You're forgiven if you didn't realize that rapper-slash-singer Aubrey "Drake" Graham actually took a break shortly after releasing his major label debut, Thank Me Later, in the summer of 2010. I say this because, even though he apparently went into some sort of hiding (to hear him tell it), I swear that Aubrey has been all over rap radio for the past three-and-a-half years, with his cameos and guest appearances outnumbering his actual solo songs, which still get some version of airplay to this day.
But, apparently, Drake went on vacation or some shit (unlike me, who obviously took a break and left that Common write-up on the front page for the entire holiday season - you're welcome!), and his return to our chosen genre was marked by two separate tracks in late summer 2011: DJ Khaled's "I'm On One", his collaboration with Lil Wayne and Rick Ross that has earned a Grammy nomination, and his own "Dreams Money Can Buy", which was supposed to be the first single from his sophomore effort, Take Care. "I'm On One" consists exclusively of trash talking, which you two probably figured out when you read the guest list, but "Dreams Money Can Buy" was more interesting (if a bit stiff, to be honest), thanks to its moody, smoky vibe, which was supposed to signify Aubrey's maturation as an artist.
Subsequent solo songs that were leaked by our host himself followed this trend (including "Marvin's Room", the only one of the first round of leaks that actually made the final cut of Take Care), with critics and fans falling all over themselves to praise the hell out of Drake's new work before the rest got the chance. Aubrey's never been the kind of guy to hide his true feelings (see: all of his previous mixtape releases), so I'm not exactly sure why everyone thought that this was a new leaf being turned over by our host: emo rapping has always been his bread and butter (he just so happens to somehow score with chicks even though he whines an awful lot). But Aubrey switched gears with "Headlines", the actual first single from Take Care, a song on which he essentially complains about how his life has changed ever since he hit the big time. Because that's how you win fans, you see.
Anyway, Take Care was lavished with praise from critics the world over upon its release in November 2011. Everybody seemed to love the hell out of the album, and in this case I don't use the word "album" lightly, as everyone gushed over the project as a consistent whole. Most of Take Care was handled by longtime Drake collaborator Noah "40" Shebib, and the guest list is kept to a minimum (although it wouldn't be a Drake album without Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, and Rick Ross swinging by). Aubrey claims that Thank Me Later was a rush job and that he had all the time in the world to craft Take Care, so his excursions into experimentation (alongside collaborator Abel Tesfaye, also known as R&B act The Weeknd) were expected, but hiring Stevie Wonder just to play the harmonica at one point most certainly was not. Still, Take Care ended up becoming one of the best-reviewed hip hop projects of all of last year.
So I figured it was finally time to give this a shot, especially since it dropped smack in the middle of my stunt blogging month (which gave me a very easy way to ignore the hell out of it). After several false starts (which is why I didn't write this before Christmas), I bring to you...
1. OVER MY DEAD BODY (FEAT. CHANTAL KREVIAZUK)
Take Care starts off much more melancholy than one would expect, as Drake's two shit-talk-filled verses (the latter of which includes what I'm probably misinterpreting as a sly potshot aimed at Kanye West and Jay-Z) clash heavily with producer Noah “40” Shebib's depressed piano keys and slightly-more-hopeful synths. However, the end result sounds better than that last sentence would have you believe. Lyrically, Aubrey still sounds exactly the same, which may be a dealbreaker for some of you two, but since I've never hated his flow (just
some most of his choices), that isn't a problem for me. The piped-in vocal from the guest star is appropriately creepy for a song entitled “Over My Dead Body” that otherwise isn't threatening in the least bit, and the brief sound bite of a DJ Screw song hidden at the very end was an unexpected touch. Also, this wasn't a rap album intro, so huzzah!
2. SHOT FOR ME
Oh fuck, Aubrey's an “artist” now? God damn it. His singing vocals on here last just long enough to act as a surrogate “fuck you” to anyone who might have sort-of liked “Over My Dead Body”, and his rhymes, while admittedly focused on a singular theme, were all bullshit. I find it difficult to determine exactly what Drake was going for with “Shot For Me”, which sounds like the horrifically ugly spawn of a loveless marriage between rap and R&B: 40's beat isn't engaging in the least fucking bit, and Aubrey comes off as so much of a pussy that his female audience probably throw their (unused, hopefully) tampons up on stage during his live shows. Pretty early in the evening for a misstep, don't you think?
