Monday, September 16, 2013
Album Review: Drake, Nothing Was The Same
Nothing Was The Same (to be released September 24, 2013)
Ah, Drake. Hip hop's golden child gets no respect.
He has two double platinum albums in an age where going gold is a pipe dream for most artists. His songs infest radio like roaches in your momma's silverware drawer. And he's received cosigns from nearly every major player in the game.
But despite all that, Aubrey Graham has had it rough from Internet critics. Me included.
Most tend to downplay his talent because of his rather, ahem, soft persona. No doubt, my grandma's spongy hair rollers have a harder edge than most of Drake's songs. But who cares? I'd rather a man embrace his inner Cabbage Patch Kid than pretend he's Marlo Stanfield in these streets.
My criticisms of Drake are much more substantial. When he's at the top of his game, few of his peers can touch him. But when he phones it in, it's disastrous. The result is widely uneven material - his soulful ballads are sometimes riveting, other times it sounds like he just awoke from anesthesia. Likewise, his raps can be razor sharp, filled with furious punchlines and profound concepts; other times they're as dull and repetitive as a Nick Jr. theme song.
Sadly, Nothing Was The Same is more of the same - the album swings from incredible to curing insomnia at a moment's notice.
But in true Drake fashion, when he's good, he's GOOD.
The album's biggest victory is its production. An ensemble cast of producers, most notably longtime Drake collaborator Noah "40" Shebib, have crafted a soulful vibe that permeates throughout the entire LP. It makes the set sound much more cohesive than many other rap album releases this year.
The finger snaps and piano keys, along with a moving intro from Jhené Aiko, starts "From Time" off on the right foot. It's the perfect setting for Drake to get all introspective about his shaky love life. It sounds a bit more sincere (and much less pandering) than many of his other love songs.
As effective as Aiko is on "From Time," soul man Sampha takes things to another level on "Too Much." His aching vocals are so good that Drake could shift into cruise control and let Sampha carry the track. To Aubrey's credit, he does the opposite, dropping profound bars that sound like a family counselor trying to stifle the miscommunication and drama that plagues our households.
And speaking of lyrics, nothing matches the emotion of "Pound Cakes/Paris Morton Music 2." "Thinking back on how they treated me, my high school reunion might be worth an appearance/make everyone have to go through security clearance." He's defiant but oh so relatable. Jay-Z shows up too, but his appearance is almost a footnote on the track. It's far and away the best song here.
It's too bad many of the remaining tracks are nowhere near as good. "Connect" sounds like a comatose Frank Ocean song - 2:05 minutes into the track I literally checked to see how much longer the song was. It was that boring. "305 to My City" creeps along without much personality but I'm sure it'll light up every strip club from here to Tornoto.
And the hotly debated "Wu-Tang Forever" not only fails as a tribute but creatively as well. Why would you make a tribute to the grittest rap group of all time a mediocre radio love track? Especially one with lyrics as bland as this one? The album is actually filled with Wu-Tang references (including the especially bland "Own It") and while I'm sure he's a fan it often comes off as a cheap ploy for street cred. Dude, you don't have to mention Cappadonna or "C.R.E.A.M." every other song. And you thought The Game's name-dropping was bad.
Nothing Was The Same can be a frustrating listen. As fun and carefree as current single "Hold On, We're Going Home" is, tracks like the "Versace" ripoff "The Language" should not be played while operating heavy machinery. They're that boring.
Everyone has an opinion about Drake and this album won't change your mind. Whether you're a Drake stan who considers him the best in game or you think he's just a Care Bear with a five o'clock shadow, Nothing Was The Same stays the course.
Yep, Nothing Was The Same is pretty much the same.
Best tracks: "Pound Cakes/Paris Morton Music 2," "Too Much," "Hold On, We're Going Home"
3.5 stars out of 5