Drake – Thank Me Later
Young Money: 2010
Purchase on Amazon
The advent of digital media really sucked the grind out of the rap game. Any rube with a laptop can reach an audience of thousands without so much as lifting a finger. The lucky ones are millionaires before the first single is pressed. The sudden windfall of attention and publicity around new talent has made for a different kind of hip hop star, one who’s painfully aware of fame and its attendant pleasures and pitfalls out of the wrapper. Canadian former child actor turned singer Drake shot to the spotlight in the wake of So Far Gone, a mixtape almost mathematically designed to pique the interest of every listener. It had a Bun B feature and chopped and screwed beats for the Southern contingent, spitfire lyricism for the backpackers, syrupy and introspective R&B for the ladies, Peter Bjorn & John and Santogold samples for casual indie rock spectators, and Lil Wayne features aplenty for the kids. Everyone fell for it. Drake’s debut album, Thank Me Later, doesn’t venture very far from the territory charted on So Far Gone, but as far as sequels go, Thank Me Later is more Phantom Menace than Empire Strikes Back: same concept, similar cast, no soul. The earnest Don Juan veneer put forward on So Far Gone disintegrates upon closer inspection, revealing an admittedly pompous, self-absorbed lady killer with a penchant for over-sharing, womanizing, and blowing money.
Thank Me Later deals almost exclusively with Drake’s feelings about being in the spotlight. “Fireworks” is a celebration of fame. “The Resistance” is about his hesitance to accept being famous. “Over” is about the shock of sudden fame. “Unforgettable” is about, well, wanting to be unforgettable in the same way that “Successful” was about wanting to be successful. “Light Up” is about making the most of fame while it lasts. “Miss Me” is about wanting to be remembered when the fame is gone. “Cece’s Interlude” finds Drake wishing he wasn’t famous. Thank Me Later is the musical equivalent of an episode of My Super Sweet 16, haughty, shallow and deadly certain that the problems of the author are the only things that matter in the world. As a singer, Drake gets by, but he’s no Al Green. His range and tone are lacking, but he rarely oversteps his boundaries. He has a good ear for breezy, effortless melody, and his hooks often save the songs from his more annoying tendencies. His microphone skills, however, are iffy. He’ll spit bar after poignant bar, then drop a “Baby, you finer then your fine cousin” or an “I’m a star, no spangled banner.” Thank Me Later‘s stream of legendarily ill-conceived one-liners and teenage diary grade melodrama often ruin the songs. Luckily Drake’s co-conspirators keep things fresh and interesting. Producer Noah “40” Shebib is as crucial to the sound of Thank Me Later as the guy who’s face is plastered on the cover.
40’s trademark ethereal keyboards and muted drums are in no short supply here; he produces roughly half the album, and his fingerprints are all over the rest of it. The barely there swatches of ambient synth on “The Resistance” sound like somebody bumping Stars of the Lid outside the studio. “Shut It Down”, with it’s spacious, loping beat, balloons out to seven minutes, starting out strong and limping slowly into soupy ambience. Swizz Beatz tosses Drizzy a summer banger in the T.I. assisted “Fancy”, and 40 tacks on an extended coda with a warped, corroding synth that sounds like the Neptunes playing in hell. He takes Boi-1da’s trumpet fanfares on “Miss Me” and plunges them underwater mid-verse. 40’s flourishes are refreshingly unbecoming of a major label hip hop album, and they keep things buoyant whenever Drake drops the ball. The only real production misstep is “Karaoke”, produced by New York band Frances and the Lights. Where most of Thank Me Later‘s sound is a futuristic update of stately ’80s pop like Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” and Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight,” “Karaoke” just goes ahead and rips off Collins’s easy listening standard “One More Night” while Drake whines about a girl who left him years ago because she couldn’t handle dating the guy from Degrassi.
Thank Me Later is still a decent listen despite Drake’s glaring and myriad flaws. The guest list is ridiculous. Any album featuring guest spots from T.I., The-Dream, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne is probably going to be worth at least a cursory listen. He coaxes great performances out of all of his guests, and his lyrical skills improve when he’s provided a little challenge. The production, supplied by 40, Boi-1da, Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, Kanye West, and No I.D. is state of the art. If you can stand Drake’s tales of dumping good girls, blowing money on cars and liquor while neglecting his father and grandmother, if you can handle his assertion that he’s a good, honest and caring guy, if one 808s and Heartbreak wasn’t enough for you, then Thank Me Later is the album for you. If not, just grab “Find Your Love”. It’s excellently produced and performed, and its arrogant but soulful desperation sums up the guy’s contradictory persona quite nicely.