Hip-hop heads have a problem with Drake. He represents the crest of a wave of insular, self-absorbed upstarts that took cues from Kanye West (whose 808s & Heartbreak has quietly become one of the most influential hip-hop records of the last few years) and Eminem before him in the way they shamelessly emptied the contents of their personal lives out onto their records. Feelings suddenly became the lingua franca of a formidable swath of rap’s mainstream, once a haven for braggadocious alpha male chest beating with the occasional “song for the ladies”, the occasional olive branch to the fairer sex. Normally, we don’t love these hoes, but tonight, I need luvvvvvvvv.
Suddenly Drake is popping up on every solitary record, and Kid Cudi is airing out his psychodrama all over the rap internets, and J. Cole is pouting on his miserable ass album cover, and Diddy is singing (singing!) about lost love, and T.I. is fucking with emotions on his album… Meanwhile Game is bricking on a whole album’s worth of aborted first singles, and Jeezy can’t get a release date for TWO YEARS, and 50 can’t finish a record without the input of his record label, and Atlantic Records is shoehorning brainless radio fare into Lupe & B.o.B’s albums, and Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller are smiling their way to the top of the charts. Suddenly everything is fucked. Suddenly the game has changed.
Drake drops “Marvin’s Room” and “Trust Issues” and God knows how many Simp Anthems to End All Simp Anthems. He’s wandering onto J. Cole’s record with a head cold muttering about horseback riding and muddying up Future’s lunkhead earworm “Tony Montana” with all these… feelings, and rap fans have had enough. Drake becomes public enemy number one. Drake could give a fuck. He’s on a career high in terms of sales and ubiquity. “Marvin’s Room” becomes the weirdest thing playing every hour on the hour on the radio. He knows he’s hated, and he plays along, trolling everyone with that gaudy, cartoonishly morose album cover. He solidifies his death grip on urban radio with a pair of stone cold hits in “Headlines” and “Make Me Proud”, like he’s getting his finances in order. Then he drops Take Care. And it is a fucking situation.
Take Care is a good album, but for none of the reasons that typically make a good rap album a good rap album. The arrangements are studiously pretty. 40, T-Minus, et al stepped up the “Phil Collins and 808s” vibe of Thank Me Later and imbued the songs with a tuneful musicality and a heaping serving of Southern rap and 90s R&B fetishism (No other record released this year can boast samples of Static Major, Jon B. AND DJ Screw). They’re still pretty keen on wide open space. Half the magic of a song like “Marvin’s Room” is the chilly, barely there instrumental, which adds liberal synth stabs and faint guitar work for texture. Picture 40 as a hip-hop Bob Ross, always blotting i jusssst one more tree.
Of course nothing about Take Care breaks with convention more than Drake himself. He’s tightened up lyrically sinceThank Me Later. Face palm moments like “Girl you finer than your fine cousin” are in short supply here, but frankly, so is Drake himself. He’s hardly rapping here, and when he is, he’s doing it in a slight, economical flow that is more concerned with forward motion and song ostentatious shows of lyrical dexterity. There are a few; The Texas trill meets Swing Mob bars of “Look What You’ve Done”, the “See, I can fast rap too!” opening verse of “HYFR”, the “Look Ma, no chorus” intensity of the Jigga-esque “Lord Knows”, and the obsession with internal rhyme displayed throughout “The Ride” are all proof that the guy can spit when necessary.
But mostly you’re getting the rollicking sing-song flow of “We’ll Be Fine” and “Headlines” and the outright singing of “Shot for Me” and “Good Ones Go”. Guests do all the heavy lifting where applicable. Andre 3000 crushes “The Real Her” without really trying to. Lil Wayne actually out-fast-raps Drake on “HYFR”, and Kendrick Lamar’s “Buried Alive” interlude is a scene stealing non-sequitur much in the same way “Dear Summer” hijacked whatever the fuck Memphis Bleek album it was on. It’s like Drake’s more interested in hanging out and telling stories than impressing anyone. And that’s where Take Care gets really curious.
The principal weirdness of Take Care can be found right in the album’s first two lines. Opener “Over My Dead Body” begins “I think I killed everybody in the game last year, man. Fuck it, I was on though/And I thought I found the girl of my dreams at a strip club, Mmmm mmmm. Fuck it, I was wrong though.” Haughty trash talk and wounded, vindictive emoting right on top of one another. At times the album feels like it’s working at cross purposes with itself in the way it chases tales of vapid, irresponsible overspending with tales of relationships rotted by stardom and girls Drake wants to “wait” for him. Are you THE shit, or are you A shit? Make up your mind.
But that’s youth, isn’t it? One minute we’re on top of the world, and the next, we’re navigating through crushing valleys of doubt. We piss away our finest years buying shit we don’t need, tossing back drinks like the morning after will never come, pursuing extravagant sexual conquests for the literal fuck of it, getting enamored too hard too soon, pining for lost loves we never really had, drunk dialing exes just to hear the sound of their voices and worse. None of us have all the answers. We’re all fumbling through this shit. That’s the beauty of Take Care. Its indecisiveness is its bleeding heart, its humanity. The foibles of its author are its truth. It’s time to hang up this Drake vendetta. He’s not killing our culture. and he’s not going away anytime soon. Let he who is without a lovesick, irrational “Marvin’s Room” moment of his own cast the first stone.