When Thank Me Later dropped I couldn’t stand Drake. I found him disingenuous, self-absorbed, annoying and, while technically proficient, completely mechanical and uninteresting.
But two years is a long time for a young artist and a young listener, particularly in the current time-crunch environment, where every year feels like five, and we are bombarded with one release after another, devouring fruit and spitting out the seeds at lightning speed.
Drake took his time with Take Care. It shows in craft if perhaps, not necessarily, in personal growth.
TC is not a revolutionary release. It is not as emotionally raw as mentor Kanye‘s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or as stuntastic as Watch the Throne. It’s never as daring or incisive as contemporary (and collaborator) Kendrick Lamar‘s Section.80 or as radio ready as boss man Lil Wayne‘s most recent hits.
TC is, however, an immaculate pop rap album, a finely calibrated hybrid creation that meets at the bleeding edges of pop, rap and R&B without daring to jump off them and really dive into the unknown. It is accessible without pandering (terrible Rihanna cameo excepted). Although it isn’t precisely catchy—it’s hard to peg a mega-hit on TC—it is a proper album rather than a semicomplementary set of songs.
In an era where the “album” seems like a conceit that’s being grasped at for no good reason (Romanticism on the part of artists? Not knowing any better on the part of everyone?), Drake went and made an album that actually sounds like an album. The production, coming primarily from T-Minus and Drake’s partner in crime Noah “40” Shebib, comprises a surprisingly cohesive combination of 808’s and Heartbreak inflected soundscapes (a style Drake and 40 have been mining since So Far Gone) and stadium-ready synths. For good measure, Just Blaze stops by to remind everyone that lurking beneath the man who made “Live Your Life” is still a producer capable of creating the grandest of anthems.Unsurprisingly, Blaze’s “Lord Knows” brings out one of Drake’s best stretches of rapping on TC and a memorable verse from the seemingly unimpeachable Rick Ross.
As far as Drake’s performance, the 25-year-old Toronto native hasn’t learned any new tricks in particular, but he has improved in almost every area. His flows are sharper (see “HYFR” for a jaw dropping technical display that would floor you were it not coming from the author of “Find Your Love”), his singing is smoother and more confident, his punchlines are generally less forehead-slap inducing (and a much smaller part of his arsenal than in past years) and his sing-song rapping is almost on 50 Cent levels (Now let that man write some choruses for you, Aubrey!).
Of course, the album and its creator will garner much hatred and probably go platinum in the process. At this point making fun of Drake is great sport. It is a game engaged in across the blogosphere in the form of often hilarious memes, and, of course, Big Ghost’s wild reviews. None of that, however, changes the fact that Drake crafted an excellent pop rap album. Criticizing Take Care for not being something else (or criticizing Drake for being “soft”) is like getting mad at an apple for not tasting like an orange. It is not supposed to, so why get mad at it when it doesn’t deliver? Just eat the damn orange!
If you don’t plan to listen to TC in its entirety at least listen to “Lord Knows,” possibly the best encapsulation of Drake’s strengths and flaws as a rapper. In one breath he drops the astute and unexpected “I wonder if they’d survive in this generation/ when it’s recreation to pull your skeletons out the closet like halloween decorations,” a line that both cleverly critiques his contemporaries, implicates himself in the process and utilizes a rhyme scheme that plays on expectations. In another instance, boneheaded blunder: “I’m a descendent of either Marley or Hendrix/ I can’t tell which cuz my story is far from finished.” Here we see the outsized sense of self and place and the misunderstanding of what makes a legend a legend (that Drake would be just as apt to criticize in a generation of the self absorbed).
And so, it’s time for a grand statement.
Drake is the artist of this generation.
In an age of constant public introspection—of the Facebook break up and Twitter beef—Drake is a rapping extension of his age group, an artist whose first album is more memorable for the fact that it featured the word “I” over 400 times than it is for any of its songs. His persona colors his worldview completely, every observation filtered through his own experience (for simple comparison, see how Kendrick can step outside himself briefly on songs like “A.D.H.D.,” weaving the deeply personal with objectivity required to critique surroundings). Drake is a constant stream of emotions and status updates, a half rapping half singing Michelin rated FourSquare check in, Tweeting his way across seventeen tracks. On Take Care, Drake turns these characteristics up to eleven, making high drama of a text message conversation on “HYFR” and speaking at great length of parties and locales experienced through the eyes of a cagey, young superstar. Drake’s on record character and content have changed little since his major label debut (though he is light years stylistically from the artist who unleashed “Best I Ever Had” on an unsuspecting public). He simply seems more comfortable now expressing his weaknesses, his triumphs and his pitfalls. Just as a group of 12-24 year olds have grown into the ever present over share, Drake has crafted a style that allows him to constantly and cleverly play the part of rapping news feed.
Ultimately, TC‘s greatest failing is part and parcel of a world marked by constant sharing: Drake says a lot without really saying much of anything at all. We have a catalog of the man’s activities by the end of the record, but we really only come close to knowing what they mean on a handful of songs. Album highlight “Look What You’ve Done” is TC‘s shining example of real emotion, a bittersweet tribute to Drake’s mother and aunt that brings listeners into Drake’s past, providing understanding of motivation and mindset far better than any other record on Thank Me Later or TC. “Look What You’ve Done” points at what Drake might be if he took more than stylistic cues from some of his heroes. While Lil Wayne could likely learn from Drake in the way of focus (hold up TC to the mess of Tha Carter 4 and tell me there aren’t lessons to be learned from Wayne’s protege), Drake could take much from Wayne, Kanye, and even Kendrick Lamar in terms of delivering raw and occasionally reckless emotion. Drake admits as much on “Lord Knows”: “And this girl right here, who knows what she knows?/ So I’m going through her phone if she go to the bathroom/ And her purse right there, I don’t trust these hoes at all/ But that’s just the result of me paying attention.” His paranoia gets the best of him. Every word is utterly calculated, every reference measured and the nameless array of women on display an acknowledgment that Drake can never be totally comfortable letting it all show in an age of 24 hour expression and TMZ as a legitimate news outlet.
If he can keep TC‘s aesthetic focus and marry it with the depth of feeling displayed on “Look What You’ve Done,” Drake will have a seriously compelling piece of music on his hands. For now, enjoy Take Care for what it is or go and listen to the latest Wu Tang compilation. It’s your call.
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