an issue over playing a disabled character. Hurst says the future Grammy winner told him, “All my friends in the rap game say I’m soft because I’m in a wheelchair.”
The Degrassi writer countered with, “Well, tell your friends in the rap game that you got shot. How much harder can you get? You got shot, and you’re in a wheelchair."”
“I was very passionate about it,” Hurst recalled. “I said, ‘Aubrey, there’s some kid somewhere in a wheelchair, who’s completely ignored, who’s never on television, never gets represented. I need you to represent this person. You’re the coolest kid on the show, and you can say there’s nothing wrong with being in a wheelchair."”
Drake was not a part of the interview and has not verified Hurst’s claim.
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