Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Album Review: Drake - Thank Me Later

"You say you like it like dat, I think I like it too, 
half a million in a week it's only right I do"
The most common question I get from friends and family of mine (many of whom don’t listen to Hip Hop) has been who my favorite artist is? Like any self respecting Hip Hop blogger, there is never a clear cut answer to that question because truthfully we follow so many different artists that catch our attention, the question is almost as difficult as a parent answering the question “Which one of your kids is your favorite?”. Obviously that comparison is a gross overstatement, but it was intended to make a clear point about Hip Hop bloggers like me. We all have the unique intrinsic motivation to share in addition to a healthy enough ego to assume people will care about our opinions of what we think about new music that is coming out. Deep down we strive to be musical opinion leaders and generally speaking, the best bloggers end up writing about and ultimately sharing what we deem quality Hip Hop...or at least noteworthy Hip Hop. Keeping that in mind, when I answer the cliché question of who my favorite artist is, I usually give a group of current artists that make enough quality music that they deserve to be placed on a pedestal. A group that (to me) includes but is not always limited to names like Kid Cudi, Bun-B, B.O.B., Crooked I, The Cool Kids and Drake.

Over the past year, if you’ve paid any attention to this blog or have been a subscriber to my monthly song list I send out to people around the US, you’ve probably figured out that Drake has become my favorite artist. Even though it’s become more than cliché to jump on the Drake bandwagon over the past year ("even though the bandwagon is full you can try and run behind it"), I feel like I was on the wagon before it had wheels (see the May 2009 GWDJ Song List when I rated many of the tracks off So Far Gone). Brace yourself, below is a long-winded explanation of how I feel about his new album Thank Me Later and why I have a heightened appreciation for his music compared to all other artists out right now. I spent a lot of time on this because a lot of his music has hit me on a real level, so I feel like I need to return the favor by letting you all know why he shit at times moves me.

If you’ve paid any attention to the buzz surrounding Drake’s new album Thank Me Later, you may wonder what exactly endears him to fans/listeners more than any new artist that has dropped a debut album in the past 20 years (debatably)? In my opinion, it’s a complex mix of his abilities and personality that has created his irresistibly likable style. His ability to be lyrically transparent and emotionally accessible while using intelligent, creative wordplay that is communicated with a clear, easily understood delivery is the reason why so many of his listeners not only really enjoy his music, but they admire him. I can’t remember the last time an artist was able to garner so much universal fandom and buzz leading up to a debut album and appealing to such a wide demographic by creating a very listenable (I hate using the word Pop, it’s become too cliché) mix of Hip Hop and R&B.

Prior to launching a career in music, he was known as Jimmy from Degrassi where he’d been acting since the age of 16. As a result, he’s used to the limelight, which has allowed him to grow up quicker than most 23 year olds ("I keep thinking young can you die from old age” - Light Up). For example, you don’t hear too many guys (especially Hip Hop artists) his age turning their nose up at beer, always opting for wine (“Am I the only 23 year old wine connoisseur?” - You Know You Know). You don’t hear other artists his age talking about how unfulfilling it is to hook up with groupies and "gassing" women up, looking instead for a grown woman who is driven and can relate to him intellectually ("women learn to love an honest man, I'm not going to sell you a dream, this is me"). You don’t see Hip Hop artists voicing their insecurities and personal thoughts that go through normal people’s head, it’s simply not Hip Hop to be so wide open ("What if I don't do the numbers they predict, considerin' the fact I'm the one that they just picked" - 9 AM in Dallas). Hip Hop culture has traditionally been all about being in control and never showing the vulnerable side that every person possesses, opting instead for the arrogant, “cool talk” that often demeans women and exhibits the hubris and unrelenting braggadocio that acts as body armor impervious to any lyrical threat or attack.

Having an inimitable career path and being a fearless grown up in a 23 year old’s body has allowed Drake to turn his unique own blend of Hip Hop/R&B into a successful 462k first week debut. What we as an audience learned from his So Far Gone mixtape is that his music should not be taken at face value. His lyrics are meticulously conceived (on his Blackberry no less) and reach a higher intellectual level than most Hip Hop, which is why people who only give his music one listen a lot of the time are missing the punchline of the joke. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m the worst at prematurely dismissing music that doesn’t immediately appeal to me on first listen. I get caught up in my own ego, believing that my skill in discovering and writing about new music is refined enough that after one listen I can usually tell whether I will like it or not. Drake was the exception to that as I was initially not thrilled by much of what he put out.

