December 2010: The Weeknd is introduced on the OVO blog
This story begins on Sunday, December 12th, 2010. At the time, The Weeknd was completely unknown but Oliver El-Khatib – Drake’s manager and right-hand man – published a blog post on OVO’s website to introduce the world to Abel Tesfaye’s sound with two songs off House of Balloons, his debut release of what would eventually become the first of a mixtape trilogy. And although it didn’t catapult The Weeknd into immediate stardom, the OVO co-sign would prove to be an important hallmark for Tesfaye’s career.
March 2011: The Weeknd releases House of Balloons
By March 2011, The Weeknd was still a mysterious character, often mistaken as a group act. He finally dropped House of Balloons which was highly acclaimed by several blogs and publications. Prior to the release, Drake fully endorsed The Weeknd by directing his fans to follow him on Twitter and by congratulating the XO team.
Follow the young king @theweekndxo
— Drizzy (@Drake) March 10, 2011
— Drizzy (@Drake) March 20, 2011
July-August 2011: The Weeknd opens for Drake at OVO Fest, releases Thursday
At this point in time, The Weeknd’s fanbase was slowly building and Drake’s continued efforts to showcase him as his protégé was paying off. Drake announced in May that The Weeknd would be an opener for his 2nd-annual OVO Fest concert in late July. Although it was a fairly raw performance from Tesfaye, Drake brought him back later in the show to perform his Trust Issues remix. Later in August, The Weeknd would finally release his second mixtape Thursday which included a surprise guest verse from Drake on ‘The Zone’.
November 2011: Drake releases Take Care
By now, Drake has built up the hype for his second studio album Take Care, to which The Weeknd contributed significantly by providing two official features on ‘Crew Love’ and ‘The Ride’ and received writing credits for ‘Shot For Me’, ‘Good Ones Go’ and ‘Practice’. The Weeknd would eventually detail his involvement in the album in a Complex interview in July 2013 (more on that later).
December 2011: The Weeknd releases Echoes of Silence
To recap, The Weeknd had an eventful year that included completing his mixtape trilogy, performing at OVO Fest in front of 16,000 fans, and reaping the benefits of his relationship with Drake. He managed to do it all while maintaining his mystique by avoiding interviews with the press. It was the early beginnings of the OVOXO movement moving into full force.
May-August 2012: Drake tells Sway he’s working on signing The Weeknd to his label, brings out The Weeknd at OVO Fest
In an interview with Sway, Drake mentions that there is paperwork being done to sign The Weeknd and make him apart of the OVO team officially. To clarify, there were rumours at the time that Drake was on the verge of partnering with a major distribution label to create his own label and he was poised to make The Weeknd his first signed artist.
“As far as on paper, it’s all being worked out, but that’s not really what counts anyway. What counts to me is the fact that the affiliation is so known, and that’s all I really care about. I want to continue being involved in his career and vice versa and keep making music together, because you take songs like ’Crew Love’ and ’The Zone,’ that’s what people wait all night to hear,” [Drake] said. “We’re definitely a family,” he added. “It’s definitely a Toronto thing. That’s not changing at all.”
September-November 2012: The Weeknd signs with Republic, drops Trilogy
The Weeknd finally decided it was time to sign a record deal with Universal’s Republic Records. This came as a shock to many considering Drake previously mentioned that they were close to working out a deal. Ultimately, The Weeknd chose to pursue his own venture and announced that he was releasing a remastered version of his three mixtapes from 2011, repackaged under the official title ‘Trilogy’, in November. The album would go on to sell 86,000 copies domestically in its first week.
This move would prove to be a turning point in Drake and The Weeknd’s relationship; slowly but surely, the two began to separate. Drake’s trainer and fellow OVO affiliate Jonny Roxx took to Twitter to voice his displeasure with the OVOXO designation.