This actual first single from Take Care, unlike all of those other aborted singles that apparently died in the sample wars but are readily available for resurrection to anybody with a wi-fi connection and half a clue, goes a long way toward proving to Drizzy's fanbase that the days of So Far Gone and the like are long over, as “Headlines” sounds like a rich asshole's natural extension on Thank Me Later's, um, “Over”. Drake sure spends a fuckload of time complaining about how rich and lonely he is, wearing his heart on his sleeve while on the receiving end of half-assed handjobs from drunk and hot twenty-two year old chicks in the VIP section of the club, doesn't he? Don't twist my words or my intentions here: I like Aubrey as a rapper, and he flows like water over this 40/Boi-1da instrumental as only he can. But he has no actual lyrical content on this song. He literally wrote a song about how rich he is and how everything in his life is the same, but different, yet still the same, and oh so different simultaneously. There are only a handful of rappers who can get away with that, and Aubrey hasn't been around long enough yet to be listed as one of them. I have a feeling a lot of you two enjoy this song for what it is, but ask yourself a question: what exactly do you like about it? Because the odds are fairly good that you don't fucking relate to our host's self-imposed misery. (Side note: the version of “Headlines” on the iTunes version of Take Care is longer than on the copies available from every other fucking retailer. I've heard of bonus tracks, but including longer versions of actual album cuts? What a low blow, Aubrey.)
4. CREW LOVE (FEAT. THE WEEKND)
I dug the experimental nature of the beat, but “Crew Love” sounds a bit out of place on Take Care, mainly because it's (unofficially) a song by one-man band The Weeknd featuring Drake. Drizzy doesn't even register until a bit after the halfway mark, and that's only to spit a random verse that just as easily could have been added to pretty much any of the other Drake songs in his back catalog. This passes off the pressure to Abel Tesfaye, whose crooning of nonsensical bars that are probably intended to sound shocking except that all R&B artists curse like motherfucking sailors is alright, but not alright enough to carry a song that shouldn't really belong to him. I get it: Drake was hungry, and he stepped out of the studio to get a sandwich. But he still should have contributed something to his own goddamn song.
5. TAKE CARE (FEAT. RIHANNA)
Maybe it's because of the semi-club-ready instrumental (which 40 samples from a remix of Gil Scott-Heron's “I'll Take Care Of You” from Jamie xx, who receives co-production credit), but Rihanna sounds a lot like Dev, that chick who works alongside production duo The Cataracts and likes her bass down low when she's drinking. This title track is oddly distancing: it might as well be running away from you while it plays out. The guest star, who clearly doesn't need to put this shit on her resumé, sounds interchangeable; Drake's bars are devoid of, well, everything; and the audience is ultimately left with two distinct feelings: emptiness and annoyance, specifically of the “really fucking” kind. “Take Care” is all style, no substance, and it loses the plot about twenty minutes before the track ever begins. Bleh.
6. MARVIN'S ROOM
Some critics believe that it was kind of ballsy for Aubrey to release a song (and include it on his sophomore album, recorded at a time when he's still actively courting his audience) where he is portrayed as a complete fucking asshole who wants to break up his ex-girlfriend's new happy relationship. Just to get a quick piece? Just to fuck with her head? All of the above? Probably. Here's the thing: I am not some critics. I don't think that “Marvin's Room” is especially different from anything else Drake has released to date: the man has never been afraid to reveal his feelings, regardless of how the listener may react and regardless of how he comes across. In that respect, I can agree with our host: an artist shouldn't be overly concerned with how he appears as long as the message resonates. 40's minimalist beat is as cold and calculated as Drake's ulterior motives, which involve bragging about how many girls he's fucked this week and having that somehow cause his ex to drop the panties. “Are you drunk right now?”, the female voice mumbles throughout, and “Marvin's Room” is a surprisingly coherent inebriated response. There aren't many rappers not named Kanye West or KiD CuDi who would ever even attempt to write this kind of song, so Drake deserves some kudos for that. Only some, though: I could go the rest of my life never listening to this track a second time, and I would be just fine.
7. BURIED ALIVE (INTERLUDE) (FEAT. KENDRICK LAMAR)
Curiously, Aubrey allows Kendrick Lamar, the Compton-based newbie who otherwise has no actual affiliation with Drake, Young Money, Cash Money, or October's Very Own, to spit a not-so-quick one-verse wonder without any interference: since more people undoubtedly bought Drake's Take Care than Game's The R.E.D. Album, this interlude serves as Lamar's official crossover into the mainstream. He sounds alright over 40 and Supa Dups's low-key beat, but not impressive enough to get anyone to run out and buy his own shit. Oh well. (This interlude originally shared a track with “Marvin's Room”, but the iTunes version separates the two distinct songs from each other, marking the only difference between iTunes and every other retail version that I actually approve of, because the listener would be left with what appears to be an eight-minute version of “Marvin's Room”, a proposition that might have caused you to put a gun in your mouth.)
