Throughout his entire career, Drake has made it known how much his parents, Sandi and Dennis Graham, have influenced his story.
Born in Toronto to the Canadian school teacher and Memphis-born musician on Oct. 24, 1986, the “Hotline Bling” rapper grew up primarily raised by his mom, née Sandi Sher. His parents, who met at a Toronto nightclub where Dennis was performing in the early ’80s, split when the future Grammy winner was 5 years old. Soon after, Dennis moved back to the United States, driving Drake from Toronto to Memphis with him every summer.
While the “God’s Plan” singer has admitted that he feels his parents “could have done a better job” with co-parenting in the wake of their split, he’s taking cues from their ups and downs as he navigates co-parenting his son Adonis, whom he welcomed with French artist Sophie Brussaux on Oct. 11, 2017.
“I’m just excited,” Drake previously said about fatherhood during an October 2018 episode of Lebron James‘ HBO series The Shop. He added that he was pulling from “all of the things I’ve learned from and through my father and the incredible things I’ve learned through my mother about patience, about unconditional love.”
Despite their ups and downs, his parents seem to be in a good place with each other now, with Dennis showing support for his ex-wife at her 75th birthday party in January 2023. “Happy Birthday Pinky, we love you ❤️,” he captioned a family portrait of the former pair posing with Drake and their grandson.
So who are Sandi and Dennis Graham? Here’s everything to know about Drake’s parents and their relationship with the rapper.
Before meeting Drake’s mom, Dennis already had a child from a high school girlfriend. He’d also been previously married to a waitress named Virginia, as he told Office Magazine in 2016, though they’d split by the time he made his first trip to Canada. It was there that he first met Sandi at a show he was playing with Jerry Lee Lewis.
“That’s where I met Drake’s mother. I was at the bar, asking the bartender where I could find cigarettes. So, she goes — Sandi, is her name — she goes, ‘Here, have one of mine.’ And that was it,” he told the outlet. He then moved to Toronto and married Sandi in June 1985, before welcoming Drake the following October.
It turns out that Drake’s full name, Aubrey Drake Graham, was a compromise. Sandi was raised Jewish, and according to Dennis, her mother wanted Drake’s name to be Abraham. Dennis wasn’t on board with the moniker, so they settled on Aubrey instead, while Dennis chose his middle name after himself.
“And I named him Drake,” he told Office Magazine, explaining he previously used Drake Madison as his stage name while acting under Lee Strasberg in Los Angeles and Toronto.
Sandi and Dennis’ marriage was short-lived, with Sandi taking full custody of Drake by 1991.
In the wake of their split, Drake lived with his mom and mainly saw his dad in the summers. “I was really hard on my parents for giving me sort of a childhood that I had to wrap my mind around as I grew,” Drake said on his The Shop appearance. “Multiple times I sort of suggested that they could have done a better job at co-parenting, sticking together, not being so divided.”
Now a single father himself, Drake hopes to set a better example for his son Adonis.
“I am a single father learning to communicate with a woman who, we’ve had our moments,” the artist said of his relationship with Brussaux. “No matter what happens, I have unconditional love for the mother of my child because I want him to love his mother and I have to project that energy.”
“I didn’t come from that [peace],” Drake continued. “I came from my mother being like, ‘Your dad is this.’ My dad would never speak ill of my mother — ever, ever, ever. My mother is the nicest, kindest, sweetest woman, but she’s a woman scorned and a woman who is exhausted.”
Formerly a drummer for his band, Dennis Graham and the North Memphis Band, as well as for Jerry Lee Lewis, Dennis has had a career in music for several decades. Starting in 2016, he began to focus on music once again, this time as a singer and songwriter with a more R&B style.
After releasing his first single, “Kinda Crazy,” as well as a corresponding music video in 2016, he went on to record a few more tracks. On Father’s Day in 2021, he surprised fans with a song inspired by his relationship with Drake, called “Father and Son,” which honors the unbreakable bond the two share.
“A father and son will always understand each other’s heart/ And they’ll always sit together/ Until it’s all said and done/ So there’s nothing/ No, there’s nothing in the world/ Like a love between a father and son,” he sings in part.
When it comes to lessons he’s shared with Drake from his own career in the music industry, Dennis says that he’s taught Drake “how to be humble” — but that otherwise, the rapper has done it all on his own.
“I thought I was going to have to help him when he first started,” Dennis told Fader in 2016 of Drake’s rise to superstardom. “I thought I should be there to help him and make sure that he’s not being taken advantage of or anything like that.”
He soon discovered he wasn’t needed. “He was extremely smart about what he was doing and knew every step that he was taking,” Dennis added. “So I never had to worry about him again ever. I’m so happy about that.”
Drake has often waxed poetic about his love for his mom in his music, thanking her for raising him right and apologizing for not calling enough.
In his 2009 single “The Calm,” he rapped about both of his parents, swearing to his mom that he’d be able to provide for her during a time of financial hardship. At the same time, he revealed he was wiring money to his dad and trying to quell the feeling that came with it.
“Dedicated to my mom and I swear my word is bond/ Everything will be okay and it won’t even take that long,” he sings. Later in the song, he talks about “feeling guilty and ashamed” after his dad calls him out for buying expensive cars while he can hardly afford cigarettes. “Damn, and I can only feel his pain/ ‘Cause in Memphis, Tennessee there’s only so much to attain/ So I’m filling out the form at the counter once again/ He say he love me, I just hope he doesn’t say that s— in vain.”
