Album Review: Drake – Nothing Was The Same [@drake]
The worst thing Drake could ever do as an artist would be to compromise exactly what makes him such a lightning rod for critics. His vulnerability as a rap artist who bears his soul about family, women and insecurities on toppling fame have been his hallmark since 2009’s So Far Gone. For the past two years, he’s been a radio magnet, an unescapable force that tugged more in tracks with his own pull (French Montana’s “Pop That”, DJ Khaled’s “No New Friends”) than anyone else. Considering that his cold war with Kanye West on the radio abruptly ended the moment West decided to flip off the radio for integrity on Yeezus, Drake now finds himself on top of radio — and possibly commercially as well.
Four years ago this was predicted, a by product of what seed West planted on 808’s & Heartbreak and it in tune spurred Noah “40” Shebib & Drake to craft a sound that dug itself in sonics, majestic chords while making sure every common thought from machine gun snare drums and disturbing high hats to go ignored. Nothing Was The Same as a concept changes zilch for Drake or “40” but it feels like a victory lap while pouting and reminiscing on the throne.
Unlike his previous two retail releases, Nothing Was The Same takes far more transitions into effect and instead of letting rap just thrust us into a melodic haze of everyman lounge singing, the act is front and center. It’s not completely abandoned though. Swamped out landscapes on the piano marching “Wu-Tang Forever” pull everything into hyperdrive: Drake’s crooning double entendres about owning the game and conquering a woman, his trolling of rap hard heads with the title despite it sampling Wu’s “It’s Yourz” and even walks into a schmaltzy “remix” of the track itself with “Own It”. His flow patterns don’t feel like conversation pieces on this go round, they feel like therapy for him, bouncy and playful on “The Language”, a clear resurrection of his “Versace” flow that dominated the summer and elsewhere turned into punched scoffs and boasts on “305 To My City”. It’s never truly clear if “The Language” wants to be a shot back at Kendrick Lamar for that “Control” verse but Drake’s done more sniping at that seismic rap movement in interviews, “Are you still listening to it?”
At times it never really feels like Drake is outwardly pained by the women he’s either scorned or been scorned by. He reflects about Courtney, the Hooters waitress from Peachtree who’s now soon to be married on “From Time” and the inclusion of names, flesh and identities to these women make the barbs even more petty, forcing these women to be either jealous of his new fame or happy they escaped it all together. They’ve been characters of his since he lusted after Bria Myles. He won’t apologize for it, nor will he apologize to the stripper who believed he could never be bigger than Trey Songz. Still, baiting calls to them such as on “Connect” outline how he’s willing to just let these things happen to him. Houston rider music never sounded so bare, especially when backed by a DJ DMD sample. Nothing Was The Same is complicated catharsis for Drake, far easier to take shots at everyone who doubted him back when he stole his mom’s credit card to buy bags for his girls.
Towards the end of Take Care, Drake promised he’d be far more meaner on the junior release and if “Started From The Bottom”s procession from the ground bleeps and whirring drums wasn’t an indication, “Worst Behaviour” is the standard. It’s the dirtiest thing Shebib has ever crafted for Drake who’s basically pushed himself to yelling in a rage, “Muthafucka’s never loved us!” while doing his best Puffy spitting out champagne pose from “Hate Me Now”. He trump every horn in his body through a trifecta of beat tweaks on the album opener “Tuscan Leather” and even ponders about going to his high school reunion just to protect himself from those that aren’t him on “Pound Cake/Paris Morton 2”. Even if Jay Z is spouting off “cake” a few more times than necessary, he’s still pulling teeth from Beanie Sigel on a couple MCHG throwaway verses of opulence.
Maybe it was right to lead this album off with a Curtis Mayfield sample, to force us to sit back and enjoy Drake on a high that still decides to scruff itself inside of his lows. Even if he let the neon glow of “Hold On, We’re Going Home” do every trick 80’s Miami styled R&B pulled off with flair, we’re still stuck to him and all of his emotional bones. “Too Much” might be the most naked thing from this album, a wonder about being the best back inside of a small Houston music hub hoping Bun B would give his blessing and fans would actually fall for the visual aspect of the music, not just the audile. His mother, championed throughout Take Care’s interpersonal “Look What You’ve Done” is reduced here to a recluse, unable to finish life while she still has it. And that’s what Drake may want for the rest of us with this LP. To see him for who he is — our conflicted rap superstar.