"Really I think I like who I'm becoming," Drake told us cautiously on his second album Take Care. On its followup Nothing Was the Same, he's thought about it some more."Prince Akeem, they throw flowers at my feet, *****!" he screams. "I could go an hour on this beat, *****!" The song, "Tuscan Leather", which opens the record, is six full minutes long with no chorus, a point Drake is eager for us to absorb: "This is nothing for the radio/ But they'll still play it though/ Cuz it's the new Drizzy Drake, that's just the way it go."
The Drake Era has ended; welcome to the Drake Regime. Aubrey Graham's gone from an unlikely rapper to an accepted rapper to maybe the biggest rapper out, all in four years, and he's the genre's biggest current pop crossover star. Kanye has, for the moment, stepped out of the pop-radio wars, which means that Drake currently has no meaningful competition. On Nothing Was the Same, he acts accordingly-- the mansion doors swing shut behind you and he mostly stops pretending to be nice. "I'm on my worst behavior," he leers, over a glowering low-end synth and an insectile battery of defaced-sounding percussion, courtesy of DJ Dahi. It's the meanest-sounding thing Drake has rapped over, and he matches it with some of his angriest lyrics, a series of sputtered "muhfuckas never loved us" surrounding an extended riff on Ma$e's verse on "Mo Money Mo Problems".
As Drake albums go, this is the Drakiest: Except for Jay Z, who shows up at the end of the album, Nothing Was the Same is an entirely solo affair, and all of Drake's tendencies are dialed up. Even for a rapper known for sniping at non-famous girlfriends on record, he's breathtakingly petty here: The album is four days old on the internet, and already his line "The one that I needed was Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree/ I've always been feeling like she was the piece to complete me" from "From Time" is infamous, a reference so specific that the actual Courtney has had to put a padlock on her social-media life. Drake has been talking to old flames who have no equivalent soap box to climb on to talk back since before "CeCe's Interlude", of course, but as he's gotten more famous, they've grown more malicious, and here they feel like a series of emotional drone strikes.
On "Paris Morton Music", he relishes the thought of showing up at his high school reunion, watching everyone "go through security clearance," and on "Too Much", he airs out his family: "Money got my family going backwards/ No dinners, no holidays, no nothing," he laments, before going in on his uncle, his cousins, and even his mother: "I hate the fact that my mom cooped up in the apartment, telling herself that she's too sick to get dressed up and go do **** like that's true ****." Drake recently performed this song on Jimmy Fallon, apologizing briefly to his family before tearing into it. The album title, in context, reads like a self-fulfilling prophecy viewed from the rear view, an acknowledgment that he's cutting final ties, torching th e last bridges. He might like who he's become, but you can hear he doesn't expect anyone else to.
That's okay: Loneliness, self-afflicted or otherwise, has always been Drake's most reliable fuel. His albums draw strength from their insularity; when everyone outside them in mainstream rap was piling on epic minor-key horns and turning their songs into armored tanks, Drake drew the curtains. His sound was set apart more by what wasn't there-- snare claps, hi-hats-- then what was. Nothing Was the Same is Drake and 40's most audacious experiment yet in how far inward they can push their sound; a lot of the album sounds like a black hole of all 40's previous productions being sucked into the center. Song-to-song transitions, which have always been melty and blurry, are more notional than ever. "Wu-Tang Forever" is a sunken glimmer of piano with a tiny tag of RZA's voice, screaming "It's Yourz," before shading, at some point, into "Own It".
There is no uncomplicated forward motion in Drake songs; usually one small element worms forward while everything sits around it, a haze of rhythmic and harmonic indecision. Drake continues his qualified, complicated claiming of Houston on Nothing, rapping "I was birthed there in my first year, man I know that place like I come from it" on "Too Much". But the only quality his music shares with Houston rap is its vague relationship to momentum. On "Started From the Bottom", the bass isn't even a settled pitch, but a buckling floor beneath the destabilized-sounding pianos, which scrabble down its side. "305 to My City" sits almost completely flat, a ticking snare the only indication of a pulse.
The only thing tumbling endlessly forward, of course, are Drake's words, one emerging breathlessly after the other. He has never boasted many of the skills that define a technically skilled rapper, but he has cleared away any obstacles to his tangled thoughts in 40's muted music and let his wordy lines climb up the walls like kudzu. To live in Drake's music is to come away with his words smudged on you like newsprint ink. His eye-rollers and his stunners are all linked together, one long runaway train of sentiments: "I wanna take it deeper than money, pussy, vacation/ And influence a generation that's lacking in patience/ I've been dealin' with my dad, speaking of lack of patience/ Just me and my old man, getting back to basics/ We been talking about the future and time that we wasted/ When he put that bottle down, girl, that *****'s amazing," he raps on "From Time". It's hard not to feel exhausted, slightly, after an album's worth of these torrents.
You sense that Drake is exhausted, too. There is an intriguing whiff of third act rot hanging in the air on Nothing Was the Same, and because Drake is such a deft micro-manager of his own narrative, he's drawing our attention to it, telegraphing it in his lyrics and dramatizing the sense that whatever he does after this album, it can't quite be this again. He's "somewhere between psychotic and iconic" on "Furthest Thing", promising to "break everyone off before I break down."
There are big, friendly singles as well-- notably, the bar-mitzvah floor-filler "Hold On We're Coming Home", which borrows its smoothly bumping glide from "Sexual Healing". The song is terrific, one of Drake's best pure pop songs ever and instantly a standard. It is also out of place on this dimly lit album, which is the most morose and triumphant of Drake's career. "My life's a completed checklist," he boasts on "Tuscan Leather"-- for Drake, it's another reason to feel superior. But it's also what you say right before you die, and I can't imagine an admission more depressing.
Edited by Antidope - 9/23/13 at 7:39pm