In 2015’s “You & The 6,” Drake raps to Sandi as a confessional, opening up about his struggles with fame and telling her, “You and the six [his hometown of Toronto] raised me right, that s— saved my life.”
He opens up about his parents’ strained relationship in the song as well, quoting Sandi as saying, “ ‘You’re your father’s child man, thank God you got some me in you,’/ At least I always, at least I always see it through,” he sings, referring to how Sandi “raised me alone.” Later in the track, he opens up about him and Sandi finding forgiveness for Dennis leaving them. “Girl he love you to death/ He made mistakes throughout his life that he still doesn’t accept/ But he just want our forgiveness, and f— it look how we living/ I’m content with this story, who are we not to forgive him?”
Beyond his more emotional confessions, perhaps the most famous line Drake has penned for a parent is from “God’s Plan,” — with the instantly viral, “I only love my bed and my momma, I’m sorry.”
Drake’s love for his family is no secret, and in addition to cataloging it in his songs, he’s also permanently inked the proof onto his body. The Degrassi alum has photos of his late uncle and grandmother tattooed, as well as a mugshot of his father and a photo of his mom on his back.
In August 2022, he added a front-and-center new addition to his collection (which numbers over two dozen), getting his mom’s initials tattooed on his face. He opted for the letters “SG,” which stand for Sandra Gale, in small script just beneath his eye. He shared a photo of the new ink to Instagram, while tattoo artist Nal posted a video from their session.
In 2017, Dennis took a cue from his son and got a large, close-up portrait of the rapper tattooed on his bicep. Years later, Drake commented on the ink, poking fun at his dad for its likeness. “I was just sitting here thinking why you do me like this we family ,” Drake wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of the tattoo.
Dennis replied in kind, commenting, “I love you ❤️ and miss you,” before adding that he had tried to “straighten [it] out” on several occasions.
Drake and Dennis, while close, have had their ups and downs over the years. Drake has been honest about feeling abandoned by his dad in his youth, often rapping about himself and his mom struggling together in the wake of his dad’s absence.
“It’s our world, it’s just us two,” he sings on 2011’s “Look What You’ve Done,” where he reveals that things would get heated with his mom when she’d compare him to his father, prompting Drake to threaten to move out of her house. “My one button, you push it,” he sings.
Later in the song, he raps about his dad living in Memphis and not being able to visit him after missing child support payments. “And my father living in Memphis now, he can’t come this way/ Over some minor charges and child support that just wasn’t paid, damn/ Boo-hoo, sad story — Black American dad story.”
Dennis has expressed his frustration with Drake’s portrayal of their relationship on multiple occasions, insisting to Office that their relationship “has always been good” and that he “got on [Drake]” about the lyrics “that made people think that we were not close.”
“He goes, ‘Dad. This sells records.’ I thought, Okay, I understand that. Put some drama into it,” Dennis said.
He brought the topic up again years later, during a 2019 appearance on Power 106’s Nick Cannon Mornings, where he denied accusations of being an absentee father. “I always been with Drake,” Dennis said, again suggesting Drake told him the stories he sang about were exaggerated to sell records.
Drake addressed the situation on Instagram, stating he was “so hurt” by his dad’s accusation. “My father will say anything to anyone that’s willing to listen to him,” Drake wrote. “It’s sad when family gets like this, but what can we really do that’s the people we are stuck with.” He clarified that “every bar I ever spit was the truth and the truth is hard for some people to accept.”
While their relationship has been rocky at times, Drake still spends time with his father, bringing him along to events like the 2021 Billboard Music Awards, where he won artist of the decade with both parents and his son attending to support him.
In 2016, Dennis joined Drake on tour for over a month, gushing to Fader that he loved watching his son onstage. “Seeing him perform means the world to me,” Dennis said. “He’s so busy, that’s the only time I get to hang out with him on a regular basis is when we’re on tour.”
The pair also collaborated on an ad for Drake’s whiskey brand, Virginia Black, in 2017. The clip sees Drake trying to seduce a woman, only to have her take an interest in his dad instead.
One of the father-son duo’s most iconic moments came in 2019, when Drake dressed up as his dad for Halloween. The rapper shared a photo of himself twinning (complete with a fake beard!) beside Dennis in matching white tops, glasses, gold necklaces and Dennis’ signature knitted cap. “Not planned,” he playfully captioned the since-deleted snap.
It’s no secret that Drake loves his mom unconditionally. From song lyrics to sappy Instagram captions, the musician doesn’t hide the fact that his mom is his world, and that he loves to be able to spoil her.
In 2022, he shared one of the sweetest gifts he’d given her: a custom pair of Nike Air Force 1 sneakers. The kicks featured the words “Love you forever” on the side, in reference to a children’s book she would read him as a kid.
Sharing a photo of the sneakers on Instagram alongside a copy of the book, he wrote a heartfelt tribute to his “incredible mother.” He went on: “Your perennial care and nurturing is never lost on me. This book is the time capsule of our love. I long for the days when it was this simple,” he wrote, signing his name Aubrey.
Drake again honored his mom in July 2023 during a performance at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Sandi joined her son on stage while he serenaded her with his track, “Look What You’ve Done,” which is dedicated to their family.
In fan clips from the concert, Sandi could be seen getting emotional while Drake performed, appearing to hold back tears during the sweet moment.
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