The Weeknd broke into the music industry back in 2011 with his mix tape ‘House of Balloons’ and has never looked back. He has slowly built a name for himself with his style of music. The Canadian is a singer, songwriter and record producer and has credited his early influence listening to artists such as Michael Jackson. The multiple Grammy winner and Oscar nominee still has a lot to offer to the music industry.
Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, was born in Toronto, Canada. He is of Ethiopian descent and has on several occasions cited that his heritage has greatly influenced his style of music. He grew up not knowing his father that well as he left while Abel was still a toddler and he has no recollections of him at that time. His parents are both Ethiopian immigrants. Abel was brought up by his mother with the help of his maternal grandmother in Ontario, Canada. He was raised in a diverse multicultural neighborhood within the city Scarborough. His mother worked as a nurse and caterer and gave it her all to make sure she provided for her son even going as far as enrolling for night classes to complement the job she was doing. Growing up, Abel learnt Amharic as his first language thanks to the influence of his grandmother who also made sure he accompanied her to services at an Ethiopian Orthodox church in the outskirts of their neighborhood. He endured a tough upbringing as he was introduced to marijuana smoking at the tender age of 11 and also admits that he and his friends would often engage in shoplifting. He also indulged in various drugs such as cocaine, xanax and ketamine.
Abel is fluent in French thanks to the courses he took in school up to the 8th grade. His school life however did not fair that well as he was kicked out of West Hill Collegiate Institute and he dropped out at Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute after only studying for six months. He ran away from home and went to live with his two friends in a one bedroom apartment at 65 Spencer Avenue. During his childhood, Abel exposed himself to different genres of music like funk, soul, hip hop and different variations of rock and this can help explain his eclectic style of music. He mentions Michael Jackson as one of his greatest influences alongside other legends like The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and Jimi Hendrix. He singles out Pink Floyd’s Echoes as one of the greatest albums ever made and he even named his mixtape ‘Echoes of Silence’ after it.
When he was only 17 he dropped out of high school over a weekend and never came back and that’s where his nickname came about. His name was originally supposed to be spelt as ‘The Weekend’ but due to copyright issues he was forced to change it to ‘The Weeknd’. After dropping out of school, Abel took on different types of jobs even playing from in clubs to sustain himself.
Back in 2008, Abel and his fellow Scarborough rapper formed the rap and RNB duo ‘Bulleez and Nerdz’ where by then he went under the stage name Kin Kane. They released their first song ‘Godzilla’ and the pair started performing together at various parties and noticed they had great chemistry together. During this period, Abel used to moonlight as a songwriter, writing songs for different R’n’B artists all the while pursuing his own career path. It wasn’t long before someone took notice of their artistry and the duo attracted the attention of upcoming Toronto producer Kashif Majeed, who was better known as Kid Klassic. He started working with the duo and even introduced them to some of his artists from the label and it was expected that their first single would be released anytime from then. Sometime in 2009, a song called ‘Krispy’ by Mental McFly leaked, an artist Abel had been working with for a while. Later that December, another song leaked on Youtube titled ‘When The Grip Hits’ but it was also credited to Mental Mcfly.
The duo continued working with the studio until Complex magazine released a song titled ‘Birthday Suit’ to the internet. The song was originally meant to be a demo track for Drake and it caught the attention of the internet, making people look for more of his tracks on the internet. Abel’s career breakthrough happened when he met Jeremy Rose – an upcoming producer from Toronto – at a party hosted by a mutual friend who admitted he had heard him freestyle over one of his beats. He floated the idea of the two going into the studio to work on a dark RnB album and as a result they came up with three songs, ‘The Morning’, ‘What You Need’ and ‘Loft Music’. Rose allowed Abel to remain with the song he had produced for him under the strict condition that he would eventually be credited for them. Abel went ahead to release the three songs on Youtube under ‘The Weeknd’ and they all garnered widespread attention. They went as far as attracting interest from mainstream magazines and newspapers such as Pitchfork Media and the New York Times with both of them writing articles about them.
