August 16, 2009

For Promotional Use Only: Drake - Room For Improvement (2006)


Like most of you two, I've found myself following the blossoming music career of Aubrey Plaza Graham, a man who performs under the single name of Drake. I first heard him, technically, on "Every Girl", an Auto-Tuned joke of a song credited to Young Money, Lil' Wayne's label-slash-running mates (Drake allied himself with Wayne early on in his discography), but I found it interesting that he was able to garner radio airplay for a single ("Best I Ever Had") that was released on a mixtape, especially a mixtape that was not released by a major label, mainly because Drake was not signed to a major (or a minor, for that matter) label at the time. But radio stations across the country latched onto the song as the next big thing, and it was played so often than I think I actually agree with Curtis Jackson's comments as to how the record was mysteriously "worked". After hearing it over eight thousand fucking times, I, like most of you two, don't really like the song as much anymore. I used to, but playing a song to death will do that to a person.

Anyway, looking at the considerable amount of buzz Drake has built up for himself in the industry, I figured it was the right time to find out just what exactly the big deal was. A native of Toronto, Drake started off as an actor with a rather large role on Degrassi: The Next Generation (on which he played Jimmy, a role he retained until, apparently, just recently, when producers let go of the entire cast to create a new bunch of high school students for Canadian audiences to lap up), but he also had the aspiring dreams that every rapper had at one point. In 2006, he teamed up with DJ Smallz to release a mixtape called Room For Improvement, a title which basically diffuses any possible criticism any listener may have by admitting that Aubrey is still a rookie, but watch as I try to write about it anyway. (It was recently re-released off of the strength of "Best I Ever Had".)

Room For Improvement didn't see any of its singles get released to radio: hell, I wouldn't be surprised to find that there are a lot of Drake fans that have no idea that this even exists. Room For Improvement is a true mixtape in that fashion. But the best way to track the progression of a career is to start at the beginning and work your way to the present, so here we are.

Side note: Drake was, apparently, also in Charlie Bartlett, which is a movie that I've been meaning to watch for quite a while. Who knew? Besides people who have actually seen Charlie Bartlett, of course.

1. INTRO
What's a mixtape without an intro? What's peanut butter without that weird oil that collects at the top? Why is the sky blue? Why is water wet? Why is Salma Hayek so damn hot? We may never know the answers to these questions.

2. PIANIST HANDS (INTERLUDE)
An interlude coming right after an intro? At least this one is more creative than most.

3. SPECIAL (FEAT VOYCE)
Drake's flow sounds pretty good, and starting your mixtape with a love rap is a ballsy move in and of itself (unless you're an R&B singer), but this song is simply boring as shit. Next!

4. DO WHAT YOU DO
Drake spits over some old school Run DMC-esque drums to decent effect. Good to hear that his cockiness was evident even on his very first mixtape. The hook is pretty stupid, but this is hip hop we're talking about. This wasn't that bad, actually.

5. MONEY (REMIX) (FEAT NICKELUS F.)
Drake sounds so assured over this song that I've completely forgotten that he is, basically, a brand new artist who's better known for acting. Nickelus F. (a rapper who is blowing up the blogs in his own right) sounds pretty good, but Drake gets the higher marks for his performance.

6. AM 2 PM (FEAT NICKELUS F.)
I was hoping for a cover of the Christina Milian song, but no such luck. I wasn't impressed with this shit, although Aubrey's attempts at speed rapping are almost adequate.

7. CITY IS MINE
How exactly is Drake considered the new version of the Fresh Prince when Will Smith was a rapper first and an actor after the fact? Did I miss something? There aren't nearly enough Rachel McAdams references in hip hop, though, and Drake does his best to rectify that issue over an ultimately forgettable radio-friendly (read: vapid) song. But still: Rachel McAdams references. Take that as you will.

8. DRAKE'S VOICE MAIL BOX #1
One of three similarly named interludes.

9. BAD MEANING GOOD (FEAT SLAKAH)
zzz...huh? What? There's a song playing right now? You're fucking with me, right?

10. THRILL IS GONE
This is pretty smooth, admittedly, and Drake flows effortlessly, but skilled lyrical effort aside, this song evaporates from your mind.

11. MAKE THINGS RIGHT
Drake basically makes his point that he's the most successful Canadian import since Ryan Reynolds. He actually isn't that far off. This was pretty decent, especially when he starts to discuss other Canadian rappers, but curiously fails to name any names.

12. VIDEO GIRL
The hook is ridiculous, but Drake scolds music video models for some of the choices they've made while acknowledging their struggles within the industry, and he isn't awful. He ultimately gives the power back to the video girls, though, and the line where he mentions that his cousin can't speak but knows all of the words to “Tip Drill” (also known as Nelly's “E.I. (Tip Drill Remix)”) is kind of funny.

