For the 20th anniversary of the show's premiere, the A.V. Club spoke with cast and crew members from the popular Canadian teen drama. While the "In My Feelings" rapper, now 34, didn't participate, stories were told about his seven-season run playing Jimmy Brooks — back when he went by his given name, Aubrey Graham. Specifically discussed were tales about how, after Jimmy was left paralyzed — in a two-part episode involving a school shooting in the wake of Columbine that aired in 2004 — Drake reportedly didn't want to be in a wheelchair on the show and got his lawyer involved.
"There was a letter from a law firm in Toronto, and it was from Aubrey," writer James Hurst claimed, "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.' I said, 'Get him down here.'"
Hurst said he confronted Drake, who was about 19 at the time, about the letter, and the young star claimed he had nothing to do with it.
"I said, 'All right, I understand. But how do you feel about the wheelchair?'" Hurst asked. "He’s like, “All my friends in the rap game say I’m soft because I’m in a wheelchair.' And I said, 'Well, tell your friends in the rap game that you got shot. How much harder can you get?' ... He was like, 'Yeah, yeah.' He was so nice and apologetic about everything. He instantly backed down."
Hurst said he told Drake, “Aubrey, there’s some kid somewhere in a wheelchair, who’s completely ignored, who’s never on television, never gets represented. I need you to represent this person. You’re the coolest kid on the show, and you can say there’s nothing wrong with being in a wheelchair.”
Shane Kippel, who played Spinner, admitted, "[There’s] the apprehension of having your character confined to a wheelchair, or even not really feeling like it’s right to be portraying someone who is confined to a wheelchair if you’re fully abled yourself. But that pertains to [Aubrey] and how he felt with that."
Lauren Collins, who was Paige, added, "I think [Aubrey] struggled, just physically, with having to all of a sudden do [all his acting while] confined to a chair. That was really hard for him. I definitely have a few memories of him toppling the chair over and falling off of makeshift ramps that they’d constructed for him."
Collins went on to say, "I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I think [Aubrey] probably 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."
According to the writers, there were discussions about healing Jimmy with surgery. The character had a stem cell treatment and, at the end of his run, used crutches, including to get his diploma in the graduation episode.
Drake hasn't publicly commented about the claims, and his rep has not responded to Yahoo Entertainment's request for comment.
The show made Drake a big star and he went on to pursue a rap career. He's been nominated for 47 Grammy awards and has won four, including Best Rap Album for 2011's Take Care.
Drake's video for his song "I'm Upset" took him back to Degrassi and featured him reuniting with many of his former cast members, including Collins and Kippel.