Drake ‘Nothing Was the Same’ – Review

9 Oct

‘Tuscan Leather’ is the most ecstatic song Drake has ever recorded – 6 minutes of delirious beat and samples that are twisted to make it sound like a demented Kanye West production from a decade ago. And it’s dripping with the most unconvincing bravado you can imagine. ‘Comin off the last record, I’m getting 20 million off the record, just off these records, nigga that’s a record.’ As an opening gambit it’s unexpected – Since when has anyone listened to Drake to hear cheap puns and cheaper vanity? ‘I could go an hour on this beat’ – You get the feeling he tried. Luckily about half way through the song things start to unravel in the best possible sense. ‘Not even talking to Nicki, communication is breaking, I dropped the ball on some personal shit, I need to embrace it. I’m honest, I make mistakes, and I’ll be the second to admit it.’ This is more like the Drake we’ve come to expect; funny, self-deprecating, revealing and unflinchingly honest. Although he gets off to a slightly unconvincing start, by the end of ‘Tuscan Leather’, the album’s opening track, he’s completely won you over. It alerts you to the notion that this is his most conflicted album yet.

‘Nothing Was the Same’ is more complicated than ‘Take Care’, although the links with that record are clear. Nothing IS the same exactly, but it’s certainly not a complete reinvention. Drake still places sincerity alongside insincerity and smack-talk alongside heart-talk. He’s not wholly convincing in either department for that reason – he’s too sweet-natured to give good smack talk and he’s too vain and antagonistic to give good heart talk. He’s a rapper with a poet’s heart or a poet with a rapper’s swag. The beauty is that he doesn’t sound at home anywhere. ‘Somewhere between psychotic and iconic – somewhere between I want it and I got it – somewhere between a mistress and commitment’ as he puts it. He’s a unique conundrum in the hip hop community. Utterly relatable – a man who expresses ancient thoughts on love and loss in 21st century Tweet sized sound bites. The writer he reminds me most of is Alex Turner, another dude who writes in memorable, brief fragments rather than extended narratives. Like Turner, Drake is also fond of details; these tunes are dripping with proper nouns, to the point where we can name a dozen of the women who have come in and out of Drake’s life. ‘The one I needed was Courtney from Hooters on Peaches, I’ve always been feeling like she was the piece to complete me. Now she’s engaged to be married.’ Drake wallows in regret all over the record, but we only get glimpses like this here and there. It’s clear that all the bravado is there to compensate for his honesty. Unsurprisingly his swag is merely a disguise for a wounded soul.

Musically the album’s a lot less complicated, although it’s a more difficult listen that the more memorable ‘Take Care’. Drake’s never really been about ear worms – his melodies are often inane and tuneless, his hooks often laughably derivative (see ‘Started From the Bottom’) but instead the music washes over you and creates atmosphere like the best mood records do. Drake is equally fond of old collaborators and new collaborators; Noah Shebib is still there providing the production, and still doing an excellent job of combining post ‘808s and Heartbreaks’ emo with a more muscular beat palate. The first half of the album is a lot tougher and more driven than 90% of ‘Take Care’. It’s the kind of material I expected a superstar in Drake’s league to make before I actually heard his music. As on ‘Take Care’ Drizzy also recruits young British talent to add some innovation. Beat maker in demand Hudson Mohawke adds a ‘Bad’ era Michael Jackson flavour to ‘Contact’ whilst Sampha contributes the most soul stirring moment on the album with his impassioned vocals on ‘Too Much’.

Despite being a fairly progressive hip hop album in many ways, ‘Nothing was the Same’ still feels unfortunately regressive when it comes to terminology, proving some things will never change. Women are still ‘bitches’ or ‘pussy’, men are still ‘niggas’ and the F word is thrown around in a lazy manner designed to fill syllables. For someone with such a command of language Drake is still prone to littering his songs with these boring, offensive clichés. For a man who wears his sensitivity as a medal around his neck along with his other chains, Drake seems to be as insensitive as most other contemporary rappers when it comes to labeling. The album falls into the other predictable hip hop trap of being too long – although in fairness it isn’t anywhere near as indulgent as ‘Take Care’ or many other big hip-hop releases of the last decade.

‘I wanna take it deeper than money, pussy, vacation, and influence a generation lacking in patience. I’ve been dealing with my dad, speaking of lack of patience…’ In this statement we are led back to that central contradiction at the heart of Drake’s records. This is a line brimming with ambition; Drake wants to ‘influence a generation’, he wants to ‘connect’, he still wants ‘money, pussy, vacation’ but he also wants to talk about his dad. Here we see in an instant just how hungry Drake is, not to mention how conflicted he is. This is far from a perfect album but then Drake is far from a perfect human being – he’s often hilariously un-self aware, hypocritical, false and vain. But occasionally he’s revolatory. And it’s still a thrill to hear him slur ‘muthafuckers never loved me.’ He’s got that dirty allure. That’s the beautiful contradiction. Drake’s been exploring this anxiety for a while now and you get the feeling he’ll never truly feel at home anywhere – which suits me just fine.

8.5/10

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