Get in to any debate about Drake for long enough and you’re bound to have the same exchange everybody else has had.
“Well, Drake doesn’t have a classic album.”
“What about Take Care?”
For many, that’s the beginning of the path of divergence on Drake, the most famous and most controversial of all of rap’s figures in this post-blog era. His reign on the top is as long as any we’ve ever seen — including Jay Z, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar — and anybody else. Rarely has a run lasted as long without public opinion waning on an artist, and despite some vocal detractors, now, nearly eight years since his breakthrough mixtape So Far Gone, the Canadian MC is bigger than he’s ever been.
Despite his current, commercial peak, it’s a near consensus that Aubrey Graham was at his artistic peak on his second album Take Care, which celebrates its fifth annviersary tomorrow. For many it’s his lone classic, the album of such prestige and universal acclaim that every legendary rapper must possess to truly solidify his status amongst the elite. The all have them, and the truly upper-echelon rappers have multiple classics, which makes the fact that Drake has become so revered without an undeniably transcendent, genre and era-defining album in the vein of Jay Z’s Blueprint, Nas’ Illmatic, and Kanye West’s College Dropout maybe his most puzzling and impressive accomplishment.
In some respects, Drake’s greatest trait may be his most glaring flaw. He’s almost too successful for the requisite risks to craft a classic, and as a pop star he has to touch so many bases on each release that it hardly allows for the focus that nearly all classic rap albums possess. Illmatic is the story of one project stoop, The Blueprint is an hour-long confessional/retrospective, the same for Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. This is where Take Care comes close, as it’s basically the tales a forlorn star dealing with the pressures of celebrity and hollow relationships. They’re all focused efforts, either thematically, sonically or in most cases, both.
Drake, with his dual identities and sing/rap ying-yang — and multiple chefs in the kitchen, probably — is rarely able to concentrate his attention in such a way, and as such is often left with albums spanning different sounds, tones and even genres in an effort to please multiple crowds. Ultimately he succeeds, giving songs to everybody separately, but rarely giving them to everybody together. Take Care is a solemn album, even in its celebratory moments, like the uptempo and emphatic “HYFR” with Lil Wayne, where he’s busy learning “working with the negatives could make for better pictures.”
On the triumphant “Lord Knows,” powered by a thunderous, gospel-inspired Just Blaze production, Drizzy quickly shifts gears from rapping about “All of the little accents that make me a king” to reminding himself and listeners that he’s actually “more concerned with n****s thinkin’ about Christmas in August, do anything to buy gifts for their daughters.” Even there, on top of one of the most grandiose productions of Just Blaze’s legendary career, Drake doesn’t allow himself or his listeners to get too jubilant or satisfied. Later, he admits to knowledge of the constant internet chatter looking to tear him down, twice. “I know of all the things that I hear they be poking fun at,” he raps at one point before coming back to it moments later. “I’m hearing all of the jokes, I know that they tryna push me / I know that showin’ emotion don’t ever mean I’m a pussy.”