Drake has dominated the Hip Hop conversation for the last year. The Toronto-born emcee who acknowledges both Lil Wayne and Slum Village as leading influences polarizes fans with every verse, every interview and every punchline. Since Drake released his So Far Gone mixtape early last year (before scanning over 400,000 units to date in retail), he’s been the talk of the times. Delivering an official debut in Thank Me Later, a confident (if not cocky) title that asserts Drake’s awareness that he’s changing the game. Poised to follow up his acclaimed tape and create a first round classic like his heroes Nas and Jay-Z did before him, he unfortunately falls short on both counts.
That’s not to say the album doesn’t have positive qualities, but even those highlights can be dimmed. His earnest bars deserve some applause, especially when he shares tidbits about his family (“I heard they just moved my grandmother to a nursing home / And I be actin’ like I don’t know how to work a phone / But hit redial, you’ll see that I just called / Some chick I met at the mall that I barely know at all”). All of this comes before talking about abortion and infidelity. While honesty is refreshing, Drake still shifts to being cold and impersonal, when even the always-reserved Jay-Z was capable of “Regrets” on his own debut. Unlike other artists that share dire struggles for a personal connection with a listener, many of Drake gripes don’t seem to resonate as strongly as, say, Eminem discussing Munchausen Syndrome or Notorious B.I.G.’s passionate outcry that his stress comes from his mother’s breast cancer. It might seem unfair to judge a new comer against all-time greats. Then again, when an artist crowns himself the “greatest ever” to start the conversation, it’s difficult not to hold his work accountable to higher standards. In that respect, this album disappoints with no outstanding technical skills or word wizardry, unless one counts those pesky punchlines as ill (“I could teach you how to speak my language, Rosetta Stone”).
Drake does succeed in pulling out all the stops, and making his proper debut feel as big as any we’ve seen since The College Dropout. Top tier guests like Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, T.I., and Alicia Keys are on-hand to cosign Drake’s arrival, all of whom experiment with the song-making and style that the host has brought to Rap in the last year. Fans may also be excited by the production from big name producers Kanye West (“Show Me a Good Time” and “Find Your Love”), Boi-1da (“Up All Night” , “Over” and “Miss Me”), Swizz Beatz (“Fancy”) and Timbaland (“Thank Me Now”). But the album also loses its luster with some of the slower-paced material and big names don’t always translate to worthwhile collaborations, such as the Jeezy-assisted, “Unforgettable” and the aforementioned “Fancy.”
On “Light Up” Drake could be referring to Thank Me Later when he declares he “wrote it for your girlfriends.” As the artist admits, this album was made with a specific purpose, and one Drake shares with many of Rap’s platinum stars of today: commerce before art. However, the album will keep some of his So Far Gone fan base pleased with the brief revelations and the cosigns. Others may fault the young star, perhaps due to lyrical struggles, vocal troubles or a lack of cohesion and concept. Like a heavily co-signed star from the top of the decade, 50 Cent, Drake proves that he can give you two sides of himself and his art: the mixtape and the album, and as Black Sheep say, the choice is yours.