I certainly wouldn’t have pegged a teen actor from “Degrassi: The Next Generation” to have both a respectable and successful hip-hop career. However, as I’m writing this, Aubrey Drake Graham’s second album Take Care holds the number one spot on the Billboard 200 and has garnered enough acclaim to give one the impression that he’s one of hip-hop’s artistic leading lights. There are a plenty of reasons this sentiment holds weight; few hip-hop artists since Kanye have been able to muse so candidly about fame, reflecting on all of its joys and pitfalls with as much depth of feeling as Drake has. But it’s not just his candor that makes him so easy to love; he also has shown the ability to synthesize a unique sonic milieu fusing hip-hop, futuristic R&B and atmospheric beats.
Take Care is certainly a few notches above its predecessor and the effort that went into making the album a cohesive listen paid off handsomely. While Thank Me Later veered recklessly from party bangers to after party slow jams to lonely ruminations, Take Care focuses mainly on the latter, but with a large enough palette to keep things fresh from one song to the next. Not to say there aren’t upbeat entries here, but Drake’s mournful singing takes center stage almost as much as his raps do. The range of producers here also tells the story, from longtime collaborator Noah “40″ Shebib to fresh faces like The Weeknd and Jamie xx. Much like the work the latter two do on their own, the nocturnal aura here is palpable.
Like so many famed rappers before him, there are plenty of paradoxes in Drake’s world and much of Take Care does a good job of dissecting each one. For as often as Drake dwells on heartbreak and the pitfalls of fame, he also celebrates his superstar position and eagerly boasts about his indulgences. Ultimately, he can sell it because he’s particularly adept at connecting the listener to his experiences on a very human level. He may celebrate how proud he is of Nicki Minaj or play us snippets of his grandmother leaving him a message thanking him for putting her up in a comfortable place and somehow it comes across as completely natural and relatable. It should all be too much and yet it’s so outlandishly heartfelt that it’s an oddly addicting. When your album is essentially an open diary, you’re bound to over share, and clearly Drake does his share of over sharing. But when he’s confessing that he’s “…going through her phone if she go to the bathroom,” the insecurities he’s letting us in on are actually quite endearing. The fact is he can pull off lines like “you can’t sleep thinking that he lies still/ So you cry still, tears all in the pillow case,” without once becoming too overwhelmed with sentimentality, and that’s impressive.
Even as hip-hop continues to collide with the futuristic R&B of Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, et al., Drake remains inimitable; a truly singular artist and one who shows growth with each passing release. Taking the dark sonics of the aforementioned artists and giving them a more hushed tone, Drake manages to focus as much on melody as he does his flow and Take Care is all the better for it. Sure, it’s easy to dismiss an artist as sincere as he is as sappy or overly sentimental, but in truth, he’s able to skirt that line without truly going over it. And even in the post-Kanye hip-hop realm we’re in, that line is one precious few rappers out there are even willing to come within a mile of.
Stream: Drake – “Take Care”