Don't say OVOXO to me…I Only Rep OVO That's It That's ALL, Nuttin After! Y Preeeee
— ROXX (@OvOJonnyRoxx) October 3, 2012
December 2012: Drake signs with Warner Bros. Records to create OVO Sound
In early December, Drake and his close friend/producer Noah ‘40’ Shebib came together to finally ink a deal with Warner Bros. Records and instituted their own label OVO Sound. About a week later, Drake sent out a puzzling tweet, which left many wondering if it was subliminally directed at The Weeknd for spurning a potential a partnership with OVO Sound.
You won't get away with just a thank you…you owe me a favor.
— Drizzy (@Drake) December 11, 2012
February-March 2013: Drake puts out two new singles
To set off the rollout for his third LP, Drake released his first single ‘Started From The Bottom’. Fans were left wondering whether or not some of the lyrics in the song were directed at The Weeknd.
“I could turn your boy into the man.
There ain’t really much I hear that’s poppin’ off without us nigga
We just want the credit where it’s due…”
“No new niggas, nigga we don’t feel that. Fuck a fake friend, where you real friends at?”
The subliminal shots would continue from Drake’s side, like this one from his promotional single ‘5AM in Toronto’:
“Cause I show love, never get the same outta niggas
Guess it’s funny how money can make change outta niggas, for real
Some nobody started feelin’ himself…”
April 2013: Drake mentions The Weeknd in Elliott Wilson interview
Drake was finally asked in an interview with Elliott Wilson about the status of his friendship with The Weeknd (fast forward to the 23:58 mark) and although he downplayed any potential of beef, it wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for a guy whom he collaborated extensively with only less than two years earlier.
July 2013: The Weeknd’s first interview; photo with Drake and The Weeknd surfaces
In his first ever interview with the media, The Weeknd sat down with Complex and explained in his involvement in Drake’s Take Care album.
“House of Balloons was actually supposed to have more songs than it does. I had so many records left, and then Take Care came through. “Crew Love,” “Shot for Me,” and “The Ride” were supposed to be on House of Balloons. I wanted to come out with like 14 records. I felt like “The Ride” was the last one, and it wasn’t done yet. [Drake] heard it and he was like, “This shit’s crazy.””
“[Drake] told me he wouldn’t be able to do the album without me. You can read it on the credits that he thanked me. I don’t know if that’s him being generous, but I gave him a lot of records. I made “Practice.””
“That whole hook [for Practice] was me. That’s probably the only song I wrote for Take Care. The rest of it was just shit I was going to have for [House of Balloons]. He really wanted to incorporate my sound, which was inspired by his sound. It’s not like, “Oh, I had the ‘new sound.’” It was just easier for him to relate to me, because it was his sound with an edge. It was that Toronto sound. So yeah, you’re right. I feel like I could have been that for his album.”
He then elaborated on the state of his rapport with Drake.
People think you guys aren’t cool with each other anymore.
No, that’s not true. Definitely not true. But it makes sense. The thing about Drake is I told him what my decisions were going to be. And he was down with it from the beginning.
You mean in terms of your label deal?
Everything. I told him from day one what my decision was going to be. I wasn’t going that route. I was going to go my own route. And he supported me.
So when you read things about how you two are not cool…
—he’s like me when it comes to shit like that, too. He loves reading that stuff.
You both just brush it off?
Of course. I don’t like to spoon-feed people. I don’t like to be like, “You know what? I’m going to let the world know that we’re cool. We’re going to take a picture together. Everyone’s cool.” It’s all about the mystery, and people like it. Shit’s WWE, man. It’s wrestling, you know what I mean?
And of course (like clockwork), a few weeks after the interview was published, Drake shared a photo of the two hanging in the studio on his Instagram page. Looks like all is well.
