Five years ago Tuesday, Take Care was released. It’s the album that Drake fans wanted from his debut, a proper successor to So Far Gone. Drake gave us the growing pains of his growing celebrity while proving his prowess as a top rapper. The best moments are unflinchingly honest and sincere―you feel his ache for every girl, his hate for every naysayer, and his struggle with his own insecurities. Take Care was the raising action that ushered in a new era, a point of change, and a moment that fans of rap and R&B will always remember.
Before the release of Take Care, months prior, the internet was introduced to a mysterious voice that didn’t live in a palace, but a house of balloons. It was a house where under the glowing moonlight drugs were taken, love was made, and hearts were broken. You felt sucked into the madness as if you were invited by the man himself; yet, it’s a party where you never meet the host―he is like Gatsby, allowing us to see the lifestyle without getting close to the man. We see him in the reflection of glass tables lined up with coke, we see him in the pupils of women that surround him―an album that’s about observing the environment and not the artist. His debut album was only nine songs, but it was perfect in being one cohesive voyage through a bacchanal world that was unlike anything that was out at the time.
House Of Balloons caught me by complete surprise. I remember being caught off guard during the first listen of “High For This”―a song that’s both elegant and heavy, it’s like being lured into a new, strange world. Yes, it’s the perfect way to describe the first listen to House Of Balloons. You’re getting accustomed to this new singer who has the charisma of a vampire, a rock star’s affinity for drugs, and a limitless lust for women. Songs like “The Morning,” “What You Need” and “Wicked Games” were so unbelievable I couldn’t help but want to share the music with someone. There was a newness to the sound, it wasn’t some new genre, but a revision of something familiar. For an album short in length, it was layered with enticing elements that kept you coming back. It made the listener want to explore every inch of this house, experience every thrill of this party, and also try to uncover the identity of this unknown singer.
The R&B that I knew didn’t live in a world where oxycodone and cocaine were sprinkled on top of love and lust. Growing up hearing new R&B stars, what they all had in common was that the music didn’t stray from the expected subject matter of traditional R&B. Trey Songz never sung of a girl potentially overdosing before meeting his mother, Chris Brown has never made anything that captures the rush of temporal infatuation like “Wicked Games,” and none of Lloyd’s shorties that were getting it had 20 different pills in them. More than just his subject matter, the album’s production is slow and intoxicating, the mood it sets matches the very tone and storytelling perfectly. House Of Balloons is one of the darkest, most brooding, most captivating projects that I've heard in the last five years. Like Take Care, the album was a rising action that ushered in a new era, a point of change, and a moment that fans of underground rap and R&B will always remember.
On the 5th anniversary of Take Care, it’s a perfect time to celebrate House Of Balloons. Drake’s opus is connected to The Weeknd’s masterpiece. Before House Of Balloons was made public, Drake heard it and knew that he needed Abel Tesfaye to complete the album. “Crew Love,” “Shot for Me” and “The Ride” were all originally on House Of Balloons. Abel to Drake on Take Care was what Cudi was to Kanye on 808s & Heartbreak. Their influence is so strong that it feels like a collaboration, more so than a mere solo album. Take Care would be a different album without House Of Balloons, and The Weeknd would likely have a different career without the co-sign from Drake.
The Weeknd is a concept created by Jeremy Rose, not Abel. Jeremy had an idea for a dark R&B album and he found the perfect vessel to bring his idea to life when he met Abel. They were a collective that made music under the moniker, “The Weekend.” Jeremey produced four songs that would become "What You Need," "Loft Music" “The Morning (Original Version)” and the first half of “The Party & the After Party.” The Weeknd wrote the songs, but Jeremy was the architect who laid down the soundscape. Jeremy and Abel fell out just as music was being released. Jeremy's credits were replaced by producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo, and The Weekend became The Weeknd. The two parties would later settle their differences, and Jeremy was properly credited, but by then The Weeknd was already on his way up.
Jeremy stated in an interview that one reason they fell out is that Abel only wanted a producer, not someone to add input and have an opinion. It’s possible that The Weeknd hasn’t made anything on par with House Of Balloons because Jeremy is no longer in his corner. It’s a great example of how many people can be involved in the making of great art. You can also say House Of Balloons is one of those albums that was created by an energy that’s hard to recreate. Even as a writer, The Weeknd’s approach to his lyrics was much different than it is today. Illmatic isn’t an album that Nas can simply recreate, even if you put him in the room with all the same producers. Art is very much based in the moment and how you channel all those feelings or thoughts. An act of divine intervention.
Five years later, I would say that The Weeknd’s House Of Balloons is an important album. It introduced a new way to approach R&B. It helped to rewrite the rules of what a singer could sing about, and the kind of soundscape it could be sung upon. Listening to 6LACK’s recently released remix of “Wicked Games” only further proves The Weeknd’s influence on up-and-coming artists. I can still go back and hear songs like “Coming Down,” “Wicked Games” and “High For This” and still feel like it lives in some alternate dimension that other artists have yet to discover. I’m certain that in a few years we will see even more singers inspired by The Weeknd, and they’re likely to follow the footprints left behind by HOB. There’s something undeniably special about his first. The singing, the songwriting, the production―nine songs that left the internet asking 'Who is this man? And how can we get more?'
The Weeknd is now a major pop star on the cusp of his third album release. It’s a destination that I didn’t see him reaching back in 2011. He seemed too dirty; his sound was dipped in too much sin to be embraced by the masses. He changed, adjusted, and evolved. Now he’s the mainstream starboy. Winter tends to be the best season for his music, a time where the sun sets early and the night crawlers take over. Abel may no longer live in the House of Balloons, but the door is still unlocked for us to enter and explore.
By Yoh, aka Yoh Cares, aka @Yoh31.
Art Credit: GraytArt