Drake, ‘Nothing Was the Same’ – Album Review
Nobody ever really wins when it comes to Drake -- the man who rules the fall season and social media conversation with his recently leaked 'Nothing Was the Same.' Writers and critics who focus in on him constantly risk getting scrutinized themselves because of his iconic status. Even if one blogs about the most essential news concerning Drake, that person risks earning the ever dubious title of a "d--- rider." Cover him too little and risk the ire of fans and fellow writers who constantly seek to crown him as mainstream rap's king.
Drake portrays himself as the rap game's King Midas, and while everything he touches many times turn to gold, nothing is entirely perfect. Not even Drake's own life. The irony of 'Nothing Was the Same' is that while it will undoubtedly further push him into iconic status, the album seeks to debunk this myth as he paints himself as a flawed human being rather than just a figure. Relationships are broken, trust is hard to come by and the thorns of the Greatest Rapper crown begins to show itself.
'Nothing Was the Same' is noticeably darker than its two predecessors -- 'Thank Me Later' and 'Take Care.' The production -- handled by the likes Key Wane and frequent collaborators 40 and Boi-1da -- is moodier and more stark (and most importantly, fantastic), giving Drake a space to expand on his fears and ambitions.
Even the preceding hits are given fangs in this context. There are lucrative rewards in 'Started From the Bottom,' but it comes at a high emotional cost. 'Hold On We're Going Home' is shameless optimism, but we're brought down to a world where strippers hustle and relationships aren't all they're cracked up to be.
But 'Nothing Was the Same' resonates in how relatable and accessible it all is because of Drake's impressive crafting of songs. The Jhene Aiko-featured 'From Time' maintains a level of earnestness and sweetness, which is hard not to feel sympathetic about. The sense of melody on the unfairly maligned 'Wu-Tang Forever' mixes chest-beating glory seeking with heart, and 'Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2' reminds us what 'Nothing Was the Same' is at its core -- a rap album. And a very good one at that. Drake's reaching for the crown, and if he has to be King Midas, so be it.
1. ‘Tuscan Leather’
This track is similar to ‘Over My Dead Body,’ the album opener on 'Take Care,' in how it features Drake talking about his current situation in what feels like a third-person narrative. ‘Over My Dead Body’ is Drake beating his chest; ‘Tuscan Leather’ is the rapper being aware of the holes in his hubris. One of those holes is his distant relationship with Nicki Minaj: “Not even talkin' to Nicki, communication is breakin' / I dropped the ball on some personal s---, I need to embrace it.”
2. ‘Furthest Thing’
Drake continues the theme of self-reflection and boasting on the second track. He starts by directly playing off the idea of balance: “Somewhere between psychotic and iconic / Somewhere between I want it and I got it.” ‘Furthest Thing’ moves into a quick victory lap as with a celebratory, choir-backed beat.
3. ‘Started From the Bottom’
This is your big spender moment after getting that paycheck. The new graduation theme song. This is the background music for when you’re treading through snow to take that final. Enough hyperboles; a lot has been said about the first banger from ‘Nothing Was the Same’ in the past few months. Drake doesn’t fully top the monstrous power of ‘The Motto,’ but he comes pretty close.
4. ‘Wu-Tang Forever’
This track probably wouldn’t get anywhere near the backlash it received if it wasn’t named after the famous hip-hop collective. Strip the name and you get a very haunting piano sample, a quick lyrical reference to the collective and another skillfully performed Drake verse. There’s a duality here as well. On one hand, you have Drake's melodic laid-back verse, and on the other, you hear him shouting, “How you feel about / Coming home with a / N--- for the night? / If you nervous / Hit the lights / I know we only f----in' out of spite.” Those line breaks -- especially between “a” and “n----” -- contorts these bars into something anthemic, like it’s meant to be shouted at unreasonable levels.
5. ‘Own It’
This track feels like it’s curtailed to troll the incessant Drake haters. Some of the first few lines on ‘Own It’ are some of the “Drake-iest” he’s put together recently, meaning they sound like they’re supposed to be featured on the tweet of faux-romantic young adults. Here’s some examples: “Next time we f---, I don't wanna f---, I wanna make love / Next time we talk, I don't wanna just talk, I wanna trust,” “When the last time you did somethin' for the first time?”
6. ‘Worst Behavior’
This is another track where Drake flexes on his mountain of success, which feels a bit out of place since it comes right after the softer ‘Own It.’ This track is worth a listen to hear Drake make a direct reference to ‘Degrassi’ though: “5AM then go and shoot 'Degrassi' up on Morningside.”
