September 24, 2013 2 comments
On the smokey, distorted stripper endorsement “305 to My City”, tacked onto the tail end of Drake’s third album Nothing Was the Same, Drake ensures his subject, us and, most likely, himself that he “get’s it.” In fact, the Future knockoff, and fellow Young Money signee, Detail, is tasked with repeating the reassuring refrain more than humanly comfortable on the hook. While here, it’s in the context of praising this seemingly hard-working woman — though I wouldn’t put it past Drake to find himself speaking vicariously through an exotic dancer at this point in his career — it naturally evokes the feeling and thought that makes Drake such a polarizing artist: Self awareness.
As far as living memes go, Toronto’s Aubrey Graham, who softly crooned his way onto the radio only five years ago, has been praised and mocked at such an equal ratio it’s almost hard to tell the difference between fans and detractors on the surface at this point. He’s soft. He’s emotional. He’s cheesy. He gained a record deal from the equally polarizing Lil Wayne. He’s one of the biggest acts in, not only hip-hop, but music. And, more than anything else, he’s cripplingly himself. Which is so abundantly clear that the friction between his obvious exaggerations and stark sincerity tend to hold some of his best moments. That said, his major label debut, Thank Me Later, found him attempting to live up to expectations so high that he had no choice but to go full “pomp and circumstance” — drowning out any reality to be had. His sophomore, Take Care, was so candid and close to home at times that it nearly felt like peeping through a keyhole into his room as he sang into a hairbrush and made hand movements in the mirror.
Nothing Was the Same is somewhat of an amalgam of both, but with the awareness and urgency to be something a bit more.
From the get-go, things sound a lot less welcoming, with a flipped sample of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” ushering in the album on “Tuscan Leather”. It’s longtime producer Noah “40” Shebib at his most Kanye, and the sample doesn’t really come alive until Whitney’s voice is nearly incomprehensible. At which point, the drum and bass go double time and Drake goes in: “Born a perfectionist, guess that makes me a bit obsessive/ That shit I heard from you lately really relieved some pressure/ Like aye, B I got your CD, you get an E for effort.” Drake’s wordplay isn’t so much about strength and impact as it is timing. And that’s in every facet of his appeal as well, so, timing, on an overarching scale, would lean on sequencing just as much as the songs themselves. Following up, “Furthest Thing” is another all-too-familiar, hazy lamenting of Drake’s current state, with a beat switch halfway through that kicks the adrenaline up, but doesn’t drown the sentiment. It’s bracing but intriguing so far.
Lead single “Started from the Bottom” is when this project really begins to take shape, though. It functions as a threshold of familiarity that reminds the listener of the propensity for wide-reaching hits we’ve become accustomed to from Drake. Not to mention what might be the best beat of his career. (from newcomer Mike Zombie) This is what makes following that momentum builder with “Wu Tang Forever” and the, basically, extended interlude, “Own It”, the album’s first big misstep. One can understand the desire to change gears unexpectedly and keep an audience on its heels, but four cuts in is tough to justify when you’re working with songs this mood-driven. For the record, “Wu Tang Forever” is one of the best tracks Nothing Was the Same has to offer — and, if you may, an aside: anyone who can’t see the gest of making a scarcely Wu-referencing love song and naming it this is either holding Drake to a higher level of staidness than necessary, or clearly has no concept of irony. But, coupled with the downright boring “Own It” and the groove this album was in the process of carving out beforehand, it all just seems like Drake trying too hard to find space for slightly above average filler.
