Q: We’ve seen plenty of rappers become actors. Drake did the opposite?

A: Correct. Before he became the most popular new rapper of the last several years, Aubrey Drake Graham held down a starring role as Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation, a popular Canadian TV series aimed at teens. He also appeared in the Robert Downey Jr. comedy Charlie Bartlett and in an episode of the Vanessa Williams series Soul Food.

Q: Is he Canadian?

A: He is. Drake was born in 1986 in Toronto, where his mom raised him after his parents divorced when he was young. It’s worth noting that Drake comes from a musical lineage on his dad’s side: One of his uncles is Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone, while another is Al Green’s longtime guitarist, Teenie Hodges.

Q: How did he start rapping?

A: The same way you might: by making mixtapes and releasing them online. His first two, Room for Improvement and Comeback Season, built considerable buzz throughout the Internet, even attracting the attention of Lil Wayne, who invited Drake to join him on the road in 2008. The next year, So Far Gone cemented Drake’s budding real-world stardom, spawning two hit radio singles in the form of “Best I Ever Had” and “Successful,” as well as a record deal with Universal Motown, which released a reworked version of the mixtape in September 2009. That part you may have trouble with.

Q: When did Drake finally release an album?

A: Thank Me Later came out in June 2010 and debuted at number one on Billboard’s album chart with nearly half a million copies sold.

Q: Why did he take so long to put it out?

A: A perfectionist streak, basically. “This is my first album, and it takes a lot for me to commit to a song and be like, ‘I like this enough that I’m gonna put it on the album,’” he told Rap-Up.com.

Q: What’s his rapping style like?

A: It’s more about what his rapping is not like: Hushed and half-sung (when indeed he’s not singing straight-up), Drake’s delivery doesn’t share much in common with those of the megapopular MCs whose ranks he’s so quickly joined. Kanye West’s work on 808s & Heartbreak is a clear influence, but for the most part Thank Me Later is an appealingly idiosyncratic outing from an uncommonly assured newcomer.

Q: Some of it sounds like kind of a downer.

A: As Shakespeare once (sort of) wrote, heavy lies the head that wears the sparkly light-up crown. Gaga has become the wA: True! Tracks like “Karaoke,” “The Resistance” and “Fireworks” (the last of which reportedly recounts Drake’s ill-fated relationship with Rihanna) ponder the dark side of hip-hop superstardom, a lyrical focus that’s earned Drake no shortage of criticism from folks who can’t understand how he has so much to complain about. “As he drifts through what should have been his boisterous coming-out party,” noted the Chicago Tribune, “he comes off as muted and rueful, missing the days when he was 19 and it was just about him and his girlfriend in a college dorm room.” Yet despite its downbeat vibe, Drake’s music rarely collapses in on itself; his most significant talent might be his ability to seduce the listener into viewing a given situation from his perspective—even when that perspective is impossible for 99.9 percent of listeners to relate to.

Q: Who does he work with in the studio?

A: His most frequent collaborators are Boi-1da and Noah “40” Shebib, both fellow young Canadians. But Thank Me Later also includes tracks produced by Kanye West, Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, as well as guest spots from Alicia Keys, T.I., The-Dream, Jay-Z and Lil Wayne. (Remember that this is dude’s debut.)

Q: Is Drake still acting?

A: That depends on your definition of acting. In the video for his song “Find Your Love” the MC plays a lovesick out-of-towner chasing after a Jamaican gang lord’s girl. And he’s reportedly set to voice a character in the upcoming video game Gears of War 3.