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Review: Drake Finds His Sweet Spot On 'Nothing Was The Same'

Drake inches closer to that elusive classic LP distinction with a balanced diet of singing and 16s

Drake is a dreamer. He wants everyone who can love to love him. It’s why the 26-year-old writes for guys, (especially) girls, friends with benefits, ex-lovers, (especially) exes, rap purists, but not “niggas who don’t get pussy.” It’s why on Nothing Was The Same, the MC slash singer’s fourth studio album (third if you discount the classic-turned-retail release, So Far Gone), he puts a red beam on the saying “Try to please everyone and you’ll please no one.” He wants it all—all the money, all the rap respect, all her love, all her friend’s love, all your love—to be scored by his potent brew of 18 Karat rhyme bars, nostalgic (though at times amateurish) R&B and mood rhythms which beam brightest under the moon.

While it’s apparent that the Ryan Lewis to Aubrey’s Macklemore, Noah “40” Shebib, finds inspiration in rich music minds, the achingly gifted Nothing Was The Same overseer has finally established his own sonic identity. The album’s production is lush, while simultaneously nouveau and forward, lead by more keys than your middle school janitor. It’s dreamy, and Drake has never been closer to his dreams of dominance.

From start (#started) you’re spinning through a Drizzy subconscious sequence as Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” sprints on a treadmill of distortion. Though “Tuscan Leather” is presented as an intro, the six-minute plus deluxe sounds more like a victory lap. Over a trifecta of beats, which darken with progression, the Head Owl In Charge postures on everything moving. Shots are also fired in the direction of crowns: “That shit I heard from you lately really relieved some pressure/Like, Aye, B, got your CD. You get an E for eFfort..”

Despite the venom spat at kings and Kendricks throughout NWTS, for the first time on a Drake album, rap plays co-pilot to an exceptional command of melody. 40 and his muse have developed a gift for conjuring vibes within a vibe––you lose track of where the hook ends and bridge or next song begins, what’s rap and what’s R&B, whether he’s talking to her or them. You’re in the OVO zone. The trippy bounce turned superhero gospel “Furthest Thing” and ever-addictive “Started From The Bottom” are perfect examples of what happens when Aubrey and Noah become one. The never-should’ve-been-titled “Wu-Tang Forever,” not so much. Though the cinematic piano loop is pretty, the vocal performance uses too much make-up. Drake doubles up on “it’s yours” meanings (he’s hers/the game is his), then gets greedy with an awkward verse, basically explaining why he needs security.

While the criticism Drake endures for tickle-me-emo records or attire unlike Jay-Z’s swing valid to invalid daily, features for classmates like French Montana and A$AP Rocky have proven an aggressive—and even defensive—Drizzy is a most fun Drizzy. He revisits his beloved “Versace (Remix)” flow to “The Language” simply to paint nothing in particular. His final verse, heard on the beauty “Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2” (featuring Jay-Z's MCHG scraps) may be the strongest––Young Money’s best masterfully juggles bravado and naked honesty, even admitting that his questionable cool goes back to high school. But it’s Revenge of the Nerds time on the album’s climax, “Worst Behaviour.” Heard over dooming keys and marching drums that conceal automatic weaponry is Tupac holding Sunday service at Club LIV––showers of Champagne Papi backwash for all disbelievers. Remember?!

It’s hard to get out for much fun when you’re stuck shootin’ in the gym, aiming for the throne. Drake’s money ball, though, is transparency. The OVO CEO wants your all, so he reciprocates with all of his complexions––light to dark. The Degrassi alum is the only rapper to impressively play the role of playboy, trick, victim and apologist at once. On “From Time,” assisted by the angelic Jhene Aiko, Mr. Graham manages to admit transgressions without apologizing. Instead he conveniently chalks it up to the journey and his resulting personal evolution (“Learning the true consequences of my selfish decisions/When you find out how I’m living, I just hope I’m forgiven”). Close-ups are given of his most personal relationships. They’re served in fragments, though. This, so listeners are near enough to feel close to Drake, but unable to assemble the puzzle of Aubrey and woman friend or kin (“Just me and my old man, getting back to basics/We been talkin’ bout the future and time that we wasted/When he put the bottle down, that nigga’s amazing”). “Too Much” may reveal the most. While The Week—, er, Sampha, and some somber live ivory convince a female to let her guard down, Drizzy unveils a litany of his private matters, ranging from his anxiety to be the best to his uncle’s complacency.

