In 2009, no one would have thought that Aubrey Drake Graham, an up-and-coming Canadian rapper and Degrassi star, would make it big. Nowadays, he’s all anyone’s talking about in the hip hop industry. After his So Far Gone mixtape and his lucrative 2010 debut Thank Me Later, Drake was climbing up the unpredictable ladder of success and fame. It wasn’t until several collaborations with fellow rappers, including Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, that Drake would become the next best thing in hip hop. Two years since his acclaimed sophomore record Take Care, Drake has become an international phenomenon, not just as a singer/rapper, but as a definitive paradigm in pop culture and for popularizing ubiquitous phrases (“YOLO,” to give an example). Despite the rapid growth in album sales and artistic recognition, Drake persists his career with a quiet yet determined attitude as he is surrounded by an overwhelming environment. Incidentally, this past week, Drake released his most personal and most unique album to date, Nothing was the Same.
Unlike his other albums, the guests on Nothing was the Same are minimal and mostly unprecedented, marking Drake’s voice and songwriting as dominant forces on the record. Although some would say that lack of collaboration can be destructive towards a popular artist (i.e. Mac Miller’s disappointing Blue Slide Park), Drake already contains a certain control on how to make an album both listenable and compelling without resorting to mediocrity. Plus, it’s kind of a break from his last two star-studded records, which ranged from Alicia Keys to Rihanna to Rick Ross.
On songs that don’t include featured artists, Drake comes into top form, both lyrically and musically. On the mystifying 6-minute opener “Tuscan Leather,” Drake vents his anxious feelings about fame, media attention, and glory over a glossy beat and a pipsqueak sample, made by rising producer Noah “40” Shebib, who created most of the soulful rhythms heard on “Nothing was the Same.” Much like other rappers, Drake mentions his ways with the ladies on “Furthest Thing” and “Connect.” But unlike certain rappers, he takes the subject matter to a personal level, talking about failed romances and his ambivalence towards falling in love. Occasionally, the 26-year-old Toronto rapper delves into monotonous territory, like on the ambient “Own It.” However, he manages to keep the album interesting on the passionate “Wu-Tang Forever” and funky highlight “Worst Behavior.” Additionally, his most popular solo single off Nothing was the Same, “Started from the Bottom,” has furthered his progression into dominating both hip hop music and pop culture, as the song’s title has become frequently used as an everyday expression among young teenagers.
Prior to the release of Nothing was the Same, Drake distributed several songs — “The Motion,” “Jodeci Freestyle,” “Girls Love Beyoncé,” “5 AM in Toronto” — that ended up not making the cut, but became viral Internet hits and held some significance towards Drake’s musical choices. These songs weren’t particularly personal nor did they ponder the captivating topics that Drake would mostly rap about in some of his biggest songs (“Over,” “Best I Ever Had,” “Headlines”). In fact, most of them were about Drake rapping with self-deprecating lyrics and tone. However, it was one way of showing how Drake is developing as an artist who can still make great music, regardless of the subject matter.
In addition to Nothing was the Same’s plethora of evocative songs, it also features one of Drake’s all-time best singles: the smooth, 80s contemporary radio smash “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Drake repeatedly expresses his true love towards a woman in the alluring hook, “I got my eyes on you/You’re everything that I see/I want your hot love and emotion endlessly.” Though it sounds corny on print, Drake’s surprisingly spot-on falsetto and guest Majid Jordan’s crispy vocals drives “Hold On, We’re Going Home” as a romantic, sensuous ballad. While Drake’s themes on “Nothing was the Same” primarily focuses on love and fame, he also discusses his relationships with friends and family on the smoky, R&B-influenced “Too Much.”
It’s amazing to see how an unlikely rapper turn into one of the decade’s most popular and celebrated hip hop artists. Drake’s journey has led to many roads that include Grammy awards, rap feuds, and platinum records. But he’ll ultimately be remembered several years from now not just as that award-winning, record-selling rapper, but as an individual who helps bring humanistic and emotional issues into hip hop, instead of solely centering on wealth and fame.
Suggested Tracks: “Tuscan Leather,” “Started from the Bottom,” “Worst Behavior,” “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” “Too Much”