In my review of Drake’s debut album, Thank Me Later, in the summer of 2010; I pinpointed a parallel that could be drawn between the artist in question and Chicago hip-hop revolutionary Common. On Common’s second album, which was released in the Autumn of 1994; the artist weaved together a collection of lyrically pugnacious, challenging, socially aware hip-hop – penning one of greatest allegorical rap songs ever put together in I Used to Love H.E.R. In the Rolling Stone review of this Common album, the reviewer (Toure) pinpointed Common’s emergence as what he termed an ‘anti-Slider’ – an artist who goes against the general grain of what it is to be a hip-hop artist in the contemporary age. Discussing one of the album’s tracks, it was noted, ‘The song’s raw honesty, tempered emotionality and heavy familial overtone make it seem like another take on the idea of Rock and Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.),” as well as a beautiful way to salute your father.’
Drake too, can be assigned this ‘anti-Slider’ label, in a sense. Within Take Care, Aubrey Graham (real name) takes hip-hop norms and strips them to their bare necessities. This ranges from seeming need for colossal beats, and for the consistent reliance on eye-catching features or eye-catching producers. One can possibly pinpoint it as a reaction to the pervasive, chaotic maximalism of popular hip-hop, pop and r’n’b; epitomised by the West of Twisted Fantasy (though this has its problems), the Gaga of Born This Way, the Lupe of Lasers, the Pusha T of Fear of God II, – etc.
It is not simply that Drake has gone further into (and here is where the problem arises) the Westian 808s & Heartbreaks mode, though it is partly this, it is also related to the rapper’s ability to simultaneous engage in reflection and hedonistic solipsism. A self-obsessed egoist, who is aware of the contradiction and ironies present in his life. (‘I’m just sayin’ you could do better’ Drake fawns on the drunk-conversation-song Buried Alive – while seeming aware that that he could not possibly be this person, ‘I’ve been talkin’ crazy girl I’m lucky that you picked up/ Lucky that you stayed on/ I need someone to put this weight on.’) Embracing this, Drake prefers subtle poeticisms and elegant, bare beats – relying almost entirely on Noah Shebib to control production.
Take Care offered Drake the opportunity to grasp his niche more fully, more forcefully than he had previously. In Thank Me Later the artist was prone to negotiate this minimalistic theme in the pursuit of tracks of the commercial nature (‘Light Up’ ‘Over’ ‘Up All Night’ – etc) – whereas in this offering he seems more willing to tie himself to his own ‘Drakonian’ style and set his faith in it. This involves using creative samples and keeping the artistic interference from featured artists to their minimum. This is where the album succeeds. When Rihanna introduces us to the title track, for example, it is over a Jamie xx / Gil-Scott-Heron track, in which she is repeating already written lyrics – this puts the emphasis solely on the creativity and artistic influence of Drake, as he attempts to take centre stage and make it more his album than Thank Me Later was.
This point holds weight for a number of the album’s tracks – most specifically the Stevie Wonder featured Doing In Wrong; which as a track is a huge artistic risk, in that Stevie Wonder is assigned and designated solely to instrumental duty; and Drake tacitly claims at least vocal parity with the featured artist through this. He couples this with lyrical laments of a characteristic confessional nature;
‘You’ll say you love me, and I’ll end up lying – and say I love you too.’
‘We live in a generation of, not being in love, and not being together.’
Such risks though, do not always bear fruit. Whilst the album as a whole has a more coherent stylistic cohesiveness, there remains a certain blandness to many of the tracks on offer. Furthermore, featured artists whose contributions ooze class on the album – such as Jamie xx, Andre 3000, Stevie Wonder, and Rihanna; are at least equalled with some at best average contributions. Nicki Minaj’s verse is uncharacteristically short of life, vitality or her now expectated sharpness and fluidity – “I’m a star / Sheriff badge,” is Minaj’s best attempt at a punch line. Lil’ Wayne’s two features serve to at first take the authenticity out of The Real Her with lines such as, “And I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover / And I don’t wanna be blind, But sometimes / I Stevie Wonder about her.” Not to mention the track succeeding this, the Lil’ Wayne featured HYFR (Hell Yeah Fuckin’ Right) – which is surely the least impressive, least imaginative and least ambitious track on Take Care.
So whilst Take Care represents some improvements on Thank Me Later, and there is no doubt that it at times does; Drake still makes many questionable choices on the piece. In attempting to fuse the album together more stylistically, he has still not fully achieved his aim. Should we strip Take Care down to its bare necessities (as Drake attempted to do with many of his tracks), and remove some of the questionable features and pieces I mentioned above – we could in theory arrive at an 8-10 track album which could be considered a classic. However, this is not what Drake has done. Instead, we have to sift through the filler to arrive at the Drakonian substance, which is seemingly what Graham flourishes at.