Ironically, one of Drake’s strongest attributes, vulnerability, makes him that more vulnerable. He will be criticized for never missing an opportunity to croon (“Hold On, We're Going Home” is R&B parody. With background vocals that feel of Justin Timberlake performing on SNL––not as the musical guest––it’s hard to take this Solange impression seriously). He’ll receive hip-hop’s standard slurs for “Own It,” essentially, a redundant remix to “Wu-Tang Forever,” where man offers himself to woman as property; for carpentering with Houston screws to offer empathy, employment and Canadian Custom assistance to Miami strippers whose friends drink and drive (“305 To My City”). Even the consuming “Connect”—with its soulful pour of down bottom bass and buoyant knock—is pussy-whipped catharsis. But this is what Drizzy does and they can’t: paint nude emotion pictures of himself and you. He out-humanizes his contemporaries. If “Marvin’s Room” is the theme song to drunk-dialing your ex, Nothing Was The Same is the soundtrack.

As a major label artist, Drake has yet to conceive a classic album. While Nothing Was The Same doesn’t end that drought, its accomplishments may end up more pivotal. Hip-hop music hasn’t been blurred and stretched this wide since Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak. It hasn’t seen an MC this diverse since Lauryn Hill was viable. The throne is indeed in jeopardy. The LeBron of rap music wants it all, wants to be it all: A King disguised as a human or human disguised as a King? You be the judge. —Bonsu Thompson

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25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

The female voice in hip-hop has always been present whether we've noticed it or not. The late Sylvia Robinson birthed the hip-hop music industry with the formation of Sugar Hill Records (and fostering "Rapper's Delight"), Roxanne Shante's 55 lyrical responses to fellow rappers were the first diss tracks and Missy Elliott's bold and striking music and visuals inspired men and women in the game to step outside of their comfort zones.

These pillars and many more have allowed the next generation of emcees to be unapologetically brash, truthful and confident in their music. Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and Nicki Minaj's Queen might've been the most mainstream albums by womxn in rap this year, but there was a long list of creatives who brought the noise like Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Noname and Bbymutha. Blame laziness or the heavy onslaught of music hitting streaming sites this year, but many of the artists on this list have hibernated under the radar for far too long.

VIBE decided to switch things up but also highlighting rap albums by womxn who came strong in their respectively debut albums, mixtapes, EPs. We also had to give props to those who dropped standout singles, leaving us wanting more.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

We’ve reached another end to an eventful year in hip-hop. From rap beefs to new music releases and milestones, 2018 has been forged in the history books as a year to remember. But more important than the events that happened over the span of 12 months are the people who made them happen.

While fans received a large dose of music from our favorite artists and celebrated some of the most iconic album anniversaries, there are a few names that stood out as the culture pushers, sh*t starters, and all-around most significant artists of the year.

For your enjoyment, VIBE compiled a list of the top 10 most important hip-hop artists of 2018 based on a series of qualifications: 1) public actions - good, bad, and ugly; 2) music releases; 3) philanthropic/humanitarian work; and 4) trending moments.

Be clear: This list isn’t about the most influential, the most talented, who had the best music or tours. While we are commemorating artists for the work they’ve contributed to this year’s music cycle, we’re looking beyond that and evaluating how these particular artists have shaped conversations and pushed hip-hop culture forward.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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Stacy-Ann Ellis

NEXT: Intent On Impact, Kiana Lede Is Ready To Leave Her Mark

After learning The Alphabet Song as a little girl, Kiana Lede would always “get in trouble” for singing during class. “My mom was like, ‘why can't you focus?’” she laughs while reminiscing on her career’s formative years. “I was like, ‘I don’t know! Songs are just playing in my head all the time!’”

Whilst sitting in a shoebox-sized room at Midtown Manhattan’s Moxy Hotel on a humid September day, the now- 21-year-old Arizona-bred R&B songbird, actress and pianist speculates that she “may have had ADD.” However, she settles down after taking off her white cowboy boots and flops down on the ivory-clothed bed, demonstrating that her fiery Aries energy can be contained. Cool as a cucumber, Lede shuffles between chewing on banana candies and blowing smoke rings after taking drags from a pen, all while musing about her journey to becoming a Republic Records signee.

“I just grew up singing and doing musical theater, and reading a lot of books, and playing piano way too much in my room by myself,” she says, pushing her big, curly brown hair out of her face. Her expressive green eyes widen as she grins. “It was my thing. Nobody in my family does music, just me.”

After winning Kidz Bop’s 2011 KIDZ Star USA talent contest at 14 (which her mother secretly entered her into), Lede was signed to RCA Records. She was released from her contract and dropped from the label three years later. However, thanks to guidance and friendship from the Grammy-winning production duo Rice N’ Peas, (who’ve worked with G-Eazy, Trevor Jackson, and Bazzi), she released covers of songs such as Drake’s “Hotline Bling” while working to get her groove back. The latter rendition resulted in Republic Record’s Chairman and CEO Monte Lipman flying her out and signing her to his label.

“I got a second chance, which a lot of people don't get,” she reveals. “So I'm really happy that that all happened. I wouldn't be here right now in this room if that didn't happen.”

