When we last left the Aubrey "Drake"
Nothing Was The Same features more of the same, production-wise, as the majority of the project is overseen by Aubrey's go-to guy Noah "40" Shebib. Surprisingly, Drake eschews guests for the most part, and he almost entirely ignores his own label, as the likes of Lil' Wayne and Nicki Minaj aren't anywhere to be found. However, Drake did manage to snag Jay-Z for a supporting role, which retroactively helps that picture that circulated around the Interweb earlier this year make more sense.
Enough of this. Let's just get to the album. I have shit to do tonight.
1. TUSCAN LEATHER
As you push 'play' and wait for “Tuscan Leather” to begin, you encounter the sounds of a sample being played backwards, and annoyingly so at that. Then the drums kick in over 40's production, because Aubrey meant to rhyme over a backwards sample, because Aubrey is an artist. That's how this track starts off, anyway: Drake actually cycles through three separate instrumentals, the second and third running laps around whatever the fuck Noah was trying to accomplish during the first. Our host runs through his usual bullshitting and boasting through the six-plus minutes it takes for what is essentially a rap album intro to process, and I can call it that with confidence because Drake calls it that when he starts mimicking complaints about why his intro is taking so long. Aside from the first (awful) beat, this wasn't terrible.
2. FURTHEST THING
The thing with a lot of latter-day Drake songs is that every track seems to contain at least two separate compositions that only barely tie together. That happens on “Furthest Thing”, which morphs from a laid-back relationship drama into a celebratory effort that our host would like played at his funeral, please. Or something. The chorus on “Furthest Thing” is lazy writing and only underlines why the anonymous woman pissed at him throughout is standing on the right side of the argument, but that same chorus will probably make this one of the more popular tracks on Nothing Was The Same. Groan. At least 40's instrumentals (both of them, apparently co-produced by Jake One) were alright.
3. STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM
Here's what I wrote about this track previously, since I feel it is still appropriate: "Aubrey seems to make a point of cramming as many ideas he can into any of his performances, so when I first listened to 'Started From The Bottom', the first single from his upcoming album, I was struck with just how sparse it is. Drake really isn't saying a goddamn motherfucking thing on here: there are flashes of "I used to fight with my mother" and "I still have the friends I had before I became famous" and "I'll sell you the wheelchair my character used on Degrassi: The Next Generation if you're interested", but the Drake that appears on this Mike Zombie-produced track is in full-on "[I] don't give a fuck about you"-mode, and his lyrics almost smack the listener in the face for expecting something deeper or even faux-deep (such as, oh, everything else in the man's back catalog). However, I enjoy the shit out of this song, and not just because the hook is catchy: that instrumental reaches for K-Dot moodiness before breaking down into a two-step, and is all the better for it." Now, obviously, Drake started from the bottom of absolutely nothing, but that doesn't make the song any less enjoyable. I will note that the album version is much shorter than what he used for the goofy-ass video, which is a shame: I like the beat, and the extended version (readily available with a Google search) features many moments where Aubrey smartly lets it ride.
4. WU-TANG FOREVER
I'm sure you two were sitting through my hiatus curious as to what my thoughts would be about the already-infamous “Wu-Tang Forever”, me being a lifelong Wu stan and all. Well, obviously, the title is misleading, since there isn't much truly Wu-esque about the track: the RZA vocal sample from “It's Yourz” dropped throughout isn't really representative of the Clan, since the group were themselves paying homage to T La Rock's “It's Yours". 40's instrumental is smooth otherwise, and could have benefited from being hitched to a better title. Aubrey claims that he's paying his respects to the crew, but it's hard to see that when all our host really does is name-drop the Clan a few times, although he does try, admirably, to mirror Raekwon's opening bars from the aforementioned “It's Yourz” for one of the verses. I've heard that most of the actual Wu like this song and fully endorse it, and there may even be an official remix released soon featuring the group members. My question is this: why? Are the Wu really that starved for attention from the mainstream right now that they would endorse such an obvious ploy for street cred from someone like fucking Drake? There's a Wu-Tang Clan T-shirt on sale at Target as I write this sentence: I don't think the group needs any help staying in the forefront of pop culture. And what's so special about this particular song? Had it been called anything else, critics and listeners would have dismissed it as yet another Drake love rap, albeit one that drops an out-of-left-field reference to the Clan. So, yeah, it's not even good enough to warrant the ensuing controversy. It is just a song. Pay it no mind.
