How The Weeknd Went From High School Dropout To Redefining R&B

by Julian Sonny

Like most successful artists in the music industry today and ever, The Weeknd didn't exactly have a conventional rise to stardom.

He's a high school dropout who left his mom's crib at 17 and roamed the streets of Toronto for most of his young adulthood, but now, at 25, he's one of the most successful singers in the world.

In just eight years, The Weeknd went from an unknown singer to the future of a genre that is changing because of him.

He now has the unprecedented status of simultaneously owning the top three spots on Billboard's Hot R&B Songs Chart and is reinventing what it means to be an R&B star in today's generation.

His distinct sound is what makes him different and in an industry where success is dictated by originality, his influence is something that's already made its way to all genres of music.

The Weeknd is making hits that would've been hot 20 years ago and will be 20 years from now. But it wasn't always like this.

His real name is Abel Tesfaye and he's of Ethiopian descent.


He was born in Ontario and was raised by his mother and grandmother. His father wasn't around.

When he was 17, he started getting serious with his music and decided to drop out of high school.


He moved out of his mother's crib and got his stage name because he "left one weekend and never came home."


He would roam the streets of Toronto for years with no direction saying, "Little did I know it would help create this character of my songs that I left behind the first day I became known for my music."


There, he would meet R&B producer Jeremy Rose, who helped him get his music career going.


On what makes him R&B, he told Complex, "The only thing R&B about my shit is the style of singing."


On his unique style, he said, "My inspiration is R. Kelly, Michael Jackson and Prince, for the vocals anyway. My production and songwriting, and the environment around those vocals are not inspired by R&B at all."


In 2010, The Weeknd mysteriously posted three songs on YouTube: "Loft Music," "What You Need" and "The Morning."

His songs went viral but kept his identity unknown because he was camera-shy. He told Complex, "In the beginning, I was very insecure. I hated how I looked in pictures."

It wasn't until Drake found his songs and reposted them to his blog that The Weeknd blew up.


They would go on to do many songs together, including "Crew Love," "Live For" and "The Zone."

Despite their close working relationship, The Weeknd turned down an offer to sign with Drake's OVO and signed with Universal instead.

The two were rumored to have been beefing in 2012 and this tweet from Drake was thought to be at The Weeknd.

You won't get away with just a thank you...you owe me a favor. — Drizzy (@Drake) December 11, 2012

However, they performed together earlier this year and their differences seem to have been settled.

Today, The Weeknd is a star and has dropped four mixtapes and three studio albums.

Hit songs like "Often" have over 60 million views on YouTube...

While collaborations like "Or Nah" featuring Wiz Khalifa and Ty Dolla $ign have over 116 million hits.

New songs like "Earned It," "The Hills" and "Can't Feel My Face" are all simultaneously sitting top three on the Billboard charts and show the new direction he's taking with his music.

And covers for songs like Michael Jackson's "Dirty Diana" show that he's still a classic artist with a lot of range.

Today, he's worth $5 million and continuing to spread his Toronto sound throughout the world.

Not bad for some kid who dropped out of high school to go chase his dreams.