Music

Drake: Take Care

Discard nearly everything dislikable about Thank Me Later, amplify the emotional candor by several degrees, and get ready for the most complete pop album of 2011.


Drake

Take Care

Label: Universal
US Release Date: 2011-11-15
UK Release Date: Import
Amazon
iTunes

There's something fun you can do when discussing Take Care with people that grew up in a different era of hip-hop, or just hate pop music. Call it beautiful. Go ahead, try it. Doesn't it sound funny to you, too? It's a weird thing to say about a hip-hop album. In fact I'm nearly positive it's never really been attempted before. Sure, rap artists have said beautiful things, featured beautiful choruses and, at the very least, introduced video viewers to a litany of beautiful women. But hip-hop always found its roots in bass, in at least a measurable amount of grit and mean-mugged struggle. Soul, funk, ruggedness. Take Care? This album could care less. The opening number is centered on a gorgeous little piano melody and Noah Shebib's signature low pass filters, both of which support Drake dancing between rapping and alto vocals more nimbly than ever during verses that lead us towards a chorus from a woman married to Our Lady Peace's Raine Maida. Which is to say, if you thought Thank Me Later was Drake playing it safe on the heels of So Far Gone's runaway success, Drake heard you.

Let's detour back to Thank Me Later for a moment. Initially I was fairly ambivalent about that album: nice hooks, some clever raps, catchy beats and a whole lot of Drake-being-soft. But those beats and those hooks had me coming back over and over again during the summer, with me slowly finding more respect for the awkward honesty Drake wanted to share -- not to mention simply huge collaborations like "Light Up" and "Miss Me". After a long hiatus, I returned to the album this summer and was flabbergasted to discover it was actually one of my favorite hip-hop releases of the past couple years. At some point over those seven or eight months I'd come to connect with Drake on a lot more levels than I had when Thank Me Later first dropped. Much like his original mentor, Phonte of Little Brother, Drake was a guy who could flip the rap/R&B switch near-perfectly, and wasn't afraid to tell us what was on his mind even at the expense of being taken seriously.

So, as Drake mounted the hype campaign for Take Care with the player hater anthem "Marvin's Room" and "Trust Issues", I couldn't help but wonder exactly how perfect Take Care could possibly be. Despite all his success, Drake seemed on the edge of losing his mind. Here he was, one of the most successful musicians of 2010 by nearly any measure moaning over the same girls he'd known before he was famous, the same problems he'd had as an upper class suburban teen. Could Drake really be that honest with us or, perhaps more realistically, play that character so convincingly for us over a whole album? Take Care responds with quite a resounding "hell yeah, fuckin' right" as Drake, 40 and his rotating roster of guests try their damnedest to create a pop rap album that can compete with Kanye West's monstrous My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. They don't quite get there, but they did a damn fine job trying.

After the opener I've already discussed, the following songs essentially act as prelude to the real meat of the album. Drake explains how he'll take care of his friends until he's dead and gone, how he views extravagance as an escape and reviews the personal struggles he let us in on during Thank Me Later. More than anything, he takes responsibility for his life and the lives of those around him repeatedly, a sentiment that reaches its apex much later in the album. After the album's most challenging moment (the Weeknd collaboration "Crew Love" -- seriously, that bridge is unexplainable and takes a couple tries to sink in), Drake duets with Rihanna on the album's title track (itself a remake of Jamie xx's Gil-Scott Heron remix "I'll Take Care of U"). Drake memorably explored his shortcomings as a partner for Rihanna on Thank Me Later, and this de facto sequel finds Rihanna delivering a vocal far, far prettier than one would ever expect from her lips that essentially forgives Drake and promises him friendship for life. Predictably, Drake does the same because what man is going to turn down Rihanna's open hand? Quite humorously, "Marvin's Room" follows, Drake's now infamous five-minute drunk dial in which he tears down an ex girlfriend's new lover and provides a list of reasons why Drake should be back in her life. Also, a ridiculous Kendrick Lamar verse is hidden as a tacked on interlude that describes Kendrick meeting Drake for the first time and realizing he was on the cusp of real fame. It's a fairly abstract, curious little thing that works in spite of itself. It feels like a random favor Kendrick took full advantage of.