8. UNDER GROUND KINGS
This song, which would suck your dick for a quick cameo from Bun B, features the first instrumental on all of Take Care thus far that could also work for an entirely different act. Drizzy does well playing the role of a hip hop rookie whose deep love of Southern artists resulted in his current career path, and although the hook is overly wordy in an oddly non-Aubrey kind of way, I still actually enjoyed this track. Maybe it was just good to not hear Drake crying or complaining about his fame. But yeah, still, he should have included some guests: I wouldn't mind the T-Minus/40 beat running for a bit longer.
9. WE'LL BE FINE (FEAT. BIRDMAN)
If Aaliyah's ghost ever visits hip hop, I have no doubt that she's both touched and weirded out by Drizzy's stalker-ish attempts to name her as his primary influence. Especially because of that tattoo. Anyway, working with Young Money comes with the occupational hazard of having the CEO of its parent company, Cash Money, eventually insisting on appearing on your album: thankfully, after Drake gratefully ceded his own “Money To Blow” to his label boss's boss back in 2009, Birdman returns the favor by only appearing during the outro of “We'll Be Fine”, and even then only in an ad-lib capacity. This song was merely okay otherwise, although I did enjoy it a bit more than most anything off of Thank Me Later, so that's something, maybe.
10. MAKE ME PROUD (FEAT. NICKI MINAJ)
Aubrey isn't stupid: of course he's going to put his famous coworkers on Take Care. And considering that Nicki Minaj hasn't yet fizzled out and has, in fact, only become more aggressive in keeping her name and her ass in the spotlight (see: the video for the remix to Big Sean's “Dance (A$$)”), it makes complete sense that the label would peddle “Make Me Proud” as a single. However, this trifle is plain as fuck, and boring to boot: both Drake and Oneka sound like they recorded this shit under duress. Skip.
11. LORD KNOWS (FEAT. RICK ROSS)
Wielding an instrumental that he probably offered to both Jay-Z and Saigon first, Just Blaze steps back into the spotlight ans hands Aubrey a beat that's entertaining as fuck. Drizzy spits a Cappadonna “Winter Warz”-esque long-ass verse that doesn't say much, but sticks with the status quo, which will be enough for Aubrey's fans. I realize that last sentence sounds a bit negative, but there really isn't anything wrong with his performance on “Lord Knows”. Officer Rick Ross, whose popularity in our chosen genre has fucking exploded in the past two years, kicks his contribution over a slightly different beat, but while I can't remember shit about his verse, I also can't remember anything especially objectionable about it, either. So there's that.
12. CAMERAS / GOOD ONES GO
This is probably the kind of track that Common played in a loop on his Zune while writing his Drake dis track. No, not “Sweet”, the other one. Both halves of this track are so inessential to the hip hop movement that I'm seriously considering charging Drizzy for the seven-plus minutes he stole from me that I'm never going to get back. Asshole.
13. DOING IT WRONG
I appreciate that Aubrey has sworn his allegiance to both our chosen genre and R&B. But his transitions back and forth between the two have become more jarring as time has passed, and I can't imagine “Doing It Wrong” becoming anybody's favorite song, even with the out-of-left-field harmonica assist from motherfucking Stevie motherfucking Wonder. No, seriously. I have to admit, that is one hell of a co-sign. But the song doesn't deserve that high a level of praise: in fact, it kind of blows dick. Also, I'm thirteen (or twelve, depending on your copy of Take Care) tracks into the album and it feels like I've been writing about this shit for the past week and a half. Groan.
14. THE REAL HER (FEAT. LIL WAYNE & ANDRE 3000)
Lil Weezy makes a slightly mean-spirited reference to Stevie Wonder during his verse on here. Nice job with the sequencing, Aubrey. Anyway, this track features a backsliding Drake performance and a disinterested Andre 3000, as the J.D. Salinger of hip hop rhymes about relationships and only his mentioning Adele helps the listener ascertain that it's a freshly-written performance. 40's slow-moving beat sounds like all of the other slow-moving beats on Take Care, and all of these tracks are starting to sound like much. I have a feeling that I already know how this write-up is going to end.
