Drake's debut album, Thank Me Later was a good record that was stifled by familiar traps of 2000s hip hop; too many guest stars, too many attempts to be all things to all fans. It strained the rapper's chances of dropping a debut that exemplified his unique vision. That's not the problem on his sophomore effort Take Care.
This time around, Drizzy Drake is allowed to be himself. That's not really a revelation, for fans that followed the rapper's mixtapes, this sounds more like the Drake of 2009, the Drake many fans expected to hear on his debut. This is the Toronto rapper in all of his mopey, emoting, half rapped/half sung glory. But that doesn't mean the album hits every mark it attempts; but it does mean that Drake has grown artistically and seems more comfortable being himself.
The opener, "Over My Dead Body" finds Drake once again lamenting the tropes of being young and famous. He's not saying anything particularly new here, but his pensiveness is less treacly than it seems later on in the album. Relationships are (as expected) front-and-center on the rapper's mind; "Shot For Me" is a sorrowful tune about a relationship that failed due to Drake's burgeoning career and features production that wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Spandau Ballet song from 1983.
That's not a diss, either.
"Headlines" is the first shot of life on the album, though its only aggressive by comparison to the solemnity that opens the album. "They say they miss the old Drake--girl don't tempt me" Drake raps as he picks apart his imitators and fans' expectations over Boi 1Da's rat-a-tat drumbeat and pulsing synth strings. The title track, which features Rihanna, has a great drum track that evokes a tribal feel (reminiscent of Kanye West's 2008 single "Love Lockdown") and has a great mix of heartfelt emotion and club pulse. The T-Minus-produced "We'll Be Fine" is the most trunk-rattling tune on the album, with Drake's singsongy delivery gliding over slow bass grooves for a feel reminiscent of 2009's "Houstatlantavegas."
The overly 'sleepy' feel of the album can make for great background music or an extremely boring listen--depending on your taste. The Weeknd pops up on "Crew Love," and the song sounds like virtually every other track Drake's sing-songy buddy has released up to this point. And while beatsmith Noah “40” Shebib's synth-heavy productions are almost an inseparable part of Drake's sound at this point and those moody soundscapes fit Drake's lyrics and vocal delivery; it can be a bit monotonous and numbing on an album that's this long.
Andre 3000's guest verse on "The Real Her" was the album's most talked-about moment leading up to its release--and for good reason. We're at a point where seemingly every 3000 guest appearance only adds to the reclusive rapper's legend, and he doesn't disappoint. The only problem with having Three Stacks and Lil Wayne on a Drake track together is that it makes Drake's lyrical shortcomings a little more obvious. The other celebrated guest appearance is Stevie Wonder, who adds some inconsequential harmonica to "Doing It Wrong." And "HYFR" is the one moment on the album where Drake seems to genuinely (gasp!) enjoyhimself, with a hook that's sure to be repeated ad nauseum by clubgoers and frat boys for the rest of the year.
Overall, Take Care is a success and a better representation of Drake than his previous album. For the critics who dismiss his focus as too narcissistic and too full of po-faced emoting; well--this album will pretty much validate everything you hate about Drake. But for fans, this stands as an exciting next step for one of this generation's brightest stars. And if it bolsters his confidence as an artist, that can only mean more great things to come.