(He) think(s) (thought?) (he) killed everybody in the game last year, man/Fuck it, (he) was on though aka MBDTF vs. Aubs OR RoboCop vs. SadGuy OR minimalist pop vs. ambient pop OR moving on vs. wallowing OR MBTF? Bitch this isn’t even Graduation
I actually like Take Care so I’m gonna do this quick and only because Drake wants so bad for the listener to compare his shit to MBDTF: he comes in suitably “brazen” as 40 calls it, or “grandiose,” but ultimately monochromatic where Kanye was almost too colourful, serious where Kanye had non-sequitors, self-pitying where Kanye was honest, and self-absorbed where Kanye was sociopolitical. That’s easy. Comparing his work to the record which accidentally birthed his shit, however, is almost worthwhile. 808s & Heartbreak was the first of its kind- controversial at its time, but artists such as Aubs have since had the freedom to build on its bizarro melancholic pop minimalism. The record itself is flawed but heartfelt and incredibly bold- a continuation of the lonely at the top sentiment found on Graduation but made more personal and universal with details of family tragedy: breakup and death. It’s his sentimental RoboCop concept album: an event destroying the person, and cybernetics taking over to either resurrect them or maintain the heart and mind. Thank Me Later and Take Care largely repeat that lonely at the top despondency with personal details only adding to the autobiographical nature of Drake’s lyricism rather than anything wise, truthful, or universal. Compared to a song like Street Lights inspired by the touching final scene of Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels where the narrator tries to convince himself that life’s a series of warm and cold moments (“Seems like street lights glowing/Happened to be just like moments”) and admits that he needs to move on (“I know my destination”) but feels it’s impossible (“But I’m just not there”), Drake’s not got much. Musically, however, adding ambience to the skeletal, hollow sections of Kanye’s minimalism, things get interesting. Often merely an aesthetic choice on Thank Me Later, the record was at its best when it either completely diverged from 808s and became crushing (Shut It Down), or sounded like great leftovers: Find Your Love’s ironically optimistic “I bet if I give all my love then nothing’s gonna tear us apart” chorus. Messy and sometimes shallow, the album dared to have incredible moments along with the bland ones. The more mature Take Care is far less daring: the ambience becomes conceptual rather than aesthetic. Where 808s was stripped down and machine-like while lyrically touching, again representing Yeezy’s sentimental reading of RoboCop, Take Care is lyrically bland while musically expressionistic, drowning the listener in layers of sound evoking despair. Rather than showing us the frustration of the ambivalence of his success, we’re asked to wallow in the pity of his narration while every texture or beat drowns right in front of us. Conceptual, focussed, but always the damn same: it’s all there to pull us further into his head/emotions when his lyrics/emceeing won’t cut it. Rich and beautiful, yet indulgent where Yeezy affectingly distorted his already mechanized voice to simulate the voice-break or showcase the victory of affect in a cold, unforgiving world or set of circumstances. That’s actually pretty indulgent also, but even when Ye’s introspective there’s a universal concern where Drake settles for “musical docudrama” or autobiography.
You know what, though? I buy it. A quick listen to some of his earlier Myspace-rap mixtapes and you get that he was capable of at least c-grade J. Cole-isms: his recent half rap/half talk style bringing to mind Graduation’s project of intentional simplification to make a line memorable. On half of Take Care’s tracks, such intentional simplification works. Thank Me Later made the mistake of not clarifying this with the guests- Weezy making sorta funny sorta gross jokes about girls who suck the brown off (his dick!), Nicki Minaj being excited/sexy/weird, and Jay-Z doing the emotive only-god-can-judge-me thing he’s started doing- whoever it was, they broke the monotony of simply delivered self-pity and you kinda wished they came back. Jay in particular. They get the brief on Take Care- the at times ridiculous Rihanna (just thinking, that chorus on Live Your Life…) going understated/sultry, Kendrick Lamar talk-rapping about aliens, Andre talk-rapping about something complex, and Wayne going straight Drake. They all kill him, but they do it conceptually! Just like the music: this time round, everything’s coherent, decided, intentional, and direct. And I buy it! Bought it… You have to be wallowing in something for it to work, I think. As an album, there are too many fuck ups: Under Ground Kings is either a nice idea or an offensive one (depending on what kind of a rap fan you are), but coming right after Kendrick’s song it sounds obnoxious. Cameras is terrible and you get the impression he knows it when he tacks the heartfelt Good Ones Go on the end. Look What You’ve Done is autobiographical but in a sweet, honest way rather than an if I boast enough they’ll think I’m displaying vulnerability (pop psychology) one, but there are three tracks after it- not all bad, but unnecessary- detrimental when your album’s 80 minutes long. Still, it’s good for wallowing. He took on MBDTF and lost (for so, so many reasons), but managed to produce something big, beautiful, and coherent where previously he’d only been allowed a cynical rush-job hyped by taste-makers and dope singles. It’s his and 40’s vision, and it’s good. One of the best albums from last year, even. At the same time though, Thank Me Later had better songs. No vision, just better songs. The guests killed him, but that’s because they had killer verses. And killer verses are important on a rap album
Thank Me Later (2010)
Post-Graduation minimal/simplistic flows, post-808s alienation, not as smart but with better hooks and deeper synths- ambient-R&B rather than art-pop, or something. Unfortunately introspection for him amounts to exposing his privilege, hating where he's at, and being too cold to find lasting love: "anthems for the easily alienated." But it sounds good, his guests kill, and for a rush-job it's pretty consistent
Take Care (2011)
Adds electronica only to watch it submerge beneath his thoughts, feelings, pity, vulnerability... where Thank Me Later added ambience and R&B to 808s' template, Take Me Care completely drowns it. And that's alright, now there's an emphasis on the AMBIENCE so it's sorta art-ambient-R&B and often that works with no real drive- it's his ART and he might let the AMBIENCE drone on a bit and talk about angels or some other shit, you mightn't even get a hook. That sorta timelessness and grandiose indifference either expressionistically evokes his depression or simulates it and asks the listener to wallow in it with him. It's Thank Me Later with a VISION or a CONCEPT attached so it's monochromatic- its highs not as high (Shut It Down), and its lows not as low- it's also 20 minutes longer and not one of those minutes is necessary. But he got to produce/release his vision, so let's give him that. And maybe even be the person trying to seem comfortable buying it on vinyl for wallowing depression fap parties sophisticated enough to turn the record over, g rather than just let it play on iTunes. Just think to yourself the price has been discounted