That all changed when I gave Successful more than one listen. Soon after I gave his whole mixtape a listen and his single Best I Ever Had caught fire on the radio. By then I was knee deep in all of his tracks (Best I Ever Had wasn’t even close to my favorite track on So Far Gone, see November 18th), taking a liking to his lyrical creativity that was uniquely vulnerable, but was still delivered with a the confident, audacious demeanor that all Hip Hop greats exhibit.

The main difference between So Far Gone and Thank Me Later is the amount of original content. Much of So Far Gone was filled with freestyles over other artists’ beats, while Thank Me Later is all original beats, mainly from his team of producers Noah “40” Shebib and Boi-1da. Objectively speaking, as a whole, Thank Me Later is more of an artistic compilation or concerted effort to create a cohesively themed album. The end result of the extra effort to create everything from scratch may be the reason why a lot of his fans are still becoming acclimated with his more original style and sound on his new album. In other words if you were expecting to get another album that sounded like So Far Gone, you were probably disappointed by Thank Me Later. Considering the insurmountable pressure and expectations surrounding this album, it was to be expected that fans would need to temper their expectations and comparisons to the well known mixtape or else they would end up killing the momentum of one of their favorite new artists. After a solid month of listening to Thank Me Later and two concerts witnessing new tracks, I feel like I’m finally prepared to make judgments and give opinions about an album that was meant to be listened more than a few times before deciding its fate, hence the title Thank Me Later.

On first listen, I liked Thank Me Later more than So Far Gone. Does that mean I’ll end up liking Thank Me Later more than So Far Gone? Probably not, but that’s more of a testament to how long it took me to appreciate his now legendary mixtape. Off top, starting with Fireworks, he quickly jumps onto a new train of thought that shows his transition into dealing with success wondering aloud “Money just changed everything, I wonder how life without it would go?” He continues on the second verse to touch on his brief quasi relationship with Rihanna and finishes the track touching on how his success has affected his family and shaped his search to find love. It’s as if he’s having an epiphany in realizing what his recurring dream finally means in front of our eyes. Alicia definitely adds to the introspective vibe of the track by providing a picturesque hook, opening the door for an emotionally wide open album.
Continuing on with a grown and sexy track Karaoke where Drake takes us on a personal relationship journey that ended as the woman he was after moved to Atlanta, afraid of taking the chance of pursuing something with him. Real sentimental track that while risky, endears him to his fans for his real life honesty.

If you held a gun to my head and made me pick a favorite off Thank Me Later, track 3, The Resistance, would be my favorite. It’s about as close as you’re going to get to a sequel to his track Successful, as he’s now experienced the success he initially craved and is now dealing with it. I say dealing with it because like anyone who has become a star, they have to listen to people say “You promised me you would never change” when they no longer have the same time to hang out. Questioning “when he started treating his friends different” is a thought process that a normal Hip Hop artist wouldn’t let us in on, it’s too honest. In choosing to embrace the chaos by saying “You can tell by looking in my eyes right now, cause we’re just having the time of our lives right now” he’s brushing off those who don’t understand (the haters), trying to insinuate that it's nothing personal. An overlooked artistic touch is the final line, “Ain’t no turning back for me I’m in it til it’s over” that leads into his hit Over. Nice touch and seamless transition from my favorite track to your most popular track.

I’ve alluded to many people being initially lukewarm to Over, but that’s mostly because of the crazy expectations that over-hype created. As time goes on and people forget about all the hype of it being the lead single, Over will end up being a great song I feel like. Maybe my opinion has been skewed by witnessing the raw energy of him closing all of his shows by performing by song, but it’s a true Hip Hop track that possesses so much vitality, it’s hard not to get hype listening to it.

After Over, Drake continues the feel good vibe on Show Me a Good Time, a stress relief anthem encouraging listeners to “take a shot and let it out, let’s get right, now that I’m here baby, show me a good time”. To each their own, if there were to be considered a track that I consistently skip over, this would be one of the two tracks. That isn’t to say it won’t be someone else’s favorite track on the album, the vibe is positive, just not my favorite.

