Rap’s upper echelon of uber-stars consists of four guys: Jay Z, Kanye West, Eminem and Drake. This is almost not debatable. Hip-Hop fans could make an argument for guys like Kendrick Lamar, but Lamar isn’t helping his hometown NBA franchise in a re-branding and consulting role. Drake is, for the Toronto Raptors, of course, nor is K. Dot or any other rapper outside Jigga, Yeezy or Drake the face of ubiquitous, global brands and products such as Sprite or Electronic Arts’ FIFA franchise. Because Drake is all over the place, all the time, and much of that plays into the release of his third album, Nothing Was The Same.
And it’s not hard to see why he’s seemingly everywhere: he appeals to everyone, even if everyone won’t admit to it and Drake is speaking specifically from his own experience. Nothing Was The Same is–super cliche alert–the Drakiest Drake album yet, a cross-pollination of sounds (Houston screw, up-tempo dance cuts, British electronic) and references (Wu-Tang homages and name drops, ex-girlfriend call-outs) that shows a guy retreating into the only things that remind him of what used to be.
Nothing Was The Same doesn’t necessarily break new ground in Drake’s subject matter; however, it’s these intricate turns from one song to the next provided by career-long producer, Noah “40” Shebib, that float the album along. It’s Drake most-complete and well-rounded project that ditches the swampy morass of Take Care and extreme highs of Thank Me Later for sonic and thematic cohesion.
Album introduction “Tuscan Leather” is the closest track fans will find to a radio-ready thumping single, sounding like a throwback to power cuts of the early-2000s and rattling for nearly six minutes in three separate parts. “Started From The Bottom” has the most meme-able quotables off the album and “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is “Find Your Love” without the latter’s overt sweetness.
But these are anomalies in the grand scheme, as Nothing Was The Same shines in its transitions and lack of clear-cut singles. “The Language” bleeds into “305 To My City,” while the three-track suite of “Wu-Tang Forever,” “Own It” and “Worst Behavior” showcases Drake speaking–not surprisingly–on past women (“We used to be friends, girl, and even back then/You would look at me with no hesitation and you’d tell me baby, it’s yours” from “Wu-Tang Forever”) and how he reconciles that with being a global superstar over a deflating and escalating series of drum kits and keys.
This isn’t to say that the album is perfect; of course it isn’t. There are some cringeworthy, mushy lines like “she just want to run over my feelings like she’s drinking and driving an 18-wheeler” from “Connect,” which David D. recently highlighted. It’s also an album that, because of its cohesiveness, begs to be played from beginning through end, and jumping into individual tracks (outside of “Hold On…” and the chilling, jarring “Too Much”) muffs the experience of listening to the entire album in one sitting.
But this is Drake, for better or worse. As Noisey’s Drew Millard appropriately put it, “He’s postcategorization in a way that suggests he grew up with unlimited access to data, absorbing and synthesizing disparate scenes and eras and spitting out a product that feels unique to him.” So haters will still hate and fans will still flock to Spotify or Filestube or wherever the kids get their music from nowadays to peep Aubrey’s latest. You can’t run from it, but for our benefit it’s always worth sticking around.
Label: OVO Sound, Young Money, Cash Money, Republic | Producers: Noah “40” Shebib, Allen Ritter, Boi-1da, Chilly Gonzales, Detail, DJ Dahi, Hudson Mohawke, Jake One, Jordan Evans, Key Wane, Majid Jordan, Mike Zombie, Nineteen85, Sampha, Vinylz