by Conor Heaney
I do not think it is unfair to include Drake in the emerging ‘genre’ – if it can even be called that – who are showing direct and obvious influence from Kanye West’s so-called ‘Pop Art’ album 808′s and Heartbreaks. Whilst Kanye unsurprisingly was pugnacious enough to lay claim to the creation of a new genre of music; Drake replicated and enforced this pugnacity in not even attempting to develop too deeply on this influence, and through the titling of his album as Thank Me Later. This is where such arrogance ends though, as Drake actual lyrical content is a world away from the verbosity on display from Chicago’s genre creating representative, and has more likeness to Chicago’s former hip-hop mainstay – Common.
That is not to relate this actual style of Common and Drake though, as the two have their own tinge of originality(much more so in Common’s early material). Drake’s own style is where he is quite apt to display his verbal dexterity and musical flexibility and pragmatism. His most obvious writing method is that of conveying a seemingly mature and reflective message, but arresting the listener’s attention with the deployment of clever punchlines. The first lyrics in the first song is the first time this is done:
“Money just changed everything, I wonder how life without it would go/ From the concrete who knew that a flower would grow/ Lookin’ down from the top and it’s crowded below/ My fifteen minutes started an hour ago.”
This reflective tone which can ironically combine humility and confidence is one which continues throughout the album. Drake appears (unlike most) to have something interesting (or at least different) to say. His casual solipsism is given an alluring twist when it is coupled with the ingredient of seemingly genuine modesty, “I’m just young and unlucky I’m surprised you couldn’t tell.” The third track on the album, The Resistance, shows the Kanye West influence most obviously of all the songs on offer here. On his 2009 mixtape So Far Gone, Drake echoed Kanye’s Welcome to Heartbreak with Houstatlantavegas. Here, Drake seems to be plagiarising more from Say You Will. It has to be said though, Drake’s ability to sing and rap (and Kanye’s slight lack there of in comparison) makes up for this lack of originality. Seemingly flaccid lines such as, “I avoided the coke game and went with Sprite instead,” for me show an intelligence and an appreciation of irony. Such a line does in fact have an underlying significance in that Drake does not just conform to the populist, or conformist models of what a rapper should be talking about. His focus seems to be on on mature issues; this does deviate sporadically but a breath of fresh air it remains.
Drake ends The Resistance by saying, “I’m in it ’til it’s over,” - intentionally done as the next song on the album is the lead single Over. It marks a slight tonal shift. This is an obvious single song. The song has clubbish overtones and Drake knowingly betrays the reflective tone of the opening track by embracing the hazy hedonism that it’s a main feature of the album, “What am I doin’?/ Oh yeah that’s right, I’m doin’ me/ I’m doin’ me/ I’m livin’ life right now mayne, and that’s what imma do ’til it’s over.” This tonal shift is continued in the slightly more impressive Show Me a Good Time. Kanye actually produced this track and it shows, the scratches and looping piano are a slight throwback to Kanye’s old production. A surprising reference to ancient Egyptian religion is made, “I’m the Osiris of this shit right now,” - which is worth noting if noticed. The hook in this song and the next (Up All Night) though, are thoroughly uninspiring. Drake seems much more comfortable with softer ‘Pop Art’ like beats which allow his voice to be focused on and accentuated. This idea is further intensified for me in the following song Fancy (Typically, Swizz Beatz lets you know he produced the song consistently with a dire chorus.), when the song softens in the second half and Drake is allowed an almost a cappella chance to save the song, he does so effortlessly.
The highlight of the album for me is Shut it Down featuring The-Dream; the two styles compliment eachother cordially, and the two exchange punchlines, “Ice-cream conversations/ They all want the scoop.” [The-Dream] - “You feel the hours pass/ Until’ you find somethin’ / I feel like when she moves/ The time doesn’t.” [Drake]. The two do this throughout as the song crescendos and explodes into the final chorus. The song itself seems to track the progression of a night, at the beginning Drake raps, “Put those fuckin’ heels on and work it girl/ Let that mirror show you what you’re doing,” and at the end this switches into an attempted verbal striptease, “What can I do/ To make you stay/ I know it’s gettin’ late girl but I don’t want you to leave/ You tell me you’re just not the type/ You want to do this right/ And I’m not tryna say I don’t believe you/ But I refuse to feel ashamed/ And if you feel the same/ Does waiting really make us better people?/ Take those fuckin’ heels off it’s worth it girl/ Nothin’ is what I can picture you in.”
Up to this point Drake’s lyrics have been partitioned between either reflection or hedonism. Topics at hand either being relationships or intense decadence. This slightly changes on the Jay-Z featured Light Up, where Drake uncharacteristically delves into a slight reference to rap gangsterism. The beat itself gives a dark tonal shift and Drake seems to be voicing his awareness of this strand of this music industry. Lines such as “I’ve been up for 4 days gettin’ money both ways,” directly contradict his earlier message of choosing Sprite-over-coke, which make his content here in comparison to most of the rest of the album quite weak. Drake’s lyrical strength lays in his ability to make easy to relate to, ‘bourgeois hip-hop’ almost. He cannot, and usually does not, delve into the violent topics so ubiquitous in rap albums, and it both suits him and works to his advantage. Acronymistic, or possibly initialistic witticisms such as, “DRAKE just stand for Do Right And Kill Everything” are refreshing and seemingly much more intelligent than Jay-Z’s, “I once was/ Cool as the Fonz was/ But these bright lights turned me into a monster,” or Lil’ Wayne’s, “Eugh, that’s nasty/ Yes I am Weezy but I ain’t asthmatic.” This is what makes Drake’s album not just listenable and enjoyable, but actually interesting. Very few rappers on their first albums can brush off major features such as the ones already noted, as well as T.I. and Young Jeezy. Their verses are only necessary in that they show Drake to be very much at the same lyrical level as them (Of course it will take more than one album to see if this can be continued, but the potential is certainly there, as Drake will no doubt mature and develop his style, lyricism and flow).
So Drake, emerging quickly out of the blocks from his initial explosion, to the development and production of a genuinely impressive album; has set himself a standard to live up to here. The album is predominantly produced by his long-standing producer 40 (Noah Shebib), but even in the final track, Thank me Now, Timbaland’s production is not obvious – Drake makes it work for him. This is the same for the Kanye’s tracks, and eventually the same for the Swizz Beatz track(though this is the worst produced on the album). So to finish;
Lyrics – 9/10
Content – 8/10
Production – 8/10
Features – 3/5
Giving it 80%.