Drake, Take Care
By Chris Lehberger
November 15, 2011
Fame, sex and money are terms synonymous with hip-hop, products of the culture, and despite the ill-validity of these prizes, everyone still seems to be rapping about them. Even Drake.
A year and a half removed from the release of Drake’s debut, Thank Me Later, a record heralded for its sideways look into the life of a young rapper who had everything but still wasn’t happy, Drake is still the young gun struggling with his fame. Whereas Thank Me Later was a catalyst for his fame, Take Care is a response to it.
Musically speaking, Drake has opened the well into the new era of hip-hop, spearheaded by artists like Lupe Fiasco, Common and Kanye West, rappers who don’t just posture and decide to write lyrical journals instead of ego-centric self-advertisements alone. Yes, on paper, Drake’s life plays out like a modern soap opera. He’s one of the few artists who can rhyme about texting his girlfriend. But there is something real about seeing a person at their weakest, and although Drake spends a good part of 17 songs on Take Care trying to convince his listeners that he’s got everything under control, you don’t believe him for one second—and I’m not quite sure that’s unintentional.
The record opens with “Over My Dead Body,” with expansive-sounding keyboards and Chantel Kreviazuk singing beautifully in the background before Drake enters with, How I’m feeling, it doesn’t matter / 'Cause you know I’m OK. In many ways, the track is representative of the album as whole, with its lush instrumentation and its guest spots that at times take the forefront to Drake's vocals (“HYFR,” “Make Me Proud”). “Crew Love,” featuring the Weeknd, follows along these same lines: opaque soundscapes that lull more than awaken.
But lulling is OK, because on a record that’s more influenced by Jagged Edge and Ginuwine, lush overtones are the benchmark. Drake is always the sweet talker here, as he weaves the stories of the women he’s been with, often lamenting the times that love simply didn’t work (“Take Care.”) On “Look What You’ve Done,” Drake tells another story on top of liquor-parlor-like piano, conversations muddled behind his words. Drake is smart enough to dive into the specifics here, and amid the haze of the bar he plays back a message from a woman who misses him, much like the dialogue at the end of Kanye West’s “Blame Game,” and to the same cathartic effect. The track is mesmerizing in its nostalgia and it becomes clear that Drake's struggle with his image is more than based on how much money he makes, but how much he can hurt people.
Drake’s ponderings, however, can sometimes become tiring, especially on a record where each song could encapsulate the very moment when the woman walks out on the man. But Drake is often better when he rhymes instead of pondering. Album standout “Undergound Kings” is Drake poised with his crew and his city, and instead of sparse, meandering beats, the track is held down by a powerful guitar lick and beat, which give the track the record’s strongest backbone. It's reminiscent of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and “Not Afraid” in its raw power. “Lord Knows,” guest-starring Rick Ross, follows suit in front of a triumphant choir sample, a track that could have easily fit well on West’s Graduation.
The album's biggest problem, however, is its sequencing. At a mammoth 17 tracks, the breadth of material is already too much to digest, and with most tracks sitting inside a setting of expansive ambience, (“Take a Shot for Me,” “Cameras”) songs start to drift into one another and you’re not quite sure just where the record is going. But it’s at this point that you realize it doesn’t really matter.
The latitude of Drake’s emotions across the spectrum of the album is wide, and the dealings of Drake’s soul sometimes make the most sense when they make the least sense. It’s in Drake’s genius to let himself bare all without baring all, his keen ability to purposefully let his transparency be shown, that the record triumphs.
From a moral standpoint, there's much content to object to—take the parental advisory sticker seriously. But the greatest question at hand doesn’t revolve around the myriad of sex and money and vulgarity that Drake accepts, but around the lack of love for himself, as evidenced in the nearly hour and 10 minutes Drake spends telling his stories.
As imperfect humans, we admire others’ imperfections in the hope of redemption. Through the booze and sex and thin self-praise, it’s in this hope that Take Care compels us to believe, and that’s a good thing.
Chris Lehberger is a writer living in Pittsburgh. He likes music, literature and the Pittsburgh Steelers. You can follow him on twitter @chrislehberger.