That’s a lesson Drake seems to have learned on his sophomore album Take Care. And about time. It’s been nearly two years to the day since the Toronto rapper was propelled into the spotlight by being nominated for a Grammy even before his first full-length dropped. Since then, that debut disc Thank Me Later helped make him one of the biggest names in global hip-hop and turned his life upside-down.
Of course, fame wasn’t completely new to 25-year-old Aubrey Graham. He spent most of the past decade playing Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation. But that was Canadian TV fame; this is worldwide rap fame, with all the money, power, sex, temptation and excess that brand of success brings. And while he may not be the king of the castle yet, there’s no doubt Drake is the prince waiting for his turn at the throne.
Make that dark prince. While no one would compare Drake’s story to Shakespeare, it’s no secret his crowned head often lies uneasy. The thoughtful rapper and vocalist first examined his newfound celebrity on Thank Me Later and found it both thrilling and worrisome. Little surprise that this time around, both the pleasures and perils of his privileged existence have become the focal points of his art. In
short: Mo money, mo problems. You can see it reflected on the cover of Take Care, which depicts a downcast Drake surrounded by palatial opulence — golden goblet, gargantuan candlestick, massive paintings — yet utterly and ultimately alone.
Naturally, you can also hear it depicted in nearly every track, as Drake struggles to deal with his conflicted emotions about success.
One minute, like any rapper worth his gold chains, he’s bragging about his income and lifestyle: Drinking in Vegas, holding court in the VIP room, partying with strippers. “You know I want it all and then some,”
he boasts. But a minute later, like any good Canuck, he’s apologetic about fame and ill-equipped to deal with it: He’s drunk-dialling old lovers from the club, losing his money at the casino, and realizing that all the candelabras in the world can’t buy love. “I guess you lose some and win some,” he admits.
OK, that isn’t exactly breaking news. Artists have probably been bemoaning the price of fame since the days of cave paintings. But what Drake may lack in innovation, he makes up for with inspiration, motivation, sincerity — and no shortage of style. His rhymes are intelligent and contemplative; his delivery low-key yet confident and assured. His phrasing and attack seem sharper than they were just a year ago, while his sense of melody seems stronger; when he switches from rapping to singing, it feels more natural, more organic. Taken together, it all makes these quiet narratives both emotionally compelling and accessibly entertaining. Sure, he’s deep — but he can still party.
And party he does, joined by the VIP cast you expect. Rihanna breathes seductively in his ear on the title cut; Nicki Minaj drops some attitude on the female-celebrating Make Me Proud; Stevie Wonder drops by for the downbeat Doing it Wrong; Rick Ross, Andre 3000 and mentor Lil Wayne pop up now and then to raise the roof. But even as he rubs shoulders with the A-listers, Drake doesn’t forget where he came from.
Canadian crooner Chantal Kreviazuk and rising star The Weeknd are also on the guest list. Drake’s granny even shows up on one track, and his hometown gets plenty of love. Most vitally, producers and pals Noah (40) Shebib and Boi-1da are still along for the ride, supplying the stylishly slow-burning grooves, dusky ambience, moody melodies and icy textures that drive these confessional masterpieces — and help make Take Care one of the most consistent and cogent albums of 2011. And the sophomore album any artist and fan would wish for.