Care Package (released August 2, 2019)
Nobody’s been harder on ol’ Aubrey Graham on these here Internetz than I have.
Despite hordes of hype, mountains of platinum plaques, a garage full of Grammys and enough mindless stans to build an army of White Walkers, as your friendly neighborhood album reviewer I’m only here to speak on the quality of music.
And, objectively speaking, it’s been a LONG time since we’ve heard consistent quality from Drake. In fact, he’s just a couple of years away from becoming Jay Z’s old “one hot album every 10 year average” line.
In this case, that “one hot album” is 2011’s Take Care, the album that elevated Drake from promising upstart to legit star. Creatively, he’s been trying to recapture that magic for years.
That’s what makes Care Package such a brilliant move. Stealing a page from Nas’ book, Drake has repackaged a batch of random loose gems from the Take Care era into one compilation. Unlike Nas, whose The Lost Tapes II featured songs that were either unreleased or buried deep in the farthest corners of the Internet, pretty much all of Care Package’s tracks were pretty prominent online despite never landing on an official album. Most of you reading this have heard these songs before.
So while The Lost Tapes II was more about rediscovery, Care Package is all about nostalgia.
And nothing is more powerful than nostalgia.
It’s funny to hear the youthfulness in Drake’s voice on the opener “Dreams Money Can Buy.” Sure it’s the usual Drake cockiness but instead of being in cruise control (basically, anything dude has dropped since If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late), there’s an a jolt of electricity in his flow. He’s at the top of his game and still hungry.
That momentum flows through “The Motion” too, which features an addictive, understated bounce that is as infectious as anything from his glory years.
Drake is an unabashed stan of 90s R&B and that shines through on Care Package. “Draft Day” chops up a Lauryn Hill sample nicely while “Girls Love Beyonce” incorporates Destiny’s Child for the hook. The real gem here is the underrated “I Get Lonely Too,” a moody remake of TLC’s “Fanmail” that rides the “vibey/atmospheric/R&B noir/add industry buzzword here” wave that The Weeknd thrust into the mainstream in the early 2010s and Aubrey quickly Shang Tsung’d for himself. It’s still one of my favorite R&B Drake tracks.
As you’d expect from this stroll down memory lane, Drake wisely peppered Care Package with some of his strongest lyrical outings. “Jodeci Freestyle” is peak Drake lyricism:
Drizzy still got some ’06 in him
IRS all in my books getting they Matlock on
All this capital it’s like I left the caps lock on
It’s like every time I plot a return I seem to shift the game
See I can still talk keys without pitchin’ cane
Pay yourself and owe yourself
Before you come to my city just know yourself
Know where you at
I’m good in every town, I’ma be there doing shows where you at
The lights hit women screaming like Jodeci’s back
And it’s always great hearing throwback J. Cole as well – no Great Value Teddy Pendergrass shower singing from Cole World here, thankfully. The album also includes two of Drake’s better “on location” tracks – “4 p.m. in Calabasas” and “5 a.m. in Toronto,” a couple of longtime favorites that have aged quite well.
But don’t be fooled by those nostalgia goggles: This compilation takes great care to accentuate Drake’s best trains but some of his more annoying habits still peek through. The lethargic “Days in the East” is still tiresome, creeping along at a snail’s pace and quickly forcing the listener to tune out. “My Side” features that shouty, off-key yelling/singing style that has infested a lot of Drake’s more recent albums, for the worst.
Even long-celebrated tracks like “Free Spirit” with Rick Ross and “Can I” with Beyonce still don’t impress despite their lofty reputations – the former is pretty forgettable outside of the “tat my name on you so I know it’s real” line while the latter still feels unfocused and unfinished.
Listening to “Paris Morton Music,” a song I’ve heard a billion times before, really clarified why Days of Future Past Drake is so much more palatable than Current Drake. His current songs about his ex’s drip with cynicism and bitterness – it’s like he’s annoyed that he has to explain why things didn’t work out. But back then, while he makes EVERY excuse in the world to cover up his own shortcomings, he tries his hardest to tell his side of the story. He wants to make the listener (and his girl) believe that he’s a good guy.
Care Package isn’t just a fun flashback to days gone by, it’s a trip back to an era when Drake was determined to make you believe he was the best in the game, instead of just taking it all for granted.
Thank good ol’ nostalgia for reminding us of better days.
Best tracks: “Jodeci Freestyle,” “Dreams Money Can Buy,” “Paris Morton Music”
4 stars out of 5