The energy on track 5 was saved for his potential single with Nicki Minaj, Up All Night. There is quite a bit of chemistry between the two on every song they do together and this is evidence of that. One of the few fast paced tracks on the album, it provides a break between a lot of the slow R&B tracks and slower Hip Hop tracks.
Air Drizzy

The next five tracks are where Drake truly hits his stride, starting with Fancy. Drake and T.I's verses are on point over a Swizz Beat, but the true show stopped is Drake's final verse on the track, which is one of the top 5 verses on the album:
"Uh, 5 and a half in boys
Ass is off the hook
Cinderella bout to lose the glass off her foot
And when I find it is when I find you
And we can do the things we never got the time to
Better late than never
But never late is better
They tell me time is money, well we’ll spend it together
I’m down for whatever
You just lead the way
We go to dinner you don’t even look at me to pay
Mature women with more than me were the first to tempt me
And Jason had this girl Tammy with a purple Bentley
How she got it I aint never get to ask
I just knew that she was fine like a ticket on the dash
Yeah, but shout out to the homeowners
The girls that got diplomas
And enough money to loan us a little something extra
Should we ever need it
If it sounds like you then let me hear you repeat it"
Absolutely on point and despite slowing it down a bit on Shut it Down with The Dream, Drake absolutely shines in his own way. I can't think of any other artist that can drop a line like "put those f-cking heels on and work it girl, let that mirror show you what your doing" and have it come off as sincere and melodic. Again, he ends the song with a top 5 verse on the album with:
"Shooting Stars all around her, fire, comets.
I could bring her through and shut them down, Onyx
No, you’re not imagining, they’re looking at you long stares
Even though she’s standing out she looks like she belongs here
You feel the hours pass, until you find somethin’
I feel like when she moves – the time doesn’t
Yeah, baby you finer than your fine cousin
And your cousin fine, but she don’t have my heart beating in double time
You just shut it down, girl
Who told the cops where the party was?
Why do I feel like I found The One?
What’s in these shots that you ordered us?
Damn. I mean you sure know how to paint a town
Ever since you came around its obvious you shut it down"
The wordplay and imagery exude such powerfully meaningful emotion...I couldn't help by rewind that one a few times. And the irony is, just when I thought it couldn't get better he drops the best verse on the album on his next track Unforgettable.
"Yo, this is really one of my dumbest flows ever
I haven’t slept in days,
And me and my latest girl agreed to go our seperate ways, so I’m single
Thinking about what we had and missing you,
But I ain’t Santa, I got something for these bad bitches too
I mean paparazzi on me, trying not to get called out
They always seem to catch me with the women that I brought out
Baby, don’t hold on too long ’cause thats how them stories start out,
And all those girls that played me eat your muthaf-ckin heart out, it’s Drizzy
Always gone but never hard to find
And since you can’t escape me, do I ever cross your mind?
Because all this sh-t is new to me, I’m learning to behave,
And still spending every dollar they encourage me to save, but I’m good
I know that n-ggas would kill for this lifestyle,
I’m looking forward to the memories of right now
Never forgettin’ from where I came,
And no matter where I’m headed, I promise to stay the same"
From the santa line, to him talking ish to all the girls who did him wrong, to finally wrapping up the verse critiquing the way he's dealing with success, yet still doesn't lose perspective as he gives some food for thought with the "I’m looking forward to the memories of right now" line. I really do hope he keeps his promise of not changing no matter where he goes because right now his verses provide a lot of creative food for thought that dominates the thought processes of over-analyzers like me on a daily basis. Being able to subtly drop lines that make you think and appreciate life in a different way with words is a true skill and a big reason why I enjoy Drake's music so much. No disrespect to Jeezy, but this track would have been classic if we would have gotten another verse out of Drake rather than hearing you singing and a little out of your element.

