“My junior and senior will only get meaner,” promised Aubrey Graham on his last effort, the phenomenal Take Care, an album that was so good at making you love it while hating yourself for listening to it. Indeed, the question remained: could Drake outdo himself and make an album as insular and bitter as Take Care? The answer is yes and no. On his new effort, Nothing Was The Same, Drake is mean, he’s depressed, but he wants to show you some love.
Nothing Was The Same, especially its cloudy production from longtime Drake collaborator Noah ’40′ Shebib, is Drake at his most apathetic-sounding yet. However, when Drake does decide to emote, his undeniable charm and sense of humour prevails. But unlike the only other hip hop artist of perhaps the last decade who has had as much pop crossover as Drake (Kanye West), what you think of Drake is often consistent with what you think of his music. It’s here where Nothing Was The Same is effective: by portraying a very human, self-aware, self-deprecating, and complex portrait of himself, Drake makes you actually interested in his minuscule problems. In more exemplary words, when he asks rhetorically on opener Tuscan Leather, “How much time’s this nigga spending on the intro?” you have no choice but to laugh.
Nothing Was The Same, like any good Drake album, has both the radio hits and the slow, beautiful, thought-provoking songs. Started From The Bottom and Hold On, We’re Going Home are the two best examples of the former. Started From The Bottom, the first single from Nothing Was The Same released many months back, is a driving, thumping, sort of ridiculous song about exactly what the title suggests. It garnered the right amount of skepticism, as Drake didn’t exactly start from the bottom when he was a child actor on Canadian teen show Degrassi. Nonetheless, it’s an irresistible pump-up track. Hold On, We’re Going Home, on the other hand, is soulful and a song of the year contender, a perfect pop crossover track in 2013 along with the likes of Daft Punk‘s Get Lucky. When in the past, however, Drake’s singles haven’t necessarily fit in thematically with the rest of the album, both Started From The Bottom and Hold On, We’re Going Home address Drake’s turn to the extremely self-reflective and the likeable and sensitive, respectfully. And if these were qualities that Drake had on his past releases, they’re in high gear here.
Meanwhile, From Time is the prime example of Drake the amazing oversharer, the Twitter rapper, over a stunningly beautiful instrumental track of finger snaps and piano chimes. His female counterpart, Jhené Aiko, sings “I love me enough for the both of us,” referencing Drake’s self-deprecation bordering on self-hatred as he relays a spitfire laundry list of girls of his past. More specifically, From Time shows not only Drake’s emotional improvement but his lyrical dexterity: “The one that I needed was Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree / I’ve always been feelin’ like she was the piece to complete me / Now she engaged to be married, what’s the rush on commitment? / Know we were goin’ through some shit, name a couple that isn’t.” This line is not only now the most infamous one on Nothing Was The Same (having caused the real Courtney to take some major privacy measures) but a prime example of Drake continuing his improvement as a rapper, a trajectory begun on on Take Care.
But in the end, what really matters is that the superior Nothing Was The Same brings back the excitement of So Far Gone. This time, however, Drake has mostly done it on his own (minus the Jay-Z-featuring Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2 and penultimate track All Me, featuring 2 Chainz and Big Sean) and the loneliness of the music and minimalism of the beats matches Drake’s place alone on the pop/rap mountaintop.