The current state of the hip-hop union is in flux. Modern technology, a proliferation of whiz-kid producers and, quite simply, the talent itself has pushed sounds and structures to new, intelligent, multi-dimensional heights. (Remember My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy?)
Additionally, the tension between indie and “lamestream” culture continues to dissolve. Artists that were once snubbed are gaining a new level of respect. More deserving of this than anyone right now as he approaches the release of his second LP Take Care, is fresh Young Money golden boy Drake.
Drake’s approach to R&B-tinged rap has always been classic in the thematic sense. He’s a heart-on-his-sleeve, bare-all type, and whether he’s lamenting his lady problems or reflecting on his success, he communicates through self-aware honesty rather than pandering misogyny or “party tracks.”
But this time around, the outlook is different. Whereas “Thank Me Later” addressed a reluctance to become famous, “Take Care,” somewhat predictably, grasps at all of the new, inevitable pressures of his life in the spotlight.
From the first track, “Over My Dead Body,” an introspective check-in with his listeners, Drake throws it all on the table (the money, the expectations, etc.) in a way that hints at nuance. There’s still an element of unrest in his delivery but it adds a compelling layer of depth — his prologue to the narrative of the album.
On “Take a Shot for Me,” Drake continues along the vein of somewhat jaded reflections, opposing the angst of some girl-that-got-away with his immense success. Musically, the track is straight-laced, wistful R&B that’s loaded with mood. One would think that that kind of ’tude would get old, but because he’s so diverse in his delivery, and because it seems genuine, he proves that he’s skilled enough to pull it off.
Where the more soulful, baby-making tracks like “Take Care” and “Doing It Wrong” serve their purpose, undoubtedly, Drake thrives most when he morphs into the role of the headlining star. Musically speaking, this means driving beats and a delicate medium between rap-fueled aggression and lyrical R&B.
Singles like “Headlines” execute this to perfection. Nicki Minaj cameos may be nothing new at this point, but the mark our bootylicious Barbie leaves with her turbulent verse in “Make me Proud” makes us forget the mediocrity of “Pink Friday.” Her dynamic with Drake works effortlessly (somewhere Weezy is ripping a mean toke and patting himself on the back).
The roster of star-studded appearances Drake racks up is nothing to scoff at (e.g. The Weeknd, Lil Wayne, Stevie Wonder, Rick Ross). Each interpretation plays out markedly different than the one before and again. It highlights his diversity as a performer.
It’s evident that a lot more thought went into crafting Take Care, partly because the sophomore album is the most pivotal to a breakout artist from a marketing standpoint, but also because it’s clear that it was pivotal to Drake as a person. So, while he may be suffering a nouveau riche, existential crisis, Drake’s embraced the notion that being honest about it will produce the strongest musical material, and in doing so, has knocked it out of the park again.