Fortunately, “Worst Behavior” happens. And, actually, for two minutes and forty-two seconds, it appears to be one of the least fulfilling songs in Drake’s catalog. Not only for the waste of one of the more sinister instrumentals that’s ever been awarded to him, but for insisting on slurring his speech to yell “MUHFUCKAS NEVA LUH’D UHH” incessantly (we know you know how to finish your words with the proper letter, Aubrey.) But then, the beat fades momentarily, leaving just enough time to wonder if the track was simply going to end as some odd, needlessly profanity-filled, chest-bumping intermission, before Drake comes in with his Ma$e flow to remind us of the emcee he can be when he’s angry. A song (and possibly album) defining verse, highlighted by lines like: “Bar mitzvah money like my last name Mordecai/ Fuck you bitch, I’m more than high/ My momma probably hear that and be mortified/ This ain’t the son you raised who used to take the Acura/ 5 a.m. then go and shoot Degrassi up on Morningside/ For all the stuntin’, I’ll forever be immortalized.” Where was this Drake for the “Lord Knows” beat?
Of course, the pace is brought back down to a simmer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but “From Time”, featuring the capable, but often in-the-periphery Jhene Aiko, is fine, yet tough not to skip when in the flow of the record. Luckily, Drake’s current iteration of what he attempted with “Find Your Love”, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” (in genre and video) is enough of a crossover hit to justify the lull in pacing. Not only is it 80s skating rink ready, but it’s firmly within Drake’s range, which has been an issue for him in the past on many of his R&B collaborations. (most notably, the abhorrent “Shut it Down” from Thank Me Later) Here, Majib Jordan, the Canadian production/singing duo signed to Drake’s own OVO Sound, compliment the vibe, which speaks to a larger point of emphasis on the album: features.
Drake, who’s never been shy about collaborating, only pits himself against one other rapper on the standard edition: Jay-Z — who, almost predictably, sleepwalks though a horrendous verse that invokes the image of “poor old Hov” having a senior moment at a birthday party. The rest of the album, save for another annual random Birdman appearance, (on the Migos-flow aping “The Language”) is accompanied by strictly singers, swooners and “warble-y auto-tuners” (the aforementioned Future stepchild.) Which, by all accounts, is a smart move by Drake, considering that he doesn’t really get upstaged by anyone here, and stays within his capabilities when things threaten to get a tad too pitch-y and runny. The standout collaboration is definitely “Too Much”, which features the criminally underrated Sampha, whose vocals are looped for beat inflections and add tenderness on the chorus to a track that finds Drake addressing family matters so directly you’d almost forget he’s the same guy that made “Look What You’ve Done”. By all means, this should be the album closer.
Instead, Nothing Was the Same ends with what’s being deemed “Paris Morton Music 2”; a sequel to a freestyle over a one-off remix of Rick Ross’ “Aston Martin Music”. It’s not dazzling, but it’s telling in more than one way. One is the lack of grandiosity Drake is going for on his third release. Much of the anticipation leading to this album centered around how emotional you’d feel about while listening it the first time (mostly twitter chatter) because “hey, it’s Drake and he makes emotional music about petty situations with the opposite sex.” But, really, Nothing Was the Same is about comfort. Drake is who he is, and he’ll choose the the most unobtrusive album artwork, he’ll wear a t-shirt with Jaden Smith’s stunned, post-VMA performance face, and he’ll even title his upcoming world tour the “Would You Like A Tour?” tour. Not because he’s so himself that he can’t grasp his own polarity, but because he’s so aware of the reaction that he incites simply by being him, that, on an almost subconscious level, it doesn’t even matter. Because he’s Drake, and he has our attention regardless.
He get’s it, he get’s it.
1. Drake – Tuscan Leather Lyrics
2. Drake – Furthest Thing Lyrics
3. Drake – Started From The Bottom Lyrics
4. Drake – Wu-Tang Forever Lyrics
5. Drake – Own It Lyrics
6. Drake – Worst Behavior Lyrics
7. Drake – From Time Lyrics
8. Drake – Hold On We’re Going Home Lyrics
9. Drake – Connect Lyrics
10. Drake – The Language Lyrics
11. Drake – 305 to My City Lyrics
12. Drake – Too Much Lyrics
13. Drake – Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2 Lyrics
14. Drake – Come Thru Lyrics
15. Drake – All Me Lyrics
16. Drake – The Motion Lyrics