Back when Drake was known as Aubrey Graham, he was just one of the many stars of Canadian teen melodrama "Degrassi: The Next Generation". His character, Jimmy, lived for basketball. That is, until he was shot in the back and forced to live in a wheelchair for the rest of the series. Some of the best moments of that ridiculous TV show involve Jimmy finding a new path in life, away from basketball, away from anger and self-pity. He was reborn as a (family-friendly) rapper. Alas, it was just a character. In real life, the 29 year old Drake is all-anger all the time, never more so than on his new album, "Take Care".
Drake has taken great pains to shed the good-guy persona of his Degrassi days, aligning himself with all manner of hip-hop bad boys, from Lil Wayne to Eminem. Album opener "Over My Dead body", begins with a distorted AM radio R&B tribute straight out of "Boyz in The Hood", only to get interrupted by Drake's generic boasts about taxes and women. It's the same tough-guy machismo that the hip-hop world has been fawning over since the genre came to prominence in the early 80's.
When an album opens with the line "I think I killed everybody in the game last year, man/ fuck it I was on though", it's only right and natural to be dismissive of its artistic intent. Half of the album is brilliant. The other half is garbage. At 80 minutes long, fully half of these songs are unnecessary. "Crew Love", "Shot For Me" and "Practice" are among the worst offenders here. These tracks belong on a mix-tape. "Marvin's Room", "Take Care" and Nikki Minaj collaboration "Make Me Proud" are stunningly good.
Lead single "Marvin's Room" leaked way back in June, but the resulting familiarity doesn't diminish its power in the slightest. Apparently recorded in the same home studio where Marvin Gaye recorded his 1976 ode to heartbreak "Here, My Dear", the song is dripping with the same heartache and regret as its inspiration. Simple lyrics like ""Fuck that nigga that you love so bad/ I know you still think about the times we had," hint at the sadness beneath the surface. Drake is at his best when he's at his weakest. Thankfully, these moments sometimes outweigh the self-conscious braggadocio of the lesser tracks.
Album closer "The Ride" is a shining example of "lesser". "They say more money more problems, my nigga, don't believe it," he boasts. "I mean, sure, there's some bills and taxes I'm still evading/ But I blew six million on myself, and I feel amazing." It's a strange note to end on, and it rings hollow.
Maybe the next album will be the moment that Drake loses all pretense and elevates hip-hop for generations to come. "Take Care" has its moments, but we deserve better.
"Take Care" is out November 15th via Cash Money/Young Money Entertainment/Universal Republic