7. ‘From Time’ Feat. Jhene Aiko
Drake flips back to his romantic side with production that includes a nostalgic piano and doo-wopish snaps and drums. It turns out to be the perfect backdrop for Jhene Aiko, who appears on this track. Her sweet vocals reveal a fragile sense of confidence: “Been a minute since we kicked it / You've been caught up with them bitches / I don't get it, you're a star, love / You shouldn't have to deal with that, I'd never make you feel like that.” It also turns out that -- again -- she compliments Drake as they act as two lovers reconnecting. Drake’s flow teeters at the edge of stream of consciousness on one of the album’s better songs.
8. ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’ Feat. Majid Jordan
Drake goes full on pop singer here, and behold, he still has himself hit. He channels the dreamy synth-pop of the ‘80s and a sense of emotional nakedness to make one of the best songs of 2013, while forcing to people to ask just who is Majid Jordan. They're a Toronto production duo consisting of Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman, who released their own EP and has a hand on a huge hit. It seems about right that frequent Drake collaborator 40 is on production duty.
Drake casts aside the cloudy landscape and gets back to nighttime angst. The love on ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’ has went south, and the Toronto crooner-rapper is sour. He muses on matrimonial aspirations before detailing his addiction to earthly pleasures: “She just wanna run over my feelings / Like she drinking and driving in an 18 wheeler / And I'd allow her, talk about p---- power.” Drake sounds detached on this song, not that it’s a bad thing since it matches well with the ambient beat.
10. ‘The Language’
‘The Language’ feels like one of the more lesser tracks on the album because it’s wavering braggadocio, in contrast to the more thematic tracks preceding it. Once again, the random Birdman cameo at the end doesn’t help too much. Also, is what Drake does with Migos’ ‘Versace’ flow here considered borrowing?
11. ‘305 to My City’ Feat. Detail
‘Nothing Was the Same’ gets even grimier as Drake salutes a stripper’s hustle. What buoys the track is the Disney-esque glee in which Detail sings the song’s hook, as if this wasn’t an 18-and-over atmosphere. Drake isn’t exactly contemplative here either, as he nonchalantly raps, “I get it ,I get it, man f--- all that talking, take shots to the kidney.” There’s definitely traces of a southern influence here.
12. ‘Too Much’ Feat. Sampha
This is Drake at his most personal as he raps about the mounting weight of success, his rise during the ‘So Far Gone’ era and chronic ambitions. The song truly goes on that next echelon in his second verse, when he details his heartbreaking distant relationship with his family. “Hate the fact my mom cooped up in her apartment, telling herself,” Drake raps. “That she's too sick to get dressed up and go do s---, like that's true s---.” There are problems the best rapper can’t even solve. It’s all given an extra emotional punch by the outstanding, but sobering chords in the background.
13. ‘Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2’ Feat. Jay-Z
A lot of surprises going on here. There’s an Ellie Goulding sample that adds luxury to the beautiful, but stark instrumental, Jay Z's name featured with that hyphen, Timbaland showing up on the hook and the hook itself -- the famous refrain of Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ Drake spits two blistering verses across the two songs referencing his small beginnings, being maligned in high school and his dedication. Jay Z’s verse is serviceable, but it’s noticeably laid-back compared to what Drake delivers. Jay Z is coasting at the top while Drake snarls and circles the throne like an emo shark.
14. ‘Come Thru’
This track feels like a sidestep for those looking for more pop after being surrounded by this dark aura. This one recalls the straightforward, feel-good intentions of late-'90s and early-2000s R&B. A sidestep, but definitely a worthwhile one.
15. ‘All Me’ Feat. Big Sean & 2 Chainz
The verses by themselves are pretty average, but it’s less about their shortcomings and more about the moments. It’s about 2 Chainz hilariously sneezing Givenchy and declaring an “Ill n---- alert.” It’s about Big Sean weaving in and out of the beat and revealing his absurd sense of paranoia in “I'm sorry for the people I've pushed out / I'm the type to have a bullet-proof condom and still gotta pull out.” It’s about Drake's self-aggrandizement at the center of it all, backed by a definitely eerie Key Wane beat. Because of the cost of fame Drake articulates on ‘Nothing Was the Same,’ the braggadocio turns into this King Midas moment. He has everything, but it costs a lot.
Watch Drake's 'Started From the Bottom' Video
Listen to Drake's 'Hold On We're Going Home'