Noah “40″ Shebib: Best He Ever Had
From: The Fader
Toronto’s Noah “40” Shebib is the one producer Drake can’t do without.
If you want a laugh, pull up the music video for Drake’s “Replacement Girl.” It’s 2007. The Toronto rapper is wearing a leather baseball cap, backwards, with enormous designer sunglasses and his necktie above the belly button—not unlike how Fred Flintstone does his. He double-time raps in front of a crudely drawn world map while women of various tint and confusion dance close by; at the video’s climax, Drake leans on the hood of an expensive car the director rented for the shoot. It’s not a bad R&B-cum-rap song. And the video went on to play on BET, a first for an unsigned Canadian rapper. But this Drake was, to put it kindly, not the cool, introspective, self-deprecating one we now know.
Something else happened at the “Replacement Girl” shoot. During a break, a wiry, white Toronto native named Noah Shebib showed up and played Drake ten beats. Shebib and Drake are both former child actors from the same hometown, but they were only meeting now, at the behest of a mutual friend. Drake didn’t buy any of Shebib’s beats that day, but he liked what he heard. He booked two days of studio time with Shebib at two hundred dollars a day, strictly to track new songs. Drake would rap, Shebib would hit record.
The session worked out better than either expected. By day three, Shebib told Drake he wasn’t going to charge him. Drake brought Shebib onto his team, first as an engineer and later as musical director for his live shows. As Shebib watched Drake going through the motions of the industry—listening to beats from top and up-and-coming producers that were never to the rapper’s full satisfaction—he slowly figured out, by process of elimination, what Drake really wanted in his music. “That was the first time as a producer I ever felt like I had a reason to do something,” Shebib says. “I wasn’t just sitting down to make music for no apparent reason.”
Working together now, Shebib and Drake first gave us the So Far Gone mixtape in 2009. The release reimagined R&B’s relationship with rap and what the two genres mixed together could sound like. Lyrically, it was deeply personal, quite different from Drake’s former bravado. Sonically, the hallmarks were eerie filtered synths, spare drumbeats, and lots and lots of space. Grammy nominations, Juno and ASCAP Awards followed their work for Drake’s official debut Thank Me Later in 2010, while “Best I Ever Had,” “Successful,” “Over,” “Fancy” and recently “Marvin’s Room” and “Headlines” have all spent time on Billboard charts, mostly at or near the top.