Drake shows evolution on ‘Nothing Was the Same’
Published: Monday, September 30, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2013 02:09
Kanye West’s third studio release, “Graduation” (2007), was a declaration that he had finally grown up. In the last piece of his “College Dropout” trio, West finally shed his insolence and frustration to stake his claim as the most influential rapper alive. This album marked a turning point, a point where West no longer felt the need to rap about every anxious thought and instead was confident in his place at the top of the rap game.
While West’s anxieties on his first two albums were about his thirst for fame and his outsider status in the rap world, Drake, the man for whom West paved the way, has instead expressed his own anxiety about whether he really wants that fame. In 2011’s “Take Care,” he dedicated nearly 20 songs to pondering that question, asking whether he could ever embrace his inevitable stardom. It was a dark, emotional record, but one that showed Drake as more honest and open than any rapper since West.
In “Nothing Was the Same,” Drake’s newest release, the Toronto-born rapper is back to prove that he can indeed handle the success he has achieved.
“Tuscan Leather” is the album’s strong opening salvo, a hollow, yet synth-y offering that stretches past six minutes and features Drake asking repeatedly how much time he can spend on the intro. “This is nothing for the radio, but they’ll still play it though,” he says, and he is absolutely right. Apart from its singles, “Started from the Bottom” and “Hold on We’re Going Home,” the record contains very few clear contenders for airwaves — yet it is still likely to top the charts.
“Started from the Bottom” is a musical outlier of the album — one of few songs in which Drake raps nearly exclusively. But as a piece of the “Nothing Was the Same” puzzle, it fits in perfectly, with Drake embracing, rather than questioning, his steps to the top from Toronto.
On “305 To My City” he demonstrates his devotion to his hometown even more. Employing a sloshing beat to offer strippers tickets from Miami to Canada, Drake says, “I’ll make the calls to get y’all through customs.”
“305 To My City” is part of a standout second half of the album that includes the pulsing sounds of “The Language,” on which Drake uses a Migos-inspired flow to brush aside up-and-coming rappers. It’s one of two tracks on the album, along with “Worst Behavior,” that features trap-fueled drums and rhythms and shows Drake at his angriest. While staying generally within the melodious R&B lane he has created for himself, Drake uses these types of tracks to show the breadth of his ability, as he transitions seamlessly in and out of harder hip-hop.
Drake returns to the melodies on the haunting “Too Much,” which features Sampha crooning a beautiful chorus that seems to explain Drake’s ethos for “Nothing Was the Same.” “Don’t think about it too much,” he sings — but Drake just can’t help himself, and he instead uses the track to open up about his family and contemplate his start in rap. The obsessions and anxieties are still present throughout the album, but now Drake is able to sprinkle them in only when necessary — a West-like leap of self-control.
This is evident in “Pound Cake,” featuring Jay-Z. The last time the two shared a track (on 2010’s “Light Up”) Jay assumed the role of mentor. But three years later, with Jay’s raps less creative and Drake’s always improving, the Canadian rapper steps up to the challenge and matches him on a verse that shows just how far he’s come. “Tables turn / Bridges burn / You live and you learn,” he raps, combining three clichés to prove to listeners that he has developed as both a rapper and an individual.
That line basically sums up exactly how this album works: Sure, there are still the classic Drake clichés — “Next time we talk, I don’t wanna just talk, I wanna trust” comes to mind — but the raps are introspective in the right way and point to a man becoming comfortable with his success and his position in the rap world.
And where is that position, exactly? Well, “Nothing Was The Same” makes it clear that he’s dangerously close to the top.
As he puts it on “The Furthest Thing,” Drake is “somewhere between psychotic and iconic,” but all the evidence from this album shows him trending away from the former and towards a confident, thoughtful rapper in complete control of his craft.