“I might be too strung on compliments, overdosed on confidence,” Drake delivered on massive hit single “Headlines”. 2011’s Take Care saw Drake straddling self-importance and paranoia. “HYFR”s exuberant chorus deflated into “Practice”. That confidence he was so strung-out on couldn’t help him on the drunken stupor of “Marvin’s Room” and he was left pleading, “you can do better.”
Nothing Was The Same’s sample flipping opener “Tuscan Leather” makes good on the promise to do better, Drake spitting stately raps “Prince Akeem they throw flowers at my feet n****” over a chipmunked Whitney Houston vocal. “Tuscan Leather” carries all the grandeur of Just Blaze production “Lord Knows” and for a full seven minutes the Toronto MC promises to never compromise and moves past proving “s*** to no one except yourself.” One track in, the golden armor cracks and Drake is left exposed, “I’m honest I make mistakes I’d be the second to admit it.” As My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy reminded us all, heavy is the head that wears the crown.
The thumping bass and buried piano of “Wu-Tang Forever” sees Drizzy enter into the ring of southern-rap royalty. Here he takes accusations of his tenuous H-town connections head-on assuring, “I just gave the city life, it ain’t about who did it first, it’s bout who did it right, n****s looking like preach.” During the bridge as a miniscule RZA vocal sample fights for space, Drake adapts an affective snarl delivering “only f***ing out of spite” with the right amount of venom.
“Too Much”s placid vocals (courtesy of London R&B artist Sampha) temper Drake’s feeling trapped in his own house while his mom stays cooped up in an apartment. The chorus’ words “don’t think about it too much” are pearls of wisdom Drake has passed by before in his career. Outside Kanye West, he’s the ultimate rap obsessive, intensely scrutinizing every choice he makes. Short texts turn into treatises. Late night conversations become graduate level discourses. No detail is irrelevant, everything is open to discussion.
Bilious “Worst Behavior” sees Drake trying out a new voice; a throaty shout that didn’t need to be heard. The song conjures what would happen if Rick Ross’ undersized sibling attempted to hop on one of his bangers. It’s a self-inflicting banger in parts, Drake consumed by the notion “motherf***ers never loved us.” As a miss it’s engaging; one imagining Drake’s conflicted conscious erupting in the open.
Jhené Aiko feature “From Time” becomes that outright onslaught, a toxic amalgam of mixed emotion and oversharing. In verse one he details the rocky relationship with his missing in action alcoholic father. “I've been dealing with my dad, speaking of lack of patience, just me and my old man gettin' back to basics. We've been talking' 'bout the future and time that we wasted, when he put that bottle down, girl that n****'s amazing” he breathlessly raps over the airy beat. Round 2 pulls no punches; getting more personal in the process. Drake’s late-night drunk dialing presented in the wispy “Marvin’s Room” landed in him in hot water with a former flame. However, “Marvin’s Room” was an abstraction compared to the photorealism of “the one that I needed was Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree, I’ve always been feeling’ like she was the one to complete me. Now she engaged to be married, what’s the rush on commitment? Know we were going through some s**t, name a couple that isn’t.” A chronic condition of celebrity is to want what you can’t have and “From Time” makes it apparent Drake has a permanent affliction.
Aforementioned chest-pounder “Wu-Tang Forever” eventually flatlines and Noah “40” Shebib’s aqueous synthesizers underscore Drake’s emotionally robotic vocals in the first verse of “Own It”. “And next time I spend, I want it all to be for you” he warmly mumbles. Twitches and a bellowing “own it” soon open the floodgates into a torrent of incisive insults “n****s talk more than b****es these days” and enquiries targeting those who can’t commit to the “yolo” lifestyle, “when the last time you did something for the first time?” It’s one of many album moments where Drake tows the thin line of crippling fragility and invincibility.
One of the most alluring aspects of Drake’s junior release is the constant conflict the music and lyrics are locked in. “Furthest Thing” refuses to hold any applause; mechanical clapping drowning out admissions of selfishness, “I made every woman feel like she was mine and no one else’s”. The sturm un drang trap-rap drums and snaps Mike Zombie provides “Started from the Bottom” mask Drake’s insistence on former struggles. Past the stunting “wearing every single chain even when I’m in the house”, he’s confronting charges of comfortable living that have pursued him from day one. “Boys tell stories ‘bout the man, say I never struggled, wasn’t hungry, yeah I doubt it n****” he confrontationally raps. Even Drake’s lyrics occasionally oppose each other. “Connect” castigates “Own It”s pipe dream plans to try something new; why attempt to swing when a strikeout is ensured?
Musically, no track belies its lyrics quite like album centerpiece “Hold On We’re Going Home”. A muscular bass line and disco strut stand dichotomous to Drake’s stark emotions, “I can't get over you, you left your mark on me, I want your high love and emotion endlessly”. Take Care calcified my belief Drake stands second to Kanye in another category, self-conscious confidence. All the swagger of “just hold on we’re going home” will inevitably lose its sway and only a stop-gap measure remains. Now the concept of the dual album covers seems less nonsensical, 5 years in Drake is caught between starry-eyed adolescence and sobering adulthood. Nestled somewhere in the middle of “I want it and I got it".
"Hold On We're Going Home"