15. LOOK WHAT YOU'VE DONE
Aubrey has the rap game on lock, if by “rap game” we're talking about him being a sub-par Vegas lounge singer performing all of Take Care in a smoky jazz club while the three people in the audience hold a loud conversation even though they're all sitting nowhere near each other. To be fair, Drake does actually rap on “Look What You've Done”, but his bars have transcended generic shit-talking and have now equated style with depth. Then again, he was outclassed by motherfucking Lil Wayne, of all people, on the previous track, so what else was he expected to do?
16. HYFR (HELL YA FUCKING RIGHT) (FEAT. LIL WAYNE)
Although I liked how weirdly specific Aubrey spun his first few bars, I ultimately couldn't stand this shit. T-Minus's instrumental will probably be a favorite of every hip hop fan under the age of fifteen, but the truth is that the music on here is generic as shit, and the verses from both Weezy and Drizzy left me feeling chilly. Probably didn't help that Lil Wayne's list of rhetorical questions during his hook includes, “I heard you fuck your girl, is it true?”, a sentence that has never once been uttered in the history of time because of how fucking stupid it sounds. Unless this shit was included on Take Care as a satirical response to Drake's own music, there wasn't much fucking right about it.
Aubrey shaves his writing time by half on “Practice”, on which he liberally borrows entire sentences from the Cash Money Billionaires staple “Back That Azz Up” (from Juvenile, surprisingly, although Weezy did appear with some ad-libs on the original track). As such, this song sounded like two of Drake's incomplete thoughts mashed together just in time to meet the deadline to turn Take Care over to the label for mastering. “Practice” is so disconnected that it doesn't even have anything to do with itself. So it goes.
18. THE RIDE
On this finale, Aubrey drenches his three verses in so much smugness that it's easy to overlook the fact that none of the segments have anything to do with each other. The production, handled by Doc McKinney and Abel Tesfaye, was interesting (although the crooning was a bit trite) in that it doesn't fully blend in with the rest of Take Care, and Drizzy promises that his next two albums will be even better, which was nice of him, but by saying as such, it's like he's admitting that Take Care won't be all things to all people. Well, at least the party's finally over.
Unless you bought Take Care off of iTunes, that is. Because if you did, you have two more songs that you have to sit through in order to get your money's worth.
19. THE MOTTO (FEAT. LIL WAYNE)
T-Minus's production is more high-energy than almost everything else on Take Care, but that's not too hard to pull off: a surly teenager crawling out of bed at two o'clock in the afternoon after sleeping for fourteen hours would sound more alert than the beats on this project. Drizzy and Weezy kick a glorified freestyle session that approached the concept of “fun”, with Aubrey's sleazy-as-fuck contribution doubling as the happiest he's sounded on the entire album. “The Motto” isn't a very good song (it barely even qualifies for that descriptor, even with the inclusion of a shitty chorus), so it was left off of the regular program for a very good reason, but for what it was, it could have been much worse.
20. HATE SLEEPING ALONE
The chorus on this other bonus track makes Aubrey sound so goddamn sensitive that just looking at sugar on a grocery store shelf could give him a severe toothache, and, appropriately enough, it could go a long way toward him gaining an even larger female audience. Which makes the fact that all of his other songs are about banging bitches pretty fucking funny to me. Anyway, this would have actually fit on Take Care, but that doesn't mean it was worthwhile to listen to.
THE LAST WORD: That's it? Drake couldn't find three more songs to stretch Take Care over the one hundred-minute mark? If you're not familiar with sarcasm, allow me to speak bluntly: Take Care is waaaaaaay too fucking long of an album: it's as though Aubrey didn't understand that he could stop recording at any time. But the fact that nearly all of the songs sound the same makes it appear that Drake just doesn't have anybody on his staff to assist with quality control: having too many yes men around can spoil you. There are some good songs on Take Care (although I can only think of “Lord Knows” and “Under Ground Kings” as I write this sentence, I know that there's at least one more), but they're drowned out by Drake's need to have every track sound moody and melancholy, so that his shit-talking, focused mainly around his wealth and his intimacy issues, can achieve a greater level of depth due to the contrast in styles. Aubrey seems to be aiming for Ghostface Killah's title as hip hop's most “emo” artist, a classification I'm sure Pretty Toney would cede in a fucking heartbeat. Drake has his niche, and he works it well, but listening to over an hour of the same song played with slight twists coming through every six minutes or so is a tiring proposition, and I cannot in good faith ask anyone to follow through with it. Take Care would have made an excellent EP, but as a full-length album, it's lacking. Yeah, I said it.