The story begins with distortion. A rewinding vocal sample sets a different tone than Drake’s usual piano intro, turning backward through two year’s worth of laughable outfits and relative silence right up to the fading vocals of Take Care outro track, “The Ride.” The stark sample leads right into a coarse-grained instrumental, and as Drake starts rapping, there’s something noticeably different about his flow. I didn’t picture his usual hyper hand gestures, nor the proven vet who always seems to be vying for our attention like a rookie would. It’s not that Drake sounds bored with rapping this go around, but he does seem underwhelmed with the brand of Hip-Hop and its cast of spiritless emcees.
“Tuscan Leather” smells like a man’s self-made investment. Drake spits with a tone of forced, yet accepted responsibility, putting his musical whims aside for a bar heavy bureau style that could care less about a R&B hook. But Drake fans aren’t Drake fans because they think he’s one of the hardest rappers out. His longevity has never centered upon machismo, so I squinted at the thought of how much he’d flex this newfound muscle. But as the tempo of the beat increased going into the second verse, Drake began to look in the mirror – not in full ovation, but in the vulnerable manner only he can. From discussing a barren relationship with Nicki Minaj to the everyday vices of a top seeded artist, the walk around Drake avenue started to feel familiar, only he’s never commanded the gift of hindsight so effectively until now. Clocking in at 6 minutes, the lengthy intro smoothes throughout three verses and manages to set up the texture of the album while reminding us of the great time and care Drake puts into his work.
“The actions make us doubt you. Your lack of effort got me rappin’ different” is a line that gives “Furthest Thing,” the next track on the album, a feeling of specificity as Drake jeers at all the competition below. It’s a common theme in Nothing Was the Same (NWTS) and so is the space he reserves for his team. “Fillin’ up arenas, who the fuck can see us?” he asks, paying homage to the crew he’s been celebrating tirelessly since the leak of “Started From the Bottom.” Drake’s ride out flow is simply perfect on this beat. His signature “raponizing” (rapping plus harmonizing) over 40’s sedated production is bridged by a motto-y hook on the first half of the track, reminding me a lot of what we used to get from an old school Lil Wayne.
It wasn’t until listening to “Own It” that I started weighing the album’s current tide against Drake’s dual rapper/singer persona. It’s the only track on the album that I didn’t really care for and the first time I can remember Drake’s singing ever bothering me.
“From Time” and “Too Much” are stellar tracks for many reasons, but the flawless vocals of Jhene Aiko and Sampha sound even better with verses from a smooth rapping Drake instead of a serenading one. He gives them their well-deserved solos, but with his own flow operating as pacemaker. It’s hard to say that either of the features completely steal the show, and above anything, I found that these two songs made more sense of why I don’t care for “Own It.” They reveal what is arguably a conflict in NWTS between a theme of authority and an anxiety towards change. Drake provides a lens into his real life experiences and relationships( as always), but his delivery throughout the project suggests a newfound stoicism, with “I’ll be here just swingin’” (“Connect”) and other lines of complacency permeating throughout. It’s a tightrope, but Drake hardly stumbles as he manages to deliver an album with minimal R&B moments that doesn’t seem compromised in the slightest.
Consequently, I must say “Hold On, We’re Going Home” doesn’t belong on this album. The song has become one of my favorite Drake songs to date, but despite the greatness of the individual record, I still find it out of place. It hurts to call it a mistake, but I think Drake lost sight of what made sense holistically and reverted to what sounded good musically. But if it is a mistake, it’s an easily forgivable one. There’s simply too much good stuff on the album to make the frequent nitpicking of Drake’s flaws a fair argument this time around.
Tracks like “The Language” make it unfair, foolish even. It’s “Versace” 2.0, the album capstone, and a soon to be club anthem (if not already). I love the lullaby flow he’s adopted, but I love the confidence it ensues even more.
With hardly any rap features, it’s apparent that NWTS intends to put Hip-Hop on notice. In fact, the only guest emcee is Jay Z which, of course, exemplifies Drake’s known idolization, but also makes the case that Jay Z is the only deserving guest. In the latter sense, such a feature provides a screenshot for how far Drake has come since their last collaboration on Thank Me Later, Drake’s debut album. Jay’s verse on “Pound Cake” is standout, but as Drake continues to spit through “Paris Morton Music 2,” he brings the album full circle. “Fuck all that ‘happy to be here’ shit y’all still want me on,” he jaws, quelling any doubts about what NWTS is truly about. Throughout the album, Drake channels the poise of a veteran while ensuring us with tracks like “Worst Behavior” that he still has more to say.
As noted before, it’s difficult to isolate the cringe worthy, often-laughable Aubrey Graham from the prolific artist we’ve come to know as Drake, but with this latest installment, there’s simply nothing to laugh about. NWTS dims the lights on a great summer of music, clearing the lane for a fall classic instead.