On March 2011, Abel surprised everyone and released a nine track mix tape called ‘House of Balloons’ on his website for free. The mix tape received critical acclaim and featured production from various producers with the exception of Rose who was not credited for any of the songs. It also earned Abel a nomination for that year’s Polaris Music Prize. He garnered the mix tape further attention when he embarked on a tour to promote the songs and his one and a half hour performance at Mod Club in Toronto was famed by various sectors of the industry. His work with Drake on his Grammy winning album Take Care which borrowed some of the tracks from his mix tape earned him a deal with Universal’s Republic Records. Throughout the year the pair continued to establish a rapport often collaborating on different tracks. His deal with Republic led to his earlier mix tapes being re-released as 2012’s Trilogy, which debuted on the Billboard 200 Albums chart at number four before finally going platinum. Despite his growing fame, Abel was able to avoid the public eye and kept his private life under wraps for most of this period. In the same year, he also lent his vocals to rapper Wiz Khalifa’s single ‘Remember You’. His efforts were lauded in the following year when he scooped two awards at the Juno Awards.
In September 2013, Abel released his debut album Kiss Land – an album that was darker than the title implied. It debuted to mainstream success, coming in at number 2 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart and selling 96,000 copies, missing the no. 1 spot by a mere 2,000 album sales. One of its singles, ‘Live For’ that featured rapper Drake, proved to be a hit peaking within the Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart. During this period, he also lent a song on the Hunger Games Catching Fire soundtrack titled ‘Devil May Cry’ and also featured on Sia’s ‘Elastic Heart’ from the same album. Later that year, he joined popular singer Justin Timberlake on his 20/20 Experience world tour where he performed for six shows. He also remixed Beyonce’s ‘Drunk in Love’. The next year he organized a small tour dubbed ‘King of the Fall Tour’ with Schoolboy Q and Jhene Aiko joining him as supporting acts.
On 28 August 2015, Abel released his second album titled Beauty Behind the Madness which became his first album to top the Billboard 200 Albums Chart selling 412,000 units in its first week. The album was supported by two singles, ‘The Hills’ and ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ which both hit the Billboard Hot 100 top spot. He supported the album by headlining various festivals around the country including, Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago, The Hard Summer Music Festival in Pomona and several others. The album also helped him to break a record for being the first male artist in about seven years to have two songs in the top 3 on the Hot 100 chart simultaneously. He then released the third single from the album titled ‘Tell Your Friends’ which had been produced by Kanye West. It performed favorably in different charts across the world and eventually became his first song from the album to chart in the Hot 100. At the next years’ Grammy Awards the album garnered Abel an impressive seven nominations eventually going home with the awards for Best R&B Performance for ‘Earned It’ and Best Urban Contemporary Album.
The Weeknd is a known philanthropist and has donated to various charities across the world. He gave $500,000 to the Black Lives Matter movement. During a ceremony – where he was being presented with the Bikila Award for professional excellence – he decided to donate $50,000 towards a class that had dedicated its studies to Ge’ez, a classic language of Ethiopia at the University of Toronto.
For most of his career, Abel has distanced himself from the showbiz lifestyle often being known for keeping to himself which has built up this mysterious aura he up to now maintains. He often tells of the fears he had growing up that he did not have the superstar look while growing up due to his skinny physique, weird hair and acne-filled complexion. When he first entered the music industry he was so unsure of his looks and used to ask to be cropped out of pictures. He has at times described himself as ‘the most boring person to talk to’ and that’s one of the main reason he shies away from various interviews. He however credits this self-consciousness for making him not drawn to the high life, as he prefers not exposing his details to the public thus leaving a hint of curiosity across the whole industry.
Abel has never been shy about his various sexual escapades as broadly put out there by the lyrics of his songs. He widely believes that his lyrics should represent his lifestyle and that’s why he has been viewed by different sections of the industry as a womanizer.
Abel started dating model Bella Hadid back in 2015 and the pair were often seen hanging out together at different events. Hadid had a starring role in one of his videos, ‘In the Night’ that same year. They made their first official public appearance together during the 2016 Grammy Awards before reportedly parting ways later that year. He is now rumoured to be dating fellow music star Selena Gomez.
He is a fan of hit TV show Game of Thrones and is close friends with Drake. He credits him for helping him break into the industry and showing him the ropes. He even confessed that he has him on his speed dial. In 2015, Abel was arrested for allegedly punching a Las Vegas police officer where he pleaded no contest and sentences to several hours of community service.
For four straight years, Abel had been growing out his signature hairstyle which was inspired by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat even admitting to only using nothing more than an occasional shampoo to maintain it. It was often referred to resembling a cock’s comb and Abel said it at times brought him neck pains when he was sleeping. In the lead up to his 2016 album Star Boy he decided to shave it off to the amazement of his fans.
Written by: Emily Smith