To re-assess an album as actually really great when most people, about a year ago, labelled it as either terrible or, at best, something that “doesn’t really deserve all the hate” (i.e., “not bad” rather than “good”) might seem sort of deliberately contentious--basically, taking the unpopular side of a cultural/musical argument because the more popular alternative has been worn out past the point of use. In that respect, Drake is as good a musician as any to swoop in and heroically defend as artistically legitimate; Drake-haters often employ arguments that are not only repetitive but also occasionally questionable. Look at any musical discussion on Drake and his album Thank Me Later
and you’ll find proof of the “repetitive” part of that claim, but the “questionable” component is a little harder to establish, especially considering almost all arguments against the guy have been bashed into the collective minds of Internet music communities that even the rare fan usually has to agree with all those negative traits Drake is often charged with (wannabe, awkward, whiny, and oh my God, he was on Degrassi
) and then proceed to why he or she can enjoy the music in spite of those flaws. Though it would almost certainly hurt my argument to categorize all listeners who dislike Drake as doing so for the same reason, a good example of the typical skeptic/hater mindset is located in Sputnikmusic user Bulldog’s otherwise pretty solid review of Thank Me Later
: “Moreover, when Drake - a biracial Candian [sp] named Aubrey who played a wheelchair kid on DeGrassi - swears, I [Bulldog] die a little inside.”
Ouch. It’d be pretty easy to attribute the majority of Drake-hate to this kind of prejudice (he’s biracial AND Canadian! How dare he swear!
), but I can actually sort of see where Bulldog’s coming from. When rappers come from sources or cultures different from those we’re used to, much too often they come packaged with some sort of gimmick, whether that be groan-inducingly pretentious “socially conscious” rapping (Immortal Technique) or idiotic frat-boy party music (Asher Roth). So, it’s no problem that some rap fans feel a little suspicious when this biracial Canadian dude who acted on some cheesy teen show suddenly steps on-stage, demanding that you thank him, whether that be now or later. The problem lies with when the music really means no harm--and can even be exceptional--but is still met with, at best, hardened skepticism or, at worst, outright abhorrence. In a way, this makes me dislike gimmicky artists like Roth even more; because of the low standard they set, genuinely legitimate and enjoyable artists are immediately dismissed because of their situational proximity to the ones that actually deserve the hate.
“But wait,” most of you will say, “the lyrics!!” I admit, this is one of the aspects of Drake’s music for which I’m sort of cornered; trapped inside one of those “yeah
, but” responses described above. Drake isn’t a great rapper by any typical means (although he’s really not significantly worse than, say, MBDTF
-Kanye). But he’s a real
one, and a strangely comforting presence. He’s funny and awkward and (yes) sexy and emotionally pained and sometimes all of those things at once, all while thrillingly staying true to himself. On the lovely “Karaoke,” Drake spits, “Isn’t it ironic that the girl I want to marry is a wedding planner?” Who knows what Drake’s intention was when he originally wrote those words down--tossed-off joke? Personal confession?--but, given his bare and forthright delivery, it comes off as surprisingly touching and honest.
Lyrically, that’s mostly what Thank Me Later
thrives on: even when he’s pleading some anonymous love interest to “put those ***in’ heels on” or boasting as he does on “Over,” he sounds delightfully sincere, and that undeniable “everyman” charm shines through. Although he’s grateful for his success (he even makes sure to thank mentor Lil’ Wayne on the lush opener, “Fireworks”), he knows that a lot of the appeal of his sleeper hit mixtape So Far Gone
was that of the underdog (bar a few A-list guest spots, it’s inarguable that the kid basically rose to the top on his own), and so it is with Thank Me Later
, even if he’s now as much of a household name as many of the people who help him out by throwing in verses and such. In fact, now he’s helping them out as much as they are him, a healthy relationship inadvertently summarized in this little exchange between Bun B, formerly of UGK, and the man himself on “Miss Me”: “Drake, you got ‘em, right?” urges Bun B, to which Drake coolly replies, “Yeah, I got ‘em, Bun.”
Basically, Drake doesn’t exactly need
a little help from his friends, but he appreciates the effort anyways, and nowhere is this more apparent than on monster standout “Shut It Down,” where Drake and The-Dream just completely lay the mack down
, causing a thousand orgasms all around the world at the same time while still yearning for that one “student working weekends in the city,” a perfect summation of Drake’s flawed, human charisma but also his superhuman methods of executing it. He brags occasionally, but--for the most part--he never emits that “I’m way better than you” vibe that many modern rappers do, even though he probably is
way better than you.
All this, and I haven’t even gotten to the songs themselves! As with much contemporary mainstream rap music, Thank Me Later
is, in addition to the lyrics, largely about the production and hooks and choruses, all of which the album excels in. In particular, every single production here is wonderful, mostly lush and beautiful but also sometimes big and celebratory, as in singles “Over” and “Fancy” (although the latter switches to a more introverted style in its second half). Drake’s oft-criticized singing (although, by my observation, it’s more his choice
to sing more than his actually singing that is criticized) is also uniformly excellent, his smooth croon doing exactly what it was built to do: soothing and seducing. Even “Find Your Love,” one of the more difficult to defend tracks on here--the thing is pure schmaltz--boasts one of the most gorgeous and catchy choruses of the year, spurred on by Drake’s pitch-perfect delivery. Then, just as you think he might be trying to turn you on or, uh, find your love a little too hard, he dares to put a little swagger in his step and turn in with the braggadocious closer “Thank Me Now,” (central lyric: “Huh, okay, you can thank me now”) backed up by a typically awesome Timbaland beat. The transition between “Find Your Love” and “Thank Me Now” is a perfect moment on an album full of them, an hour of subtly thrilling and never less-than-enchanting music packed with disarming humanity and skill, full of emotion but somehow flowing easier than just about any other album of its type. So yeah, you can thank him now. He’s earned it.