5. OWN IT
“Wu-Tang Forever” rolls into “Own It”, RZA vocal sample and all, and may as well have been combined onto a single audio track, since “Own It” hardly stands out on its own otherwise. Detail's instrumental is all atmosphere without the aid of context, which was my main problem with nearly all of Take Care, and Aubrey's lines all seem to be borrowed from previous performances, which is a nice way for me to write that there's nothing original about this shit. Drizzy knows how to write a song, and I applaud his insistence on not turning in typical rap tracks if he can help it, but being an artist just because doesn't always translate into a journey the audience will gladly take with you.
6. WORST BEHAVIOR
Please. What actually constitutes Drake at his “Worst Behavior”? Certainly not anything on this mess of piffle.
7. FROM TIME (FEAT. JHENE AIKO)
Hip hop's favorite accessory of the moment, vocalist Jhene Aiko, croons a chorus that is downright sad and depressing when compared to Aubrey's musings with his father and his timeline of the women he's lusted after and lost (he would say “loved”, but I highly doubt it). The Chilly Gonzales / 40 instrumental is chill to the point of sleep-inducing, and Aiko's singing matches it well, even though she seemed to have completely different subject matter in mind, but then again, it seems that most rap songs have hooks that don't connect the dots these days. Drake sounded okay, though am I really crying about how some chick in Houston once told him that he would never be as big a star as Trey fucking Songz? No.
8. HOLD ON, WE'RE GOING HOME (FEAT. MAJID JORDAN)
The second single from Nothing Was The Same (because "5AM In Toronto" apparently wasn't good enough for the album, although I liked it) follows the “Find Your Love” template about as well as “Started From The Bottom” aped “Over” from Thank Me Later (although, come on, “Started From The Bottom” is by far the superior track). The 1980s-style production is built for pop radio airwaves (and is, in fact, currently dominating them), as is Aubrey's not-unpleasant singing voice, but ultimately “Hold On, We're Going Home” sounds fairly empty, as a lot of love songs tend to do, to be fair. While “Find Your Love” (which holds up surprisingly well today) could still be enjoyed by folks who dug “Over”, this track was clearly recorded for an audience who would find “Started From The Bottom” to be too vulgar, and that's no real way to build a fanbase, Drizzy.
One thing I have to say about Drake: he's not afraid of the music transforming behind him as he rhymes (or sings, depending on his mood). I quite liked the 40/Hudson Mohawke beat, and even though Drizzy uses a lot of it to feel sorry for himself, he turns everything around with an optimistic verse at the very end about a potential booty call. “Connect” seems to be about all of the connections our host fails to make with other people, and that list appears to include the other people at his own label. Don't get me wrong: I could give a shit that Lil' Wayne and Nicki Minaj (who Drake had previously copped to losing touch with earlier in the program) don't appear on Nothing WasThe Same. But it is rare for a rapper to not call in favors, right?
10. THE LANGUAGE
At least our host acknowledges the existence of the head of his label on “The Language”, having (uncredited) Cash Money Records CEO Birdman pop up at the very end, delivering a monologue that adds absolutely nothing to the proceedings. Which is a shame, as the rest of this track was actually pretty good, as Drake talks his shit over a dope, hypnotic Boi-1da instrumental. It's rumored that Aubrey's first verse is a response to Kendrick Lamar's infamous cameo on Big Sean's “Control”: if that's the case, well, that's good and all, but it's okay to drop a name every once in a while. Still, I kind of liked this shit.
11. 305 TO MY CITY (FEAT. DETAIL)
Not this shit, though. This was fucking stupid.
12. TOO MUCH (FEAT. SAMPHA)
Methinks the hook serves as a warning to critics: don't overthink “Too Much” too much, as it's only intended to be a rap song and not some grand meditation on existence or some shit. For a rap song, it actually works well. Nineteen85 and Sampha's beat bangs, and Aubrey rides it like a pro. There is nothing of any substance shared on here, but I refer you back to the first sentence of this paragraph. This wasn't bad.
