From Elvis’ rebellious hip-swaying in the ‘50s to Eminem’s nihilistic rap in the late ‘90s, every generation sees a young artist emerge who embodies the mood of their time. This generation has been raised, for better or worse, to believe that they are special and that they are also entitled to the privileges of their specialness. They are taught to pay close attention to their emotions, and those emotions are the sun around which everything and everyone else orbits. They’re simultaneously starving for success and nostalgic for a simpler past, recklessly pushing boundaries yet always returning to the comforts of home. This generation is Drake’s generation.
It’s been just over a year since we last assembled, wondering if the Drake phenomenon was ephemeral hype or something more lasting, but the question already seems ancient. The success of Thank Me Later, both critically and commercially, not only solidified Drake’s place in the game but vaulted him to the top of the hip-hop food chain. He can’t yet truly step into the ring with rap’s heavyweight quartet of Jay, Ye, Em, and Weezy, but in his weight class—the under 25 division—he’s the undisputed champ. So this time around, with the release of his sophomore album Take Care, he enters the arena not as the scrappy underdog with the heart of gold, but as the prohibitive favorite, trailed by a massive entourage waving his championship belt aloft.
It’s only right then that, as the title would suggest, Take Care is a fuller and more carefully-crafted album than Thank Me Later, although not especially better, or that much different. The hazy, anesthesia beats of Drizzy’s constant production partner Noah “40” Shebib still comprise the album’s predominant sound, and Drake still returns to the same three topics he’s rotated between since the So Far Gone days.
Topic 1: “Girl, I just want to let you know that I truly appreciate you, unlike your current man. In fact, I even think you’re beautiful when you’re in your pajamas waking up with a hangover.”
Best I Ever Had was Heartbreak Drake’s breakthrough hit for a reason—there is evidently no shortage of women who fantasize about being rescued from their unappreciated, monotonous and credit card debt-filled life. In that context, we can just consider "Marvin’s Room" a drunker and slower "Best I Ever Had," a track that will undoubtedly launch a thousand daydreams involving Drake drunk dialing you to pour out his heart. (Shades of Topic 2 in “After a while they all seem the same / I’ve had sex four times this week let me explain.”)
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"Make Me Proud" flips Marvin’s sonic script, it hits everywhere that Marvin hugs, but the sentiment is the same. The key to Drizzy’s success though is that, even if you’re not part of Proud’s target demographic and even if you won’t admit it publicly, you’re walking away with that hook stuck in your head. The same holds true for the pounding title track "Take Care," which somehow manages to organically incorporate both Rihanna, a Gil-Scot Heron sample and some classic Drake Topic 1 lyrics: “We know they won't get you like I will…And you can't sleep thinking that he lies still.” Where the women go the men follow, and after Take Care Aubrey’s female fan base should only grow (if that’s statistically and demographically possible).
Topic 2: “It’s really hard to find true love when you’re f**king all these gorgeous models who want you for your money, but what? I’m going to stop f**king gorgeous models? Stop getting this money? Get the f**k out of here…I’m lonely.”
The Weeknd’s “I’ve got more codeine in my body than blood” style matches 40 and Drake’s atmospheric style perfectly, so it’s no wonder that Drake brought him aboard for two tracks on Take Care, the softly stunting "Crew Love" and the more openly braggadocios "The Ride," both of which are good-not-great efforts that are ultimately lost in the ebb and flow of the album. "The Real Her" manages to draw both Lil Wayne and Andre 3000 into Drizzy’s Topic 2 world, it’s worth the listen for Andre 3K’s verse alone, and "Shot for Me" alternates between Topic 1 (“All the care I would take, all the love that we made”) and 2 (“Yeah I said it! B*tch I'm the man”) to dulling effect. This is the least interesting, and occasionally infuriating, iteration of Drake, but one that unfortunately makes repeated appearances on Take Care and ultimately holds him back. For Drake the world ends where he does—has he ever made a song not about himself?—but all the truly great artists could both tap into their interior and touch the larger world.
Topic 3: “I know I’m easy to make fun of because I wear sweaters and sing about my feelings, but don’t forget—I can really rap.”
This is what makes Drake such a controversial figure. As badly as the rap head community wants to dismiss him for that Topic 1 and Topic 2 crooning, the man can also kill a beat. He just can. There’s not a rapper alive who doesn’t want that "Lord Knows" beat for himself, but Drizzy handles himself nicely over the epic production, matching the much more muscular flow of Rick Ross bar for bar. No one but the die hard anti-Drake-ites can deny the Lord’s dopeness. (Shades of Topic 2 in “Even a couple pornstars that I'm ashamed to mention,” shout out to Topic 1 in “I know that showin' emotion don't ever mean I'm a pussy / Know that I don't make music for niggas who don't get pussy.”)
In large part, the same goes for "Underground Kings," which finds Drizzy going back to his adopted-hometown for some riding flows over an instantly hypnotic boardwork, and "Over My Dead Body," which takes a sleepy beat seemingly tailor-made for a Topic 2 and flips it into a legitimate display of lyricism. The Degrassi alum deserves the chuckles he got for his “You gonna make someone around me catch a body like that” play at intimidation on "Headlines," which I like to refer to as his Angry Kitten Flow, and Kendrick Lamar lyrically caskets Drake on "Buried Alive," but otherwise there’s enough impressive rappity rap on Take Care to continue to infuriate the rappity rappers so eager to write Drake off.
Some of my album review peers have put Take Care on the level of Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which is, frankly, crazy talk. There’s nothing suggesting the artistic vision, fearlessness and sheer creative force of MBDTF in the luxurious melancholy of Drake’s work. But that’s no insult, the comparison to Ye is a forced one anyway. Drake really does stand apart—he’s created his own lane and paved it with gold by giving voice to everything his generation is and wants to be. We’re still a long way from a classic, but Take Care once again proves that he’s just too good to disappear anytime soon.
You’re the best Aubrey Graham, in all three topics.