On a Harlem rooftop with Drake, A$AP Rocky, and an egg white Grand piano.
The most important rule when shoplifting is "act natural." There are other ways of saying it, but you basically have to project an air of, "as long as I pretend to belong here, no one will notice me." My days of bringing empty shopping bags into supermarkets before filling them up and waltzing out, or returning items which had never left a store are not-long-enough behind me, but that single lesson of confidence has stuck with me. It's proven especially effective in an industry that at times feels as thrillingly void as kleptomania. It gets you jobs you don't deserve, and into shows or parties at which you have no right being. Most recently it got me onto a Harlem rooftop with Drake, A$AP Rocky, and an egg white Grand piano.
It took over an hour to get up to the 145th street subway station from lower Manhattan on a Sunday evening. Close to two hours had passed since a handful of vague tweets went out involving Drake filming a music video. At best, the information was hazy. There was an intersection named, a few blurry photos posted. The first text from my editor had even mentioned that the Wu-Tang Clan was in attendance. Regardless, I spent an anxious 60 minutes under the ground with little connection to the outside world, or the "Drake Harlem" twitter search results which served as the only tip I had to go off of.
Honestly, I was pretty sure the tip was bullshit. I’d begun to equate Drake with bad luck—I've come close to seeing him perform multiple times but haven't quite been able to. This bad luck included a pair of fake tickets bought off Craigslist in Brooklyn, an incompetent will call operator in Atlanta, and even a very personal near miss when I was at a bar only blocks away from his now-infamous evening of karaoke in Manhattan. I had no reason to believe this was going to work. Still, it makes sense why Drake would want to shoot a video last night. There were the Golden Globes, the Girls premiere, and the kickoff of Jay Z's world tour to distract the unwashed masses from what might be going on.
Once I was above ground, I managed to gather enough information to figure out that the shoot also included A$AP Rocky and was for the upcoming video for the remix for “Wu-Tang Forever.” After scouring the area, I found nothing. As I headed back to the train, defeated by Drizzy yet again, I saw large crowds gathered on both sides of the street all looking towards the entrance of a seven-story apartment building named Watt's Court. Cops were blocking the sidewalk off with yellow tape, and for a moment I wasn't sure if this was a video shoot or a crime scene. It quickly became clear there probably wouldn't be teenage girls screaming "Worst!" if it were the latter.
After thirty minutes or so and several internal arguments with myself wondering if this was a complete waste of time, I noticed that to the direct left of the building entrance the sidewalk, previously full of spectators, had completely emptied. A middle-aged man came out of the apartment and walked directly up to me. Figuring this was my cue to abandon my already-suspicious real estate, I began to back off before the man looked at me and asked who I was waiting for. This is where the shoplifting instincts kicked in. I immediately belonged there. I was press, I told him, waiting for a production manager to assist me past the cops and into the building. That's who I was and that was the story that landed me in an elevator with a stranger taking me to an unknown floor to hopefully see Drake. There was a brief moment where I thought, Wait a minute, I have no idea who this dude is and I'm just following him into an apartment building?, but I ignored reason, because, that's not what someone who's on their way to a Drake video shoot has to think about. And that's who I was.
We got off at the top floor and made our way up some stairs, and suddenly I found my myself on a roof, looking directly at a platform that held both Drake and A$AP Rocky. Between the camera crew, friends, and entourage members, there were barely 30 people scattered around the top of the building. Both rappers lip-synced and ad-libbed behind a single camera and in front of a magnificent grand piano. Between takes managers shouted for Drake's hot chocolate and the two delegated which movements they'd make during the next shot . After repeating this several times, the final take included Rocky grabbing a brown-bagged forty from the piano and spontaneously pouring it out onto the stage. This prompted a few angry crew members to yell for paper towels.
As the booze was cleaned up and the set began to come down Drake made his way behind the monitor to watch the footage. He put a hand to his chin, appearing speciously interested before looking decidedly pleased. He mingled for a bit, talking with some friends, posed photos with strangers, and downed another hot chocolate. During the shoot I wandered around the roof, talking to some crew members, snapping photos with my phone that weren't supposed to be taken. The Director of Photography on the shoot told me he didn't know how the piano got up here. The man who led me up to the roof said they were going to be shooting until early in the morning. The girl bringing up coolers of some unknown drink brushed passed me without speaking. A cop said there hadn't been any trouble down on the street, in a tone that suggested he'd been expecting differently all night.
After soaking in the surroundings, I took the stairs down to the top floor of the building to join a small crowd looking for warmth in the hallway. A man and woman were having a conversation from neighboring doorways with me in between. The man had two black eyes and a severely cut up face. He began detailing how he had been jumped at a party just two blocks away the night before. She seemed concerned, and began prodding for more details. As he was nonchalantly detailing what was obviously a fairly brutal attack and an all-around bad night, Drake started to come down the stairs. Instantly the woman ignored the rest of the man's story and began screaming in hysteria "It's him! It's Drake!” When I turned back to look at the man, he had his phone out, frantically taking photos. Such are the restorative powers of Drizzy.
Drake got in the elevator. A tall white guy in a calf-length October's Very Own parka stood in front of him as the doors slid to a close. I noticed the man with the beaten face leaning in his doorway again. No phone out, no nervous smile on his face.
On the way out of the building, on the hour train ride back to my neighborhood, and on the walk from the station to my apartment, it almost felt like nothing had happened. I was no longer the character of confidence which landed me on that roof. Everything wasn’t different. I only had a handful of grainy photos and a decent story, but for at least two full lip-synced performances of "Wu Tang Forever," nothing was the same.
Lukas Hodge is on Twitter - @lukashodge