September 2013: The Weeknd drops Kiss Land; Drake drops Nothing Was the Same
The good times keep rolling as The Weeknd and Drake were both poised to drop their respective LPs Kiss Land and Nothing Was the Same. Although Nothing Was the Same didn’t carry any contributions from The Weeknd, the track ‘Live For’ on Kiss Land featured a verse from Drake, which was believed to be recorded the same night that Drake posted the Instagram photo from July. So far, so good.
February-March 2014: Drake adds The Weeknd to European tour
It looks like their relationship seems to be back on track, as Drake decided to enlist The Weeknd as an opener for Would You Like a Tour?’s European dates. They would share the stage every night for two months. OVOXO is back in full gear, folks.
December 2014: Drake congratulates The Weeknd on winning Allan Slaight Award
Once the tour was finished, things were kept fairly quiet between the two Toronto products. The Weeknd was reportedly working on his next album with Doc McKinney in Seattle. Later in the year, Drake congratulated The Weeknd for winning the Allan Slaight award, the same award Drake won in 2011.
June 2015: Drake performs at Governor’s Ball; Drake and The Weeknd both play role at Apple keynote
In February, Drake released a surprise mixtape for his fans called If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late. Once again, none of the songs on the album featured The Weeknd, which led people to believe that the good old days of OVOXO might once again be on hold. Meanwhile, The Weeknd was coming off his first major hit ‘Earned It’, a track that was composed for the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack.
In June however, while performing a set at Governor’s Ball in New York City, Drake hinted that a collaboration with The Weeknd was dropping soon. “We might have some new shit coming,” said Drake during “Crew Love.”
The following day, Drake flew out to California for an Apple keynote that included the announcement of Apple’s new music streaming service, an awkward appearance from Drake describing a few of its features, followed by a performance from The Weeknd who debuted one of his two chart-topping hits of the year, ‘Can’t Feel My Face’. The two shared a moment backstage with Dr. Dre, photo courtesy of Drake’s Instagram.
July 2015: The Weeknd announces new album; Drake vs. Meek Mill beef
While this portion of the timeline has nothing to do with Drake’s relationship with The Weeknd, a significant beef emerged between former friends Meek Mill and Drake. After Meek had taken to Twitter to express his anger with Drake for not tweeting a link to his new album Dreams Worth More Than Money and claimed that he had ghostwriters, Drake decided to retaliate with a warning shot record called ‘Charged Up’. Later in the show, he released ‘Hotline Bling’, which eventually became one of the hottest songs of the summer (more on that later). He also dropped a second diss track directed at Meek without giving him the opportunity to respond with ‘Back 2 Back’, another record that would take over the summer.
August-September 2015: The Weeknd drops Beauty Behind The Madness
Not much has changed at this point but fresh off the height of his beef with Meek Mill, Drake didn’t miss a beat and decided releasing a collaborative mixtape with Future called What a Time to Be Alive. The Weeknd released a new album Beauty Behind the Madness at the end of August, and later in September, Drake curiously released a remix of The Weeknd’s ‘Tell Your Friends’ on an episode of OVO Sound Radio. It’s unclear whether or not Drake was paying homage to The Weeknd by singing over one of his songs.
It’s hard to deduce anything of their association, but with their success this past summer, both Drake and The Weeknd cemented themselves as two of the top dogs in popular music.
October 2015: Battle for #1 spot on the Billboard Top 100;, The Weeknd’s Rolling Stone interview
The Weeknd’s pop reign lasted beyond the summer as hit songs ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ and ‘The Hills’ continued to top the Billboard Top 100 charts. Meanwhile, Drake was seeing his own chart success with ‘Hotline Bling’, which was slowly creeping into the top 3 where The Weeknd had a firm hold of the #1 and #3 spots, with Justin Bieber’s ‘What Do You Mean?’ sandwiched in between at #2. It seemed to create some competition once Drake made it a point in an Instagram post that a ranking #1 on the charts would be a huge accomplishment for his career. Drake also announced that the Hotline Bling video would drop on October 19th.
