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