Mos Def once said, “Rap went from sellin’ crack, to smokin’ it.” But with a new decade upon us, perhaps rap is beginning to avoid crack all together. Enter Aubrey Graham, Young Money artist and pop-rap-R&B hybrid. The Canadian actor starred as an injured hoopster on teen drama DeGrassi in the early 2000’s, and made the transition from acting to music circa ‘06. His 2008 mixtape So Far Gone made waves, and the man we now know as Drake was signed to Lil Wayne’s Young Money record label in 2009. His infectious R&B-toned “Best I Ever Had” caused teenage girls to swoon, and his hit “Forever” featuring big-timers Kanye West, Eminem, and Lil Wayne infiltrated the radio off the bat. Now, after much anticipation, he drops his debut studio album Thank Me Later. Does it live up to all the hype? All the big name guest artists? All the anticipation? A better question is, did it even deserve any of those things? The answer is a big, fat, firm ‘NO.’
As with most mega-hyped, major release albums, Drake uses his guest spots, largely, to generate publicity. He implements Alicia Keys and The-Dream to branch out to the soul and contemporary R&B crowds, respectively. He gives label mate Nicki Minaj a nod, and Young Money mentor Lil Wayne a spot as well. Other big names like Atlantan trap rappers Young Jeezy and T.I. are handed slots, and NYC hip-hop kingpin Jay-Z also gets a feature. Normally, this would be trouble with so many artists of different styles appearing on one album, but due to Drake’s style of pop inclined hip-hop with R&B-tones and the fact that all features come in the form of a duet, no stylistic clashing is to be found. However, the problem is found within the weakness of their respective contributions. While T.I. and Lil Wayne put in good verses on “Fancy” and “Miss Me” respectively, other guests flop. Alicia Keys poorly sings a tacky chorus, The-Dream pathetically flounders with the new concept of “decent lyricism”, Nicki Minaj isn’t anywhere near her A-game, Young Jeezy is ignorable while boasting as he isn’t even doing his hilariously bad trap raps, and Jay-Z is depressingly past his prime.
Drake, like many other rappers, lacks variety in terms of subject matter. He brags about himself and his luxurious lifestyle, discusses the pros and cons of being rich and famous, and narrates some of his various courtships of, and experiences with, beautiful women. However, Drake’s ballads are cheesy and too bland to be appreciated, and his braggadocio comes in the form of wince-worthy punchlines and atrocious awkwardness. Whether it be saying he wants to get married to Nicki Minaj “just to say [they] did it” and because “her verses turn [him] on” or uttering facepalm-inducing lines like “Your girl hot like ice” and ridiculous name drops like “Wu Tang n*gg*s, we tryna get that cream”, listening to Thank Me Later can be quite uncomfortable at times. Moreover, when Drake - a biracial Candian named Aubrey who played a wheelchair kid on DeGrassi - swears, I die a little inside.
However, as an artist incarnate of rap, pop, and R&B, one shouldn’t be listening to Drake expecting vivid storytelling, witty punchlines, or meaningful lyrics of any kind. No, people will listen to Thank Me Later, with the hopes of hearing some sugary pop goodness. But Drake fails to even deliver on that. His vocals, whether rapping or singing, are too cookie cutter and predictable to keep one interested. Every escalating croon or pitch drop happens in my mind before it happens on the track, and the sounds of his voice are just annoying. His rapping drones and is so incongruously arrogant and his singing is weighed down with autotune, and sounds watery and feminine.
Even the production – which is such a crucial element when it comes to being popular and selling records – is largely bad. When the production is good, it’s great. But, sadly, it’s rarely acceptable. Drake’s production lackey 40 produces or co-produces on eight of the fourteen tracks, and he has no place being a producer on an album that will eventually go platinum. His pop-influenced tracks feature excessively prevalent percussion and overly downplayed pop sounds. Therefore, his cuts aren’t zealous enough to appeal to the pop crowd, and aren’t rap-ish enough to appeal to the hip-hop heads. All the other instrumentals are good, with Boi-1da coming up with a few gems, Kanye West and No I.D crafting a beat that could have been one of the better tracks on 808’s & Heartbreaks in “Find Your Love”, and a surprisingly stellar instrumental by Swizz Beatz with “Fancy”.
If the rest of the album showed the relative promise of tracks four through seven, then Drake would have the makings of a decent debut album. From the preened splendor and Drake’s acceptable cockiness of successful single “Over” to T.I.-led, rise-and-fall, chirping string Swizz Beatz instrumental on “Fancy”, the late beginning to middle of Thank Me Later is the best part of the record. In addition to featuring the best two tracks, it features two tracks that, while bad, stand out amongst their awful peers. “Missed Me” features a pretty good contribution from Wayne and a great chorus on the Nicki Minaj-featured “Up All Night”.
On first few seconds of the first track, the rising and crackling of fireworks can be heard. A metaphor to Drake’s sudden, theatrical rise, the fireworks are intended to be a message to people that, Drake has arrived. But to me, rather than signifying a bombastic explosion, the fireworks representing a long, drawn out stint of fame, and Thank Me Later is the ‘pretty’ fizzling out and sparkle-away disappearance to an illustrious career. Farewell, Drake.