Before Aubrey Graham went by his now-legendary middle name, Drake, he was first known to many TV viewers as Jimmy Brooks.
The Canadian rapper famously got his start in the entertainment industry by playing the basketball star on Degrassi: The Next Generation from 2001 to 2009. As history goes, he went on to release five studio albums and earn 47 Grammy nominations, of which he won four.
Through it all, his former co-stars have been cheering him on from the sidelines, and now, 12 years after Drake wrapped his time on the revival, Degrassi Community School is back in session!
The cast of Degrassi: The Next Generation has come together once more for a very special reason: to celebrate Drake being named Billboard’s Artist of the Year.
Ahead of the Billboard Music Awards on Sunday, May 23, E! News hosted an exclusive reunion for the cast. Shane Kippel (who portrayed Spinner Mason), Stacey Farber (Ellie Nash), Jake Epstein (Craig Manning), Andrea Lewis (Hazel Aden), Christina Schmidt (Terri McGreggor) and Paula Brancati (Jane Vaughn) sent in congratulatory messages for “Aubs,” toasting to all of his musical success.
Starting all those years ago, his co-stars knew he was destined for greatness.
Shane recalled, “Seems like just yesterday that you would come back to set after a weekend or the off season and tell us about all of these incredible stories of the artists who you worked with, like Pharrell and Dr. Dre and Beyonce and Lil Wayne.”
As Shane put it, “And we would all say, ‘Amazing.’ But no one believed you, because it seemed too good to be true. Well, you have laughed last, my friend.”
He recounted another memory from the mid-2000s, when he and Drake were at Skybar Los Angeles after a Degrassi signing. “You were in the bathroom writing, ‘Buy Drake CDs’ on the chalkboard,” Shane shared. “And Travis Barker, who happened to be urinating next to you, said, ‘Who’s Drake?’ And you turned to him and you said, ‘I’m Drake.'”
The actor wisely guessed, “I assume you don’t sell CDs in the bathroom anymore.” In a full circle moment, Drake performed with Travis five years after that incident, at the 2010 Grammys.
Stacey also remembered when Drake was just trying to get his start in the music biz, saying, “It feels like yesterday when we were standing on the red carpet together at the Teen Choice Awards in L.A., trying pretty desperately to hand out your demo to whoever would take it, on burnt CDs.” She went on, “It has been incredible to watch your career unfold, even from afar, and I’m so proud of you.”
Christina has been there to witness his fame skyrocket as well—and has the souvenir to prove it. She revealed that the now-34-year-old singer sent her some of his first music on MSN Messenger years ago.
“I know, somewhere, I still have a burnt CD that you had signed ‘Drake,’ which I need to find,” she joked. “Next thing I know, I’m driving in Toronto, and I hear your first track on FLOW 93.5. And I thought to myself, ‘Aubrey is gonna make it.’ Here we are today: You are Billboard’s Artist of the Decade.”
Watch the Degrassi cast’s tributes in the video above. And see the “Hotline Bling” artist accept his accolade at Billboard Music Awards on Sunday, May 23, on NBC.
(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family).