Thanks to the new opportunity she was given, Lede’s sound has evolved into something she’s proud of—equal parts soul, R&B and bohemian. As evidenced by the aforementioned ensemble, glimmers of each aesthetic can be found when observing her personal style as well. She released her seven-song EP Selfless in July, which features the bedroom-ready “Show Love” and “Fairplay,” which manages to fit in the mainstream R&B vein while also showcasing her goosebump-inducing vocals. The remix of the latter features MC A$AP Ferg. What pleases her most is that it not only garnered a favorable response from fans, but that those listeners found it so relatable.

“As an artist, it's really nerve-wracking for someone who writes about such personal things all the time,” she says. “Just the fact that it is my story… It's good to know that other people know that there's somebody on their side, and they're not the only ones going through it. A lot of people obviously feel this way, and have been through this same thing that I've been through. So I think that's cool.”

Although she moved to various places as a Navy serviceman’s daughter, Lede claims Phoenix as home. This means she hails from the same stomping grounds as rockers Alice Cooper, Stevie Nicks and the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. However, growing up in a mixed race household gave way to tons of sonic exploration outside of the rock-heavy scene.

“My dad's black, and both of my parents are from the East Coast,” she says of her musical and ethnic upbringing (she’s black, Latina and Native American). “[My parents] listened to a lot of R&B. My mom listened to a lot of SWV, TLC, Boyz II Men. I didn't realize I knew the songs until I got older. I played a charity show with T-Boz, and I was like 'why do I know these songs?'” Lede also says her father was a fan of neo-soul and gangsta rap, but she personally believes the early-2000s was the best time for music.

“[That era] influences a lot of my music subconsciously, and also, singer-songwriter stuff,” she continues. “I listen to a lot of early-2000s music because I played piano most of my life. I listened to Sara Bareilles, John Mayer.”

An open book, Lede details some of her struggles with anxiety and depression with the utmost candor. After being dropped from RCA, her trust in people diminished, and she experienced long bouts of depression after being sexually assaulted by someone in the industry. The track that she feels most deeply about is “One Of Them Days,” which tackles these issues head-on.

“When I'm anxious and depressed, it's really hard to be happy,” Lede says. “Most of the time, I can do it, but there are just some days where I literally can't separate the anxiety, and I can't tell anybody why, because I don't really know why myself… I was feeling very odd that day, didn't even know if I could write a song. Hue [Strother], the guy who I wrote the song with, he was like 'I totally get you. Lots of people go through this.’’’

As we’ve observed in headlines recently, mental health and being honest about life’s trickier situations can help someone going through the same thing, and Lede hopes her music provides encouragement to those who are struggling. As for how she’s learning to push through her mental health roadblocks, she meditates, runs, and is an advocate for therapy, especially in Trump’s America, where harrowing news reports dominate the cycle.

Another hallmark of Kiana Lede’s personality is her bleeding heart for others. She cites women of color, sexual assault victims and the homeless youth specifically as individuals she feels most responsible to help, since she is personally connected to all three. While she’s aiming to create a project that helps homeless youth specifically, she’s working hard this holiday season to ensure that they have a place to stay “at least for the night” after horrific wildfires displaced many individuals in California.

“My passion is really people. Music is just a way that I can get to helping people,” she says with a grin. “Helping people emotionally and physically are both very important. I never want to stop helping people. I feel if other people can respect me, and I can respect myself, then I'll be happy. Happiness is all that we strive for.”

Recently, Lede played her first headlining solo show, a one-night event at The Mint in Los Angeles. While she was thrilled to see that the show sold-out, she was even happier to see the faces of her audience members, who she said ‘looked like [her].’ “Mixed girls, brown girls, black girls, gay boys,” she explains over-the-phone. Even though she wasn’t in person to discuss her latest huge accomplishment, you could hear the pride and joy through her voice.

As for the future of her career, she’s looking forward to more acting roles. You may recognize her from the first season of MTV’s Scream, and after her recent Netflix series All About The Washingtons with legendary MC Rev Run was cancelled, she has been “reading for auditions” and is “negotiating” for a role in a film set to shoot in NYC. While her time with the Run-DMC frontman was brief, she says he taught her about the importance of “not compromising your art for money.”

What Kiana Lede is most excited about, of course, is making music. She hopes to work on a new EP and then release an album after that. The ultimate goal is to fully realize the dreams in her personal and professional life, and she assures she’s just getting started.

“I want to be able to look back on my career and think 'man, I really poured my heart into this music, and made music that mattered, and made music that made people feel a certain way, whether it's bad, good, sad, anxious, whatever it may be.’”

READ MORE: NEXT: H.E.R. Is The Future Of R&B (And Then Some) In Plain Sight

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