13. DRAKE'S VOICE MAIL BOX #2
One of three similarly named interludes.

14. COME WINTER
Drake's story about a love that wasn't meant to be is pretty engaging, and his observation that his girl “used to play piano, but now she doesn't wait for Santa” was pretty interesting (although it doesn't make any fucking sense when written out, I realize now). About halfway through, the song switches beats and takes on a much more optimistic demeanor.

15. EXTRA SPECIAL
Steals Liberally borrows from Stevie Wonder's “My Cherie Amour”, which is such a distinctive-sounding track that it draws attention away from Drake's lyrics. However, songs such as this are what mixtapes are for: uncleared samples pave the road to hip hop stardom.

16. ABOUT THE GAME (REMIX) (FEAT TREY SONGZ)
Drake adds some lyrics to an already existing Trey Songz track (which originally appeared on the soundtrack for Coach Carter, as is my understanding, although I've never heard the original). I don't understand why so many of the tracks on Room For Improvement are censored, but maybe my copy is defective. This was alright, I suppose.

17. ALL THIS LOVE (FEAT VOYCE)
This just sounds like a generic R&B song. It doesn't come off as blatantly terrible, but there's hardly anything to it. And Drake manages only the second Blu Cantrell reference I can remember in hip hop (the other one coming from Kanye West, although I'm sure if I think hard enough I can find an instance where The Game dropped her name, since he drops everyone's name, including mine and yours). How fucking old is this song if Blu Cantrell was still relevant at the time?

18. DRAKE'S VOICE MAIL BOX #3
One of three similarly named interludes.

19. A SCORPIO'S MIND (FEAT NICKELUS F.)
I actually enjoyed Nick's verse more than Drake's. Truthfully, though, I was more intrigued by the title, because as anybody who is married to a Scorpio knows, it can be...interesting. Sadly, listeners are not offered any additional insight.

20. S.T.R.E.S.S.
This is dope as fuck. In the second verse, Aubrey's take on racism hits pretty hard. Hopefully his debut album (Thank Me Later, set for release later this year, allegedly) features more tracks of this caliber and less “Best I Ever Had”.

21. TRY HARDER
And then we're presented with this shit. Maybe Drake should have taken his own advice.

22. KICK, PUSH (REMIX) (FEAT LUPE FIASCO)
For the final song on Room For Improvement, Drake borrows Lupe Fiasco's first single (if you don't count the violent piffle he recorded prior to Kanye's “Touch The Sky”), He inserts himself nicely enough, but I wish he had gone with something a bit more energetic to swipe, like maybe Lupe's “I Gotcha”. Just a thought.

23. U.P.A. OUTRO
And we're done. The piano work sounds alright, I have to admit.

SHOULD YOU TRACK THIS DOWN? Most of the songs on Room For Improvement show, well, a need for improvement. Drake's confidence behind the mic hasn't trickled down to his selection of beats, and with a heavy reliance on R&B instrumentals, he's already set the bar much too low. Basically, he couldn't do anything but get better. Some of these songs knock, and Drake has obvious talent, giving listeners enough to warrant following his career ups and downs, but as a debut album-slash-mixtape, Room For Improvement should be considered for diehard Degrassi fans only.

-Max

13 comments:

  1. How the fuck could you review Drake and not Wale?

    Out of the new rappers Wale>> Roth and Drake.

    He's wack and doesnt have any talent.

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  2. if ur gonna start reviewing mixtapes review raekwon's 'Blood on chefs apron'. its tight

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  3. nice review, agreed.

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  4. this mixtape is way better than his "best i ever had" song, thats for sure

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  5. Drake is not the best I ever had in my ipod or cd player! This guy should make a return to acting. There is nothing special about Drake. He just has a lot of hype surrounding him.

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  6. For reals dog, how can you not have a Wale review at this point? Although I suppose I don't really need a review to know that The Mixtape About Nothing and Paint a Picture are, unequivocally, the shit.

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  7. who the f**k buys this shit , save your money for the new rakim or skitz album

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  8. holy shit drake is the truth.....his new artist rick fouche does work tho... they both got this song the foundation that is supper ill!!!

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  9. I could careless about Drake (think he's waaay overreated) but in reference to the Blu Cantrell reference, check Master Ace's Disposable Arts album "Dear Diary".

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  10. well guys lets ignore this mixtape and lets buy lupe CD

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  11. drake is flower pussy girl shit for fags

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  12. AnonymousJune 06, 2010

    men this is wack and you guys are doin a review about drake how a bout a review about the geto boys or KRS-One Return Of The Boombap and KRS-One 1995 album you guys forgot those men

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