Anyone who grew up in the early 2000s likely first knew Drake for his role as Jimmy Brooks in the ever-iconic Canadian series Degrassi: The Next Generation. Jimmy was a popular athlete who was paralyzed in a school shooting during season four, confining him and Drake — who then went by his legal name of Aubrey Graham — to a wheelchair for the next three seasons.
But apparently, the future rapper wasn’t thrilled with that development, telling the showrunner that he worried it made him look “soft” to his real-life rapper friends.
“There was a letter from a law firm in Toronto, and it was from Aubrey,” writer James Hurst told The A.V. Club in conversation for the 20th anniversary of the show’s premiere. “It was an odd letter that said, ‘Aubrey Graham will not return to Degrassi season six as Jimmy Brooks unless his injury is healed, and he’s out of the wheelchair.’”
Hurst went on to recount calling Drake in for a conversation, wanting to understand his concerns about his character’s disability.
“He’s like, ‘All my friends in the rap game say I’m soft because I’m in the wheelchair,’” he 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.’”
Drake “instantly backed down” as the two discussed the importance of representation, according to the writer, who said he wanted to show that “there’s nothing wrong with being in a wheelchair.”
While Drake himself wasn’t there to give his own recollections of Jimmy’s journey, some of his castmates had a more charitable interpretation of his hesitations regarding the wheelchair.
Lauren Collins, who played Paige Michalchuk, suggested that he may have “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.” She also recalled him having a hard time actually navigating set in the wheelchair.
Still, Hurst’s revelation didn’t go over too well with fans of the show.
However, Wheelchairs 4 Kids executive director Madeline Robinson made it clear that, regardless of how Drake himself might have felt as a teenager, his time on Degrassi was important to young people who benefited from seeing themselves in Jimmy.
“It is great when we see our kids being represented,” she told TMZ.