Never underestimate the troubled life of a platinum-selling superstar artiste: dealing with excess, squandering millions and record company pressure – it’s proverbial fodder for that difficult second album and Aubrey Graham is chowing down.
Take Care works off the same template as Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, sharing the thematics of boastful celebration but also self-analysis and ridicule. Drake is dismissed by rap purists for his emo leanings. Grammy nominated for So Far Gone, he essentially “got rich off a mixtape” and was catapulted to global stardom (his past career as a child actor may have helped). But it’s true, he likes to wallow in over-vaunted self-pity. By his account, he’s had a rough time of it. Fame has cost him love and no amount of strippers or double-shots can remedy his ache. Resultantly, ‘Marvin’s Room’ is that regrettable inebriated phone-call to an ex-girlfriend. Cringe-worthy stuff – not least for its familiarity – but there’s soul beneath the spite in a down-tempo r&b jam where sing-talk pleading is met by the lady’s astute demoralising riposte: “Are you drunk right now?” Bridged by a Chilly Gonzales piano piece, ‘Buried Alive’ tells a more truthful side to the story, dissecting the breakdown further, Drake (via Kendrick Lamar) takes responsibility over some dark trip-hop production: “