Songs 10 and 11 are probably going to dominate the favorites lists of most Drake fans. I don't think I've fully gotten a chance to determine and appreciate the scope of the outside-the-box, out of the ordinary 32 bar verses (rather than the typical "Hot 16") that Drake and Jay-Z drop on their first big collaboration, Light Up. The "no hook" style adds to the legendary status of the track and it's another track that will probably gain popularity as Drake's career gains some longevity. Similarly, his track with Lil Wayne on Miss Me is a no-brainer stand out track. The laid back, at times silly but with plenty of well crafted wordplay to spare verses by both Drake and Lil Wayne are awesome, but it really makes me mad that this sort of chemistry couldn't have produced one or two more tracks on Thank Me Later (due to Weezy's incarceration). Still laugh every time I hear Weezy's lyric "I walk soft, so I don't piss the ground off"...not sure why that stuck with me, but to me it was really funny...for some reason.
Cece's Interlude is another artistic effort by Drake to show us his talent as a singer, which is good because we will get a better picture of what to expect, but it's probably going to get skipped over by a lot of fans (me included). Not a big fan of interludes (unless they are really funny). Find Your Love is doing some damage on radio and a great single choice (obviously) with the Kanye beat and catchy, repeatable hook. It's hard to turn off when it comes on, but like every track that radio gets a hold of, it takes away from the luster. Still a great track though. The album ends with somewhat of a whimper with Thank Me Now, which is only the 2nd track on the whole album I frequently skip. The second verse is growing on me the more I listen to it because of the candid demeanor and humble honesty, ending the album with:
"And I know life is just a game in which the cards are facing down
I’m in the world where things are taken, never given
How long they choose to love you will never be your decision
And I’m aware this could be the last time you listen
So while I’m still in this postion…you can thank me now"
As an aside, I still feel like his 9 AM in Dallas freestyle is the most underrated element of his album as a bonus track. I bet he worked on that freestyle 10 times less than any track he did on this album, but that's probably what makes it the best. It's a fast paced, witty assault on people who doubt him and the energy he brings to the track is living proof. Great Great Great track all things considered and an end of the album treat for unsuspecting listeners.

GWDJ Verdict: All in all, I'd say Drake's debut album Thank Me Later deserves a 4 headphone grade.

It's a different style we're used to hearing from him, which isn't a bad thing at all, it just adds to his depth as an artist. Parts of Thank Me Later that really make him stand out are the parts where he shows his more accessible/vulnerable, human side like:
“I heard they just moved my grandmother to a nursing home and I be acting like I don’t know how to work a phone” (The Resistance)
“I’m just such a gentleman you should give it up for me, look at how I’m placing all my napkins and my cutlery” (Fireworks)
“How many of our parents marriages lasted, I was only 5 I bet I barely reacted” (Fireworks)
“Don’t be fooled by the money, I’m still just young and unlucky, I’m surprised you couldn’t tell” (Karaoke)
“Never forgetting from where I came and no matter where I’m headed I promise to stay the same” (Unforgettable)
Some of his fans have bought into only the “Hip Hop” tracks where he mainly raps and talks about the finer things that come out of being rich and successful (Money to Blow, Forever, Miss Me). While those tracks are also some of my favorites, I also enjoy his slower R&B tracks (Sooner Than Later, Shut it Down, Brand New) and my absolute favorite type of tracks from him are his freestyles (9 AM in Dallas, King Leon, Say What’s Real). I feel like he’s at his best going bar for bar, giving us a dose of whatever is on his mind through his own creative wordplay. The “shit he writes while staring out the window of a plane” is what the fans crave and he knows that. On his 9 AM in Dallas freestyles he yells: “People say that old Drake we started to miss it, But they need to be a little more specific, Is this what y’all want?!” Yes it is partly what we want and the fact that you know we want it will always allow you to be a step ahead of us and give you the opportunity to take whatever risks you want because we will always listen.

In the XXL magazine I bought last month, Drake tried to put things in perspective wondering aloud:
"I'm one of the biggest rappers in the world, but this is my first album, and I haven't proved myself yet, so on what mind level do me and a listener meet?"
My answer to that is you have to start somewhere, establish a foundation. So Far Gone was a highlight reel, while Thank Me Later was the real Drake. Selling over half a million records in one week means that we like the real you Drake, so don't stop doing what you're doing. Keep being yourself, it's refreshing to the music industry as your style is a truly honest breath of fresh air. You don't hide behind anything and the fact that we can see you and feel like we know you through your music is what makes you special. The ballsy effort on your first album did not go unnoticed and having put a months worth of mileage on your new album, I feel like I appreciate it enough to Thank You Now.

As a bonus check out Drake's cameo verse on Jeezy's new track Lose My Mind.

Bonus: Young Jeezy feat Drake - Lose My Mind (remix)
|Link taken down by request please go to iTunes to purchase


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