The paradox of Drake is, arguably, what has made him one of the most commercially successful artists in contemporary rap. He’s “real” but he’s not “real”; his half-rap, half-sung confessions of love, lust and loneliness do not adhere to rap’s slowly dwindling (but still present) hyper masculine bubble. But sharing emotions evokes them, and as a man that began as an actor before becoming a rapper, Drake understands this. His latest album, Nothing Was The Same, implies that a change has occurred in his life. The themes he’s become known for remain the same but it is how he approaches them that has changed.
Since his crossing over into mainstream success with 2009′s So Far Gone, Drake has become an influential figure in both rap and pop music. “Soft,” the taboo tag that the rapper earned with his newfound success, has become much less dismissive and more distinctive throughout his career. With success has come the celebration of fame, friends and fantasies turned reality. But with success also comes sacrifice: losing and straining relationships amongst past lovers and family members. And in trying to maintain these relationships, Drake has become distant with the person most closest to him: himself.
On the third verse of “Tuscan Leather,” Drake says, “Wanted to tell you, ‘accept yourself’ / You don’t have to prove shit to no one except yourself / And if you end up needin’ some extra help, then I could help.” Drake serves as the savior to everybody but specifically women. There’s the unnamed women of “Tuscan Leather” and “The Motion,” and Paris from “Paris Morton Music 2,” among others. Drake’s desire to “save” women–that do not necessarily need help–attempts to veil the real issue: Drake is in need of saving.
Rihanna embodied this in Take Care‘s title track: “So if you’ll let me, here’s what I’ll do / I’ll take care of you.” But uncertainty keeps Drake from making the final step toward companionship: “So what are you? What are you, what are you so afraid of / Darling you, you give but you cannot take love,” sings Jhene Aiko on Nothing’s “From Time.” What makes Drake such a compelling artist and, to some, a “generation defining artist,” is his humility. He’s unwavering about love one moment and indecisive the next, as his idea of “the one” drifts from a stripper named Porscha to a Hooters’ employee named Courtney. It’s at times laughable, miserable and unbelievable yet relatable: an accurate portrayal of love and its unpredictability.
With age, Drake seems to be more emotionally responsible. He rarely, if ever, hides behind the cliches that made him a meme sensation, and there is nothing close to a “Marvin’s Room” on Nothing. Now, he prefers to discuss his problems with his father over a couple of Coronas, than by himself with several shots. Drake encourages his mother and uncle to be better to themselves, and slowly the rapper is beginning to take his own advice.
The production, for the most part, is some of the most compelling work done on any Drake album. It’s atmospheric, slow and uneasy, one hazy recollection to the next, with “Hold On, We’re Going Home” being the album’s only moment of joyful clarity.
However, there are moments where Nothing is stagnant. “Wu-Tang Forever,” an ode to Drake’s past sexual encounters disguised as a Wu-Tang homage, is a slow and unwanted follow up after “Started From The Bottom,” one of, if not the only club-approved song from the album. And “Own It,” which follows after “Wu-Tang Forever,” is just as dull.
Nothing also makes one wonder just how self aware Drake really is. Prior to the album’s release, Drake had dropped “Girls Love Beyonce,” a song that was expected to appear on Nothing but did not. Regardless, the song included a telling line halfway through: “All my young boys ’round me saying, ‘get money and fuck these hoes’ / Where we learn these values? I do not know what to tell you.” Drake is both the angel and the devil on rap’s shoulders. He’s contradictory in a way that is compelling and frustrating, questioning some of rap’s tropes while actively participating in them. “Fuck you bitch, I’m more than high / My momma probably hear that and be mortified / This ain’t the son that you raised who used to take the Acura,” Drake states on “Worst Behavior.” With the rapper at his most cathartic, it’s moments like this that are the most engaging and revealing: when Aubrey Graham and Drake are pitted against one another.
“I’m honest I make mistakes, I’d be the second to admit it,” states Drake on “Tuscan Leather.” With each album it seems as if Drake makes a resolution to become more accepting of himself, even if that means acknowledging some of his less admirable qualities. He’s the narcissistic, all-Versace-adorned king of contemporary rap, and a voice of a generation that, as he says himself, lacks patience. But Drake is just as conflicted as those that look up to him, which makes his journey all the more fascinating.
Nothing Was The Same is an open diary that conveys emotions in a way that’s unseen in current pop music. Drake understands that the game of love is not dictated by one sex. Everyone can play the game, and not everybody is playing by the same rules. As Drake’s first solo album released on his own OVO Sound imprint, Nothing Was The Same is a foreshadowing of what’s to come as Drake continues to redefine himself as an artist.