Drake may be new to you, but he’s no stranger to success. A rapper turned singer turned actor who’s been a force in his native Canada for years, Drake is finally bringing his introspective swagger to the U.S. He’s starting his campaign for stateside success with So Far Gone, a mixtape that could easily pass for an album for most musicians (what I like to call a mixalbum). So Far Gone is a meditative blend of hip-hop and soulful R&B that’s reminiscent of 808s & Heartbreak’s electronic brooding over love lost and sought after. If you’re looking for an unadulterated party you may want to give T-Pain a call (believe me, he’s down to party), but if you want to watch an artist in the process of channeling his considerable talent into a concentrated vision, So Far Gone is a good place to start.
More than any other song, "Say What’s Real" convinced most rap fans to give Drake their time and respect. Over Kanye’s cathedral worthy beat from "Say You Will," Drake spins the tale of a young artist who’s given so much to his fans, groupies and entourage that he has nothing left over for himself: “Before they told me to do me / don’t listen to anyone that knew me/cause to have known me would mean that there’s a new me / if you think I’ve changed in the slightest could have fooled me.”
Drake’s appropriately following the “backpacker with an ego” blueprint laid out by Mr. West, and he does so with a fearless lyricism that’s impressive. That’s not to say that Drake is all lyrics and no delivery, the man can swagger when the time’s right, like on "Unstoppable," a fast flowing track featuring a eclectic chorus from Santogold (the girl from "Brooklyn Go Hard") and Weezy F. Baby, who’s in “Mr. Out Of His F**king Mind” mode. "Unstoppable"’s a welcome reprieve of lightness in an album that at times sounds like a musical therapy session, as is "Uptown," a quickly riding cut that has Bun B dropping by for a dope verse (does the man ever miss?).
Despite the “hip-hop is dead” hysterics emanating from some quarters, Drake is part of a new generation bringing hope to the art form’s future.
What really sets Drake above the huddled rapping masses yearning to be famous is the impressive range of his talents. Now he’s not exactly the second coming of Slim, but unlike some other crossover artists, he can actually sing...without robotic assistance (oh, I’m sorry Kanye. I didn’t see you standing there). Drake’s potential as a serious crooner is on full display with "Brand New," a slowly snapping track with shades of late 90’s R&B. Vocally, Drake opens "Brand New" with the smoothness of R. Kelly, if Kells was a little more interested in exploring the complexities of human relationships and a little less interested in midgets, kitchen sex and hiding in closets. If "Brand New" was the only Drake song you ever heard you’d think he was a pretty damn good singer, but personally I like the Omarion-assisted "Bria’s Interlude" better, if only because the bass line reminds me of Ginuwine’s "My Pony" (a.k.a. the song I’m trying to convince my girl to make our wedding song). The record's production style make’s Drake’s voice sound distant as if he were singing through the phone, embedding the track with a feeling of longing and lust. Then again, the best testament to his legitimacy as a singer is probably Night Off, another sparsely produced cut that has him going voice-to-voice with the perpetually happy Lloyd for a lock the doors and turn off the phone baby makin’ slow jam. Make no mistake about it—Drake can get down.
As hard as I’ve tried not to go overboard with the Kanye comparisons, it’s been nearly impossible, especially considering that at times So Far Gone sounds like a remake of 808s & Heartbreak—a skilled remake, but a remake none the less. For all his originality, Drake seems to still be finding his own voice, but he’s young, he’s got time. Artistically he’s already miles ahead of where most rappers are at any age, and if So Far Gone is any indication, his “Breakthrough Artist of 2009” status will be more than an award, it will be a prophecy.