Sadness has been a booming business for Drake. Between his breakout mixtape So Far Gone and his Grammy-winning album Take Care, the Toronto native’s innate ability to embrace his emotive side—and pen catchy, quotable pop raps—have earned him critical acclaim, millions of records sold, and a spot among Rap’s elite in a relatively short amount of time. After a steady buildup through 2013, Drake returns with Nothing Was The Same, a record that tempers his usual dysphoria with some appreciation for where it’s taken him.
Drake continues attempts to balance pre-fame normalcy with the perks from his hard work, but on Nothing Was The Same, he finds more closure while revisiting deteriorated relationships. Personal pitfalls and braggadocio are only bars away from each other, with equal candor and without as much bottom-dwelling. “Tuscan Leather” takes a four-bar break from six minutes of boasts to note a fallout with YMCMB cohort Nicki Minaj, and “Furthest Thing” apologizes for the negligence of an ex before concluding with an exultant, soul-sampled production by Jake One. Elsewhere, Drake points out how his loved ones’ transgressions can be just as harmful as his. “Connect” narrates his submission to a toxic relationship. Some of the finest moments on Nothing Was The Same come when he puts more focus into storytelling or sharing his perspective instead of placing the blame on one person or another. “Too Much” sadly recounts relatives distancing themselves from him and worries about them lowering expectations for their own lives. On “From Time,” he questions a lack of substantial relationships while sipping brews and rolling up with his father, pondering words of wisdom from his mother, and sharing memories with an ex, who is portrayed by an empathetic Jhene Aiko.
With less guilt tripping, Drake dedicates time to enjoying the perks of his success without as heavy of a heart. “Started From The Bottom” and “Worst Behaviour” use anthem choruses and punchline-laden verses to revel in victories despite humble beginnings and naysayers, while “The Language” reuses the precise staccato flow from Drizzy’s verse on Migos’ “Versace” to stunt on competition. “305 To My City” admires the hustle of a stripper, while “Wu Tang Forever” shows a pair of BDSM relationships Drake has with a woman and with the music industry. Album closer “Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2” sees Drake trading stunt raps with Jay Z before a final verse that enjoys his accomplishments and accepts the terms that come with it.
For an artist with the most number one songs on the Billboard Rap/R&B charts, Nothing Was The Same is notably lacking such obvious hits. Early leaks of “Started From The Bottom” and the bonus track “All Me” took from their momentum, especially without much back up support. But there’s also less fat in general: throughout the album’s lean, cohesive set of 13 tracks, Drake packs multiple emotions into individual songs instead of adding on extra items. This approach would’ve made Take Care an even stronger effort. Also, 40’s subdued, murky sound beds that dictated the direction of Take Care aren’t as dominant; songs like “From Time” satisfy that itch, but cleaner, more buoyant productions like “Tuscan Leather,” “Worst Behaviour,” and the R&B and house-infused “Hold On I’m Going Home” have an equal say. The primary flaws on Nothing Was The Same are in individual corny lines: “Your mama used to live in the church on Sunday / You just go to LIV after church on Sunday / Oh Lord, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” he coos on “305 To My City.” And on “Connect,” he says the cringe-worthy line, “I remember my schedule was a flexible as she is.”
Expanding his subject matter next time around would be a smart move, before it gets stale. But Nothing Was The Same showcases new skills—trimming the unnecessary songs, and focusing on narrative details the way he does on “From Time”—that will strengthen Drake’s arsenal and help him continue to cement his status as a pop-rap heavyweight for years to come.