In trying to parse just what bothers me about Drake, I can’t help but compare him to Kanye West, particularly the success of last year’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” While hip-hop still rages at hip-pop, here’s a whole load of so-called emo rap, both with the self-inflicted trappings of conflicted princes/kings; both with so much about feelings; both with artists expressing doubt and cosmic reflections through some singing, a lot of rhymes and a bevy of guest spots.
As I’ve written before, there’s something about October’s Very Own that feels spectacularly unearned. I think the heaviest weight of last year’s “Thank Me Later” was shouldered by guest talent and the endless hype from the Young Money movers. Drake’s abilities as a singer have grown somewhat on this new album, and that goes further to say that I think Drizzy is working harder than ever. But his rhymes, and his editing process, still have a ways to go, before his invitees aren’t always threatening to upstage him.
Take for instance “Make Me Proud” with Nicki Minaj
. It takes song No. 10 into the 18-song monster (“Monster”?) for Drake to even threaten having some fun; this, after he waffles between the hair-smoothing bravado of “Over My Dead Body” and half-lamenting his “overconfidence” and rappers copping his “soap opera” style in “Headlines.” He swims in big, beautiful bloat of “Crew Love” featuring The Weeknd, “Take Care
” with Rihanna
and early arrival/fan favorite “Marvin’s Room” with Kendrick Lamar: these three make up a triple-punch to the tear ducts, but you can’t help to notice some vocal inferiority compared to the Bajan pop star and the rising co-Canadian Weeknd.
The same could be said of Drake’s verses on “Lord Knows,” with an enormous gospel choir sound sample and Rick Ross woof making Drake’s nasally long vowels sound like a whinny. Still, he’s at a lyrical and topical high on that track, musing, “They take the greats from the past and compare us / I wonder if they'd ever survive in this era / In a time where it's recreation / To pull all your skeletons out the closet like Halloween decorations.” He shouts back at his detractors who use his emoting as a negative; then he turns around and includes a great romantic narrative “Look What You’ve Done” like a retort (only after one’s survived the sappy snoozefests that are “Cameras/Good Ones Go Interlude” and “Doing It Wrong." Sorry, Stevie Wonder
“HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right),” despite it’s stupid refrain, is a right-smart shared track with mentor Lil Wayne
, as the two muse their own happiness through the lens of women. It makes up for the potshots (pun intended) on “Shot For Me,” Drake’s bitterness and pomposity oozing over into sentiments of “I made you” (“The way you walk, that's me / The way you talk, that's me… First I made you who you are, then I made it / And you're wasted with your ladies / Yeah I'm the reason why you always getting faded”). Remember Chris Rock leading his lady in through the recurring chorus “Yeezy taught me?” on Kanye’s “Blame Game?”
Hell, I don’t love either one of them for their personality. I could seeing loving Drake for his production, which saves smaller-scale songs like closers “Practice” and “The Ride” from riding off into the bonus track sunset. Another standout, aforementioned “Take Care,” is solid for its backend, too, with Jamie xx remixing his Gil Scott-Heron collaboration into a boiling-over beat. The production work on these songs are more dynamic and multi-dimension than some of those on other good hip-hop albums this year – including those from Wale or J. Cole.
This is all to circle back to earning it. Drake does, at times. Sometimes his histrionics get the better of him, and at two albums and a mixtape, he needs to blink and bag some of the tears for later. At 25, he’s already made room for his brand, of hip-hop and R&B; but when it comes to a masterwork, fans may have to wait (and thank him later).