13. POUND CAKE (FEAT. JAY Z) / PARIS MORTON MUSIC 2
The first half of this track, “Pound Cake”, features a Drake that is outright dominated by guest star Jay Z, who is in full-blown Magna Carta Holy Grail-and-I-don't-use-a-hyphen-in-my-name-anymore mode, and his verses suuuuuuuck. (Especially when he starts obsessing over cake like a four-year-old who just discovered that Rihanna song and won't shut up about it, although if you're letting your four-year-old listen to Rihanna songs, what the fuck is wrong with you?) It is interesting that, while listing fellow and former colleagues he's helped make rich, Beanie Sigel is the recipient of a very mild dis while Memphis Bleek doesn't even warrant a name drop. Huh. Aubrey tries to get by over Boi-1da's decent beat by attempting to pass the line, “You know it's real when you are what you think you are” as a deep thought, which is ridiculous. Hova vacates just as the back half of the song, or the “Paris Morton Music 2” half, kicks in, and Aubrey returns to prominence, delivering a quickie over a drum-heavy development. Why this wasn't just split into two separate tracks I'll never know.
The deluxe edition of Nothing Was The Same comes with two additional tracks.
14. COME THRU
The first bonus track sends mixed messages to the listener. At first, Drizzy is in full come-on mode, trying to pick up an old acquaintance, but then he starts rapping about cooking up some crack and takes what someone will eventually interpret as brief shots aimed at Kanye West (and, specifically, his flow on “Black Skinhead”). Nobody will ever believe Drake the trap rapper, so why even pretend? He could have easily kept the focus on “Come Thru” limited to convincing chicks to come over to the crib, but instead he had to be an “artist”. The result is a scattershot massacre with a Noah "40" Shebib soundtrack.
15. ALL ME (FEAT. 2 CHAINZ & BIG SEAN)
Ah yes, “All Me”, the song where Aubrey dismisses haters by declaring that all of his success is due to his talent and work ethic and nothing else, all during a track that features two other rappers for no discernible reason. Perhaps Drake was trying to be funny? Anyway, our host turns in the best verse over this Key Wayne concoction that has grown on me over the past couple of months, bookended by two members of 'Ye's G.O.O.D. Music team, which certainly calls that studio-created bullshit G.O.O.D. Music / Young Money beef into question. Tity Boi sounds okay enough, and Big Sean comes across as annoying as hell (kicking off his verse by shouting, “Ho. Shut the. Fuck. UP!” will create that impression), although he did make me chuckle with a quick reference to his current squeeze, Naya Rivera from Glee, which I thought was weird since she's clearly rebounding off of a doomed relationship with the red M&M, but I digress. Unlike the version of “All Me” that leaked to the Interweb, the album take features one hundred percent less Aziz Ansari sound bites (sorry Raaaaaaaandy) and also cuts off right after Sean finishes up, instead of leading into a second Drake verse that fades out in the middle of his performance (a well-documented pet peeve of mine).
Yet another bonus track is available to listeners if you purchase Nothing Was The Same at one particular big-box retailer.
16. THE MOTION (FEAT. SAMPHA)
So if you pick up Nothing Was The Same at Best Buy, you get an extra song featuring Sampha. An extra song that only starts to pick up toward the end of the goddamn track. An extra song that Drake gave away for fucking free online a few weeks ago. What I'm trying to say is, don't go out of your way to buy this track.
THE LAST WORD: On Nothing Was The Same, Drake tries, and fails, to sound unaffected by the influences surrounding him. He isn't a tough guy, so his many attempts at trying to pose as someone you shouldn't fuck with go unnoticed, but hanging out with the likes of Lil' Weezy, Rick Ross, and every other rapper popular today that you two probably don't care for certainly makes him feel like a threat. He's like the rapping version of Justin Bieber, standing alongside the Floyd Mayweathers of the world while simultaneously trying to woo your girlfriend with some poetry he just wrote in his dream journal. Clearly, Drake succeeds when he's just being himself, which means he is one moody, depressing motherfucker sometimes. Nothing Was The Same actually isn't completely terrible; it fares much better than Take Care, which I thought was pretty much shit. The beats on Nothing Was The Same help Drake win the day: even though his lyrics are far too similar to other shit he's written in the past, he can still recite them well enough, and when handed a banger (such as "Started From The Bottom" or the aforementioned "5AM In Toronto"), he typically excels. What, you all thought I was going to hate this shit? It won't ever be my go-to anything, but some of it is entertaining enough, and the Drakes of the industry serve their purpose. The missteps, though, are horrible.