I spend my life trying to make waves for the city I am from. No accolades really matter to me other than the fact that I have never had a billboard number one. If I get my first number one during the month of October it will be the biggest moment of my career to date (in my mind) and if you are looking for me on that particular evening I will be passed out in the water slide that connects to our pool. I love you and thank you for these memories. I always love the moment right before it happens more than when it actually happens. So thank you…even if it doesn't.
Meanwhile, The Weeknd responded by releasing remixes of ‘The Hills’ featuring verses from Eminem and Nicki Minaj (who just so happens to be Meek Mill’s girlfriend). By October 18th, ‘The Hills’ and ‘Hotline Bing’ were ranked #1 and #2 respectively on the charts. The ‘Hotline Bling’ video would conquer the Internet but it still wasn’t enough for the song to top ‘The Hills’. Shortly thereafter, Adele came in with her new hit single ‘Hello’ to crush Drake’s dreams of a #1 single.
In the midst of the battle, Rolling Stone released an interview with The Weeknd that seemed to rock the cradle a bit more. Here are some key quotes from the interview:
“[The Weeknd] and his crew posted three songs on YouTube and started spamming their friends on Facebook, then watched the play counts slowly climb. “I don’t know how many it actually was, but it felt like a million,” Tesfaye says. “Five hundred plays? Holy shit!” Toronto being a small town in some ways, the songs were heard by Drake’s manager, Oliver El-Khatib, who posted them to the OVO blog, where they promptly blew up. “Apparently, Drake wasn’t even fucking with it at first,” Tesfaye says today. “Oliver was the one vouching for me.””
Drake gave Tesfaye a big boost when he featured the Weeknd on his double-platinum 2011 album, Take Care. But for Tesfaye, being under the wing of his fellow Torontonian was a mixed blessing: A handful of songs he’d written for House of Balloons ended up on Take Care. As Tesfaye said in a 2013 interview, “I was hungry….I was like, ‘Dude, take anything.'” Today, he says he has nothing but gratitude for Drake, whom he calls “my closest friend in the industry at that time.” Still, he says, “I gave up almost half of my album. It’s hard. I will always be thankful — if it wasn’t for the light he shined on me, who knows where I’d be. And everything happens for a reason.” That said: “You never know what I would say if this success wasn’t in front of me now.””
– The Weeknd
That last line. Man…
December 2015: The Weeknd sends shot on ‘Low Life’
For Christmas, The Weeknd decided to play the role of Santa Claus by dropping new two songs on his Soundcloud page: a remix of Jeremih’s ‘Pass Dat’ and ‘Low Life’ featuring Future. But here comes The Weeknd with an unexpected shot:
“Fuck a nigga co-sign.”
That’s pretty self-explanatory.
January 2015: Drake drops Summer Sixteen with a curious jab at The Weeknd
Drake decided to respond with a jab of his own on his first single ‘Summer Sixteen’ off the highly anticipated Views From The 6. Here, he offers a clever play on words with regards to the OVOXO acronym:
“All your exes know I like my O’s with a V in the middle”
February 2016: Present time
To cap it all off, the relationship between Drake and The Weeknd remains ambiguous. It started off with Drake playing the role of mentor, then led to The Weeknd cultivating his own fanbase. Today, they both stand on top of the world as two of the biggest music stars on the planet. But along the way, there’s one quote from The Weeknd’s Complex interview from 2013 that stuck with me, that perhaps lends us an idea of where they might really be at:
“I don’t like to spoon-feed people. I don’t like to be like, “You know what? I’m going to let the world know that we’re cool. We’re going to take a picture together. Everyone’s cool.” It’s all about the mystery, and people like it. Shit’s WWE, man. It’s wrestling, you know what I mean?”
It’s fair to assume that they’re both still cordial with one another but on wax, it’s competition. It’s dog eat dog. It’s about making as many calculated moves as possible in the eye of the public. More importantly, it’s all about the mystery.