It's the section that follows this segment which will probably develop the most heated discussion. T-Minus provides three straight tracks full of big time bass and 40-like filters, Drake going back to his themes of crew affection and self-reflection. Then Just Blaze supplies what many are calling the beat of the year (I disagree but it's definitely an appropriate conversation starter), this extremely massive, soul-burning concoction featuring Rick Ross in which Drake finds the courage to lash out at anyone who thinks his 'softness' is a negative trait. But after this vitriolic period, eventually "Good Ones Go" comes along, a sweetly tender ballad about the many things Drake's let slip through his fingers in his pursuit of fame. He then goes on to describe in detail women he's met who he's failed to make lasting connections with, going so far as inviting Andre 3000, Stevie Wonder's harmonic and Lil' Wayne along to help him explain how difficult it is for guys like him sometimes. These songs are heavy on his Autotuned-into-beauty R&B side, and some could find it a bit sleep-inducing, even though I find it all quite touching to the point it's my favorite segment of the album. The Stevie Wonder featuring "Doing It Wrong" in particular is so touching and addictive, especially when Stevie's harmonica slowly starts to creep in underneath Drake's lament over young people in love's inability to stop being friends or be friends without being lovers. That song is Drake at The-Dream levels of pop perfection.

By the time Take Care hits its crucial final three songs, it's hard to believe the album is near its end, even as the runtime ticks past 60 minutes. But "Look What You've Done" surely feels like Drake is ready to place his heart on the table and get out of our way shortly afterwards. He revisits his frequent analysis of the events that led to his fame, this time focusing acutely on his southern uncle and abandoned mother. He addresses his maternal relationship especially frankly, opening the song in his mother's basement with his famous ex-girlfriend Nebby, arguing with his mom about her struggles with quitting smoking and his anger over it that eventually develops into relief that he's successful enough to pay for her medical bills and a European vacation. The uncle segment details his wild summers in Houston and the various bits of life advice he gleaned from those trips to his uncle's house. It's a deeply touching moment that ends with a monologue from his grandmother via retirement home, something that feels much like Kanye West's "Runaway". Afterward we get a hype track ("HYFR") with Lil' Wayne and a strange, syrupy R&B cover of Juvenile's "Back Dat Azz Up", almost as if Drake needed to take a break before giving us the song he and many of his peers have claimed is the best song he's ever penned, "The Ride". Another collaboration with Abel Tesfaye and his production team, much like "Crew Love" it's a piece that takes a couple digestions to make sense of. But the verses are Drake at his most unfiltered, dismissing his haters once and for all amongst verses that describe first how hard he tries to feel normal and forget his old flames now that everything comes easy to him, and second how hard he once tried to attain the life he's not so sure he wants now. Both verses are filled with fabulous details and are among the strongest, most human moments of a career full of them already.

Take Care arrives without as many blatant highs as Thank Me Later, nor as many obvious singles. But it's also one slightly embarrassing Nicki Minaj verse and one awkward Lil' Wayne feature (the "HYFR" one) away from being by far the smoothest hip-hop and/or pop listen you're likely to come across this year. Unlike Thank Me Later, the flaws are never on Drake's or his producer's shoulders, and he's created a wholly consistent audio template to work with that makes the track sequencing pretty much perfect (those last four songs seem like they could go in just about any order, and I suppose that might be something to blame Drake and Shebib for) and gives the listener little time to contemplate one track before the next one has their full and undivided attention. All of which raises a perplexing question: it's undoubtedly true that Drake's success would have been slightly less dramatic had he not come out alongside the pop caricature version of Lil' Wayne and every 12-year-old girl's favorite rapper, Nicki Minaj. But now that his sophomore album's biggest faults lie in the hands of his connections to Young Money, and its greatest successes a result of his expanding relationships in Toronto and the industry at large, one has to at least entertain the possibility Drake would be even better off if he set out on his own. Then again, at this point the only person that could halt Drake's success at this point is already Drake himself. Sure he's corny, but he's also an excellent songwriter, and he owns his quirks, which for my money is all I ask for from a pop artist. Especially if you're going to make something as shiny and attractive to the ears as Take Care.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image