Forget baseball, football, or watching porn, America’s true favorite pastime is placing idols on a golden, untouchable pedestal, and then tearing them down once they start to crack under the weight of our outrageous demands. We insist that our idols deliver us to heaven, and then demand blood when we still find ourselves still Earth-bound. Frankly, it’s what we do best.
There are only an extraordinarily small handful of albums that deserve an introduction like that. (Sit down Khaled, I’m talking about Tha Carter III, not We the Best Vol. 97.) And now, finally, we can add Drake’s debut album Thank Me Later to that vaunted list. As Aubrey Drake Graham catapulted from Canadian teen television heartthrob to hip-hop superstar we piled more and more expectations onto his young shoulders. Drake’s debut album would simultaneously be a rap classic, an R&B classic and a pop classic. Drake’s debut album would singlehandedly rescue an entire, fundamentally broken music industry. Drake’s debut album would cure cancer and, just because he was bored and feeling generous, herpes. If these were our expectations of the 24-year-old, and they were, then he has failed us. Let the public whipping commence.
Of course, Drake’s fame is not purely the product of hype. His mixalbum So Far Gone showcased an artist who could both rip mics and makes the ladies swoon, and it was that versatility that served as the catalyst for extraordinary hype. Accordingly, Thank Me Later was supposed to satisfy both the hardcore hip-hop heads and mainstream radio junkies, and since I’m more of the former than the latter, we might as well start with the rhymes. "Over"'s far from a perfect track, but Drake’s lyrical work on the pounding lead single prompted more discussion and line-by-line breakdowns than any track in recent memory. As a man who’s memorized all of Dead Prez’s Let’s Get Free, I was shocked by Drizzy lifting bars from "Hip-Hop," and so I rewound "Over" and listened again, and again, and again. I have to admit, point, match, Drake. Given the obvious import of a Jay-Z feature, you’d think I’d have "Light Up" on repeat, but truth be told, although the record is one hell of a track, it’s "Miss Me" that got me more truly excited. Forget Lil Wayne’s verse (you probably already have it). On "Miss Me," Boi-1da crafts a beat capable of crack-level addiction, and the thugs can front, but when they’re alone in their rooms they’re rhyming along to every word of that first verse. Dope. Rounding out the group we have the occasionally annoying "Up All Night" featuring Nicki Minaj (we’ll be deflating her over-hyped debut album in a few weeks) and the impressively introspective "The Resistance." Is Thank Me Later the second coming of Illmatic? No, but the album proves Drake deserves to be called an emcee. Deal with it.
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Today one of my friends complained that Thank Me Later was too targeted to teenage girls, to which I responded; “of course.” Who did you think was going to buy all those albums you’re expecting him to sell? You? Please, you downloaded the leak a week ago. The truth is if you want that big money the ladies have to love you, and the ladies love "Find Your Love." Call "Find Your Love" an 808s copy if you want (sshhhh…it is), but 808s laid down the modern day blueprint for rappers singing about heartbreak, and Drizzy’s only too happy to build on Kanye’s foundation.
Much more ambitious, but less accessible, is the attempted baby maker "Shut It Down," which I most wish was entirely a Dream track, and the wispy, underwhelming "Karaoke," which falls short of truly connecting. I realize dividing tracks like the appropriately titled "Unforgettable" and the sparkling "Fireworks" (which I wish was entirely an Alicia Keys song, notice a theme?) is an oversimplification as Drake does double rhyme-vocal work on both, but whatever they are, they’re not “rap” songs. On Thank Me Later, Drake’s truly a hip-hop/R&B hybrid, a combination which will likely only serve to leave both crowds wanting more.
Thank Me Later is a musical Rorschach test; we see in it not what it is, but the reflection of our own feelings. Those who, consciously or not, expected Thank Me Later to disappoint will be disappointed, and Drizzy loyalists will take up arms willing to do battle against the legions of haters, using Thank Me Later as their shield. Of course, there is another option. We could blame ourselves. We could admit that we’ve finally gone too far, that our collective need for hero worship, and hero kill, is what failed us, not Drake. We could simply take Thank Me Later for what it is; the work of an immensely talented young man still struggling to find his voice who was, perhaps, overwhelmed by the pressure….naw, f**k it. That’d be too hard. It’s so much easier to simply love or hate: Drake is dead! Long live Drake!