November 13, 2011

Album Review: Drake's Take Care

Since the Kanye-ization of hip-hop over the past decade, we've watched the genre evolve dramatically outside its comfort zone and become the new barometer of what is fashionable in musicmaking. Among the young innovators helping usher in hip-hop's latest era has been Young Money's Drake, the mixtape master and former teen actor whose wildly eccentric 2009's entrance, So Far Gone had listeners on all sides of the spectrum salivating for a formal debut. Thanks to his fresh style of crossing over hip-hop rhymes and pop accessibility with Pitchfork sensibilities, it only made sense that Thank Me Later made for one of 2010's most eagerly anticipated releases. While the results unfortunately leaned more heavily on the commercial aspects of his potential, his sophomore effort Take Care delivers on all fronts.

If My Dark Twisted Fantasy was Kanye West's game-changing dream sequence opus, then Drake's Take Care may very well be the reality of West's perversions. You see, unlike hip-hop's veteran throne watchers, Drake's shtick has always been far more emotive and self-deprecating in light of all the swagger and posturing that comes with rap notoriety. Thank Me Later had moments of humbleness like this scattered across the bombast, but this time around, it's Mr. OVO's honest conscious getting the better of him and making for one of the the most personable albums produced by a hip-hop superstar. To convey the soundscape of his tug-of-war with success, the Toronto native has assembled a who's who list of cutting edge collaborators that ultimately gestate Take Care into a state-of-the-art-sounding reflection of life as the man they call Drizzy knows it. They may not be blockbusters like Jay-Z or Alicia Keys, but it's for the best.

Of those guesting on Take Care, it's breakthrough newcomer and Drake-endorsed fellow Canadian, The Weeknd who shares the same cynical perspective about fame as the album's star on slowburner "Crew Love" ("Tell em I need reservations for 20 / I’ve never really been one for the preservation of money / Nah, much rather spend it all while I’m breathing / That OVO and XO is everything that you believe in...") and co-assisting on the Noah "40" Shabib-produced "The Ride" (You won't feel me 'til everybody say they love you, but it's not love...") And speaking of "40," the producer remains a constant in shaping Drake's signature sound that teeters between pomp and circumstance ("Shot for Me," "Headlines," "Cameras,") and steamy humbleness (the drunk-dial love letter heard in "Marvin's Room," the cryptic Kendrick Lamar-featuring "Buried Alive (Interlude)" or the "The Real Her," which boasts some of the best rhymes to come out Lil' Wayne and Andre 3000's mouths in quite some time.) Meanwhile, a production credit by Jamie xx of R&B indie act, The xx shows off Take Care's crossover range with a pop-ified pseudo-cover featuring the red hot Rihanna in the album's title track. Straight-forward bangers such as the T-Minus-produced "Make Me Proud," "HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right)" and Just Blaze's Rick Ross-guesting "Lord Knows" on the other hand are convincing enough to please all ears despite their commercial appeal.

Unlike Thank Me Later -- which threw many of its eggs into the baskets of heavy-hitter guest spots that didn't always pay off -- the underdog supporting cast on Take Care excels expectations and contribute to a large chunk of the album's success. It's ultimately Drake, though -- the rapper, the trendsetter and the innovator -- that should be given credit for again reigniting hip-hop with fresh ideas minus cockiness that forces you to rethink everything you know about the game. The Young Money entertainer seems more in control with his direction than he did on his debut, and he does it all not by throwing his faith behind big names or convincing you with his fame, but with a likeable humility that is as respectful to the craft and his listeners as the album title would suggest.

Drake's Take Care will be released November 15, 2011 on Young Money / Cash Money / Universal Republic Records.

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