It's starting to look like Toronto's history will one day be separated into two distinct eras: Before Drake (BD) and After Drake (AD).
Whether it's his role as Global Ambassador for the Toronto Raptors, his partnership with Susur Lee to open Fring's, or hosting his annual OVO Fest in the summer, never before has Toronto had an international ambassador quite like Drake.
Indeed, on the global stage, Drake – maybe the most famous hip hop star on the planet right now – is now synonymous with Toronto. And Toronto's most famous son sure seems to be one of the most influential celebrities right now, from his roster of list of A-list friends, to his Instagram account with more than 22 million followers, to his chart topping new album Views – did you ever expect the CN Tower to be on the cover of Number One album? – and he wants the world to love Toronto as much as he does.
Which raises the question, has Drake finally succeeded in making Toronto cool?
In the last few months, Vogue named Queen Street West the world's second hippest neighbourhood, the New York Times included the city on its list of the best cities to visit, and Toronto hosted the first NBA all-star game outside of the U.S. While Drake isn't directly responsible for any of these achievements, in many instances, when Toronto's status as a hip city is mentioned, his name is bound to come up.
And Drake is working overtime to cement his status as Toronto's biggest booster. His fourth and most recent album, Views, is his strongest love letter to the city yet. The 20-song opus has countless references to Toronto, highlighting the TTC, Weston Road and of course, there's Drake sitting atop the CN Tower on its cover, an image that has sparked a fury of memes from individuals to iconic Canadian brands like Porter and Tim Hortons to international companies like Red Bull and Cheesecake Factory.
What's more, Drake embodies The 6ix and seemingly represents how the city wants to be seen to outsiders. Toronto has observed an influx of young urbanites from across the country, and indeed the world, flocking to its downtown core (Toronto was recently ranked the best city to live for young people by Citi). Drake's multicultural background mirrors Toronto's evolving cultural mosaic, and his interest in fostering the development of young artists and creators is good for the city and great for his own brand.
Admittedly, Drake was not the first celebrity to put Toronto on the international stage. There have been many memorable personalities from Toronto who have broken through into the global mainstream, and some that went out of their way to promote Toronto, whether in a positive light (think Mike Myers going on Jay Leno to talk up Toronto after the SARS outbreak) or less than positive (Rob Ford).
Still, Drake is the first homegrown Torontonian who seems to be changing the brand image of Canada's largest city, not only with nostalgia for the place he grew up, but with the intent of helping Toronto reach new heights on the international stage.
Other celebrities have represented Toronto, but none have ever effectively renamed it.
Toronto's designation as "The 6ix" can be directly attributed to Drake, and the moniker has taken on a life of its own. Part of what makes "The 6ix" – which recognizes the six municipalities that make up the Greater Toronto Area – is that it represents the new, sprawling Toronto in a way that some of Toronto's past nicknames fail to do for young people.
Gone are the days of "Toronto the Good," where the city was relegated to the status of Montreal's boring Anglo-cousin. We're no longer Hollywood North, just a New York wannabe capable of standing in for the Big Apple on film sets. Toronto began to recognize its urban culture when artists like Kardinal Offishall began referring to the city as the T-dot, but nothing has seen mass adoption quite like The 6ix.
And just as Toronto has grown into its new brand, Drake has come a long way from his role as Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation. His brand has evolved and he has become one of the most influential artists in the world. While his success continues to grow, it seems his ties to Toronto are not fading.
Indeed, Drake and Toronto have fostered the ultimate brand partnership; one that is mutually beneficial and undeniably organic. This wasn't a scheme cooked up in a marketing boardroom. In a time when brands are hungry for the next influencer campaign, celebrity endorsement, and ambassador, this relationship is extremely rare.
It is unusual that a city has its own champion so invested in promoting its tourism; and it is rare that a musician has been able to take ownership of a city's brand image to help foster its persona.
While the rest of Canada may be hesitant to recognize The 6ix as the cultural epicentre of the country, Drake is helping cement Toronto's status on the world stage, and shake its image of insecurity. It's not because of a calculated campaign, it's because whether we planned to or not the world is getting to see what really makes the city tick, flaws and all. As Drizzy would say:
"Sweatpants, hair tied, chilling with no make-up on. That's when you're the prettiest, I hope that you don't take it wrong."
Drake loves us for who we are, and just maybe, that's what makes us cool.