Review: Drake, ‘Take Care’

Download: Drake, “Marvins Room”

Because so much of what’s already been written about Take Care is framed through already acquired taste and his past recordings, let me start with this: Last month, I was not a Drake fan. I didn’t want to turn on my radio and hear what I previously wrote off as a gimmicky vocal carbon copy of Lil’ Wayne, or be reminded of that certain Canadian teen drama, or ever hear the rambling “hook” of “Forever” again, if possible.

But at my own obligation to accept any potentially good music at approximate face value, I began warming up to the idea of taking Drake’s music seriously after noticing just how much prodigal beatsmith (and belated, baby favorite) Shlohmo virtually worshipped him. Trusting (and perhaps even wanting) the tastes of Shlohmo, I figured there must be something to Drake’s music I hadn’t yet discovered or noticed. I’ve yet to bother looking back at his old recordings, because I haven’t had time; Take Care has been on repeat for me for weeks.

Even at 17 tracks, Take Care isn’t thematically expansive. Mr. Graham begins assuring us that he’s the industry’s brightest star in “Over My Dead Body.” And in closing track “The Ride”, he asserts over The Weeknd’s falsetto cries that his plight is far too full of fake friends, expensive drinks, plotting temptresses, large sums of money, and unheralded success to be related to. To end the album on such a note is a bit strange though, because what precedes “The Ride” is a collection of emotionally drenched tracks that are as powerful as they are strangely relatable. Of course, as summarized in the first four bars of “Headlines”, Drake’s one over-arching message throughout the album might simply be “I made it.” But at the end of “Headlines”, a radio hit but a forgettable track in relation to the rest of the album, Drake outlines through spoken word a formula he stays faithful to throughout: Forget rattling on about his opponents or luxuries, but to rather “…make this an open letter, about family and struggle and it taking forever / About hearts that you’ve broken and ties that you’ve severed.”

These lines layout why Take Care isn’t lyrically a typical mainstream hip-hop release. Any lines of machismo are drastically outweighed by heartbreak and an apparent yearning for love and monogamy (?!). For instance, the beginning of album highlight and single “Marvins Room” finds Drake at a late night crux, and rather than calling any number of “bitches in [his] old phone”, he dials that unattainable past lover. She unflinchingly anchors the chorus by asking “Are you drunk right now?”, demoralizingly disregarding what are sober intentions. And over a Noah “40” Shebib-produced instrumental that sounds like powerlines conversing, slowed distant sirens, with bass hits that’ve been filtered through club walls, it’s easy to imagine we are in Drake’s place: alone on some cold sidewalk, or zoned out Saving Private Ryan style in the back corner of an emptying club.

Indeed, while Drake is undoubtedly the star of the show here, with down-to-a-science transitions between sweet R&B crooning and often breathless rapping (the first verse of “HYFR” is near superhuman), the surrounding pieces are what make Take Care one of the best albums of the year. The production is regularly, flawlessly tasteful and rich. And there are common threads that tie the tracks together, so nicely that even a more upbeat track like “Under Ground Kings” isn’t completely on an island from slower tracks like “Cameras” or “Doing It Wrong.” Even those tracks not supplied by the surehanded Shebib work well, and are worthy of investigation into their sampled sources. The title track beautifully rips the remarkably Jamie xx-Gil-scott Herron collab from earlier this year; Cashe N Cash’s sample on the actually-touching “Look What You’ve Done” of this youtube clip from Static Major is nothing short of genius.

And fellow Toronto native The Weeknd‘s appearances are the ultimate complement on each of the five tracks he’s credited for, especially “Crew Love” and the aforementioned “The Ride.”  Some guest spots are more forgettable: Lil’ Wayne has long lost his former appeal by adopting a (err…Drake-esque?) sit-down, tame persona, and changes nothing here. Rick Ross doesn’t disappoint, but “Lord Knows” makes one wonder why Drake’s doing a mixtape with Ross and not, say, The Weeknd.

What is worrisome about Take Care is that it might be too frequently overlooked or misunderstood–that is, many mainstream hip-hop fans won’t want to spend the necessary time with the slow stretches, and many folks too tired of the lesser radio hits will never feel compelled to delve into Take Care’s depths. But what’s refreshing is this clearly isn’t a lazy collage of radio-hopeful singles bent solely on being sold. Rather, Drake and his team are committed to producing something different, musically artistic, while confidently hoping that a unique product paired with its guaranteed commercial success will create a brand new pedestal to view the competition below. It’s an admirable, bold strategy, and here, it seems to have succeeded.

“The Ride” feat. The Weeknd