Drake Tackles the Dark Side of Fame

Courtesy of Young Money

Canadian artist Drake has risen as one of hip-hop’s most prominent artists in the past two years, beginning with mixtapes such as 2009’s “So Far Gone,” leading to his 2010 debut album “Thank Me Later,” which included hits such as “Over,” “Fancy” and “Miss Me.” Drake is also regularly featured with artists like Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Jay-Z.

It’s this sudden rise to fame and ubiquity in the hip-hop industry that takes the center in the subject matter of Drake’s latest album “Take Care.” But rather than taking the clichéd route of boasting how much money, fame and women he has, his songs lyrically focus on more introspective themes like failed romances, loneliness and loss of hope –– all of which are results of his growing wealth and fame. With this record, Drake assumes a more mature perspective, and “Take Care” succeeds in reflecting his growth as both an artist and a person.

The instrumentals on this album are solid; there’s an atmospheric sound throughout the album, with many of the tracks having a catchy pop and electronic feel.

Drake takes a very experimental approach with the production of this album, especially with the track “Crew Love,” featuring vocals from Toronto indie artist The Weeknd. The beat sounds a lot like something one would hear on a James Blake EP, with looped drum and bass beats interloped with soulful vocals, until Drake comes in and starts rapping about how great his life is at the same time wondering what would happen if he stayed in school rather than pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

The tone of this album as a whole is rather melancholy, but Drake still holds an incredible amount of self-confidence, particularly with the track “Headlines,” the album’s first single and arguably one of its strongest tracks. With a simple beat, memorable hook and Drake’s signature sing/rap style, it’s a memorable tune that reminds everyone why Drake became so popular in the first place, even though it doesn’t totally fit in with the atmospheric overtones on the rest of the album.

The album version of “Headlines,” however, ends early with a short poem written and delivered by Drake which — as melodramatic as it may seem — is painfully honest and shows raw emotion. It’s interludes like this, along with the more musical ones such as “Good Ones Go” and “Buried Alive” — which are confessional and heartfelt, that make the album more cohesive and thematic.

Drake’s vocals have greatly improved on this album; for one, they’re not as annoying and nasally delivered like on his previous album. His R&B singing style is more soulful and wholesome, as heard on the epic drunk-dial song “Marvin’s Room” and the beautiful, ethereal-sounding track “Shot for Me.” His singing vocals and his rapping are also more distinct from each other, which is a stylistic improvement from what many have criticized Drake for.

The album (like Drake himself) is not without its flaws, though. At 80 minutes in length, some parts of the album just feel like they drag on and frankly could be removed from the album entirely, particularly in the last stretch of the album. It’s around the point when Lil Wayne appears on the album that “Take Care” seems to lose its momentum, because after his appearance on “HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right),” one of the album’s few boastful tracks, the album starts to lose its focus. “Take Care” ends on a cathartic note, but its final two tracks, “Practice” and “The Ride,” are hardly memorable.

Guest artists on this album leave something to be desired. While Rihanna has a beautiful, soothing voice, she seems awkward and out of place on the title track, which samples Jamie xx’s remix of the late Gil Scott-Heron’s song “I’ll Take Care of You.” While it is understandable that Lil Wayne makes two appearances on this album, as he is Drake’s mentor and label partner, his persona clashes with Drake’s more introspective and intelligent one, and makes the two tracks feel unfocused and awkward.

However, there are some good appearances by André 3000 on “The Real Her,” as well as Rick Ross on the powerful track “Lord Knows.” But the standout guest appearance is Nicki Minaj on “Make Me Proud,” an infectiously catchy track that showcases Minaj’s rapping ability, her signature move of alternating between voices, and her great chemistry with Drake.

Overall, Drake has improved on his ability as a recording artist, and “Take Care” shows a lot of his growth and maturity in dealing with his fame as well. The album could be a bit leaner, but is sonically groundbreaking and, along with Drake’s (mostly) intelligent and introspective lyrics, could contend as one of the year’s best albums.

Rating: 4 out of 5