Never mind the fact that he literally titled his most recent album Certified Lover Boy — Drake evidently hasn’t always been so comfortable sharing his sensitive side. Before he gifted us with unabashedly sullen breakup ballads like “Marvins Room,” he was better known as Aubrey Graham, the actor behind high school basketball star Jimmy Brooks in the massively popular teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation. In a recent oral history celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Canadian phenomenon, Degrassi screenwriter James Hurst said that Drake once threatened to leave the show because Jimmy used a wheelchair, which the rapper feared made him look “soft.” (As if “soft” hasn’t been used to describe most Drake music since 2010.)
If you’ll recall, one of Degrassi’s most critical plot points came in Season 4, when Jimmy survived a school shooting that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Hurst told The A.V. Club that he once received an “odd letter” from a law firm in Toronto stating that Drake wouldn’t return to the Season 6 cast of Degrassi unless Jimmy’s injuries were healed.
“[Aubrey’s] like, ‘All my friends in the rap game say I’m soft because I’m in a wheelchair,'” Hurst recalled. “And I said, ‘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. He was like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ He was so nice and apologetic about everything. He instantly backed down. I was very passionate about it, and 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’s co-stars also remembered his hesitancy to use a wheelchair. Lauren Collins, who played Jimmy’s classmate Paige, said that she recalled Drake’s struggles with being confined to a wheelchair, both physically and emotionally: “I think [Aubrey] probably struggled with the idea that he was one of two Black characters on the show, and that he was the one who was winding up shot and in a wheelchair, which obviously is part of a much larger conversation.”
Ultimately, Drake’s ultimatum worked in his favor: By the end of Degrassi Season 7, Jimmy is healing from surgery and walking on crutches. But regardless of Jimmy’s outcome, the image of Rick pointing a gun at him is forever etched into our memories. Revisit the episode below, if you can handle it.
Thankfully, Jimmy’s wheelchair usage hasn’t impacted Drake’s legacy as a rapper in the slightest. Back in 2018, he reunited with some of his Degrassi co-stars in the music video for “I’m Upset.” See if your favorite Drizzy track made Consequence’s list of his 10 best songs.