November 22, 2011
Review: Drake – ‘Take Care’
Drake – Take Care
Cash Money Records
“This is where I’ll put my Grammys” a young Aubrey Drake Graham, gesturing at some empty shelves in a newly acquired apartment, (half) joked in an interview with Vibe a couple of years ago. It’s an indication of the guy’s confidence that the comment was made before the release of his full length debut, only following the success of a string of mixtapes and one hit single, ‘Best I Ever Had’, a refreshing take on a developing subgenre of rap that’s both sensitive and full of swagger. The aforementioned album, Thank Me Later, displays this style in abundance, serving to position Drake alongside similarly veined performers such as Odd Future’s Frank Ocean and his own compatriot The Weeknd.
New album Take Care appears less than 18 months after Thank Me Later, a swiftness replicating the speed at which Drake’s generation of internet-hyped artists must move in order to catch their respective waves. This isn’t the only nod to the cultural capital of his demographic – one raised on the same post-MTV urban diet as himself – it’s also reflected not just in the people involved in the Drake machine, but the lyrical and musicological references in his music. Numerous tributes to Aaliyah, sampling off Youtube and borrowing wholesale Jamie xx and Gil Scott Heron’s ‘I’ll Take Care of You’ for the Rihanna featuring title track – an instinctual collision of under and overground that proves to be one of the album’s more interesting moments – are second nature to an artist used to pooling influences from a myriad of sources.
A rapper with the inventiveness of Kanye at his most self-conscious, the industry guidance of Lil Wayne behind him and seemingly free use of Jay Z’s address book, Drake has no business dealing with the bland end of the R&B/rap spectrum, and yet falls into that category disappointingly early on Take Care. The R&B inflections of ‘Shot For Me’ mix an irritably egotistical lyric with the first example of Drake’s singing – not an altogether unlistenable delivery, yet one performed without the singular confidence of style displayed by The Weeknd on his guest appearance on ‘Crew Love’. Here, the Toronto king of introspective cocaine-fuelled paranoia offers some pained phrasing alongside cogent lyrical gems (opening line “take your nose off my keyboard/what you bothering me for?”) to the detriment of Drake’s lacklustre, self-eulogising rap.
Nonetheless, it’s Drake’s vocal versatility that remains his biggest asset, switching effortlessly between the drawl of his fashionably-accented rap style and his almost nasal singing – melodies that sound influenced as much by the autotune subtly applied to them as the phrasing of any figure in musical history. Perhaps this is the reason for their forcible position in the mix: often brashly foregrounded to fully ensure the lyrical themes are communicated.
At their best, these introspective themes are classic, alcohol-drenched, late night soul searching (the delicate ‘Marvin’s Room’). At their worst, they’re moping and whiney (‘Doing It Wrong’, ‘Look What You’ve Done’). ‘Headlines’ finds Drake relinquishing himself of all responsibility for his changing personality in the face of fame, also showing a keen awareness of the pressure that the pace of the industry he’s found himself in requires: “I be yelling out “money over everything, money on my mind”/then she wanna ask when it got so empty/tell her I apologise, it happened over time/she says “they miss the old Drake”, girl don’t tempt me/”if they don’t get it they’ll be over you/that new shit that you got is overdue/you better do what you supposed to do””.
Production-wise, the tracks are polished, sometimes unnecessarily so. Beats like the dragging ‘We’ll Be Fine’ show that Drake could be well suited to the screwed, more lo-fi melancholia of Clams Casino, while The Weeknd’s creative wails on ‘The Ride’ leave a nagging disappointment that with a little more guile and bravery, Drake’s could be a voice synonymous with more forward-thinking rap. For despite all of its refreshing qualities, Take Care seems to be taking it safer than its predecessor, perhaps sensing its star’s potential for game-dominating status. There is nothing with the explosive dynamism of The-Game’s ‘Yamaha’, or as perfect a marriage of beat and voice as Frank Ocean’s ‘Novacane’. Instead, those looking for rap’s future must make do with the lively ‘HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right)’ or ‘Lord Know’s (in which Drizzy lazily muses about whether he is descended from Marley or Hendrix over a classically worked Just Blaze beat). The features come thick and fast: Nicki Minaj providing some scattergun vocals to ‘Make Me Proud’, Weezy popping up with both vocals and an eagle eye at regular points, even Stevie Wonder pops up with some harmonica on ‘Doing It Wrong’.
‘Underground Kings’ vividly depicts Drake’s obsession with the southern-fried rap of his hero Lil Wayne, an influence that runs consistently through his work, and when Weezy himself shows up on ‘The Real Her’, it’s to help out on a tedious homage to the girls of Houston, Atlanta and Vegas over a sub-R Kelly slow jam beat that even the ever-welcome flows of Outkast’s Andre 3000 – popping up for a final verse that sounded like a last minute inclusion – can’t save.
The album has its high points, but so often does Drake’s indolent inward gaze appear only to serve up bland contemplation of money and fame that its difficult to keep in mind that this is a young man still only on his second album (an early career marker that Drake himself seems to forget on the world-weary ‘Headlines’), and really drives home how long and bloated Take Care is: its better cuts could just have easily have got the message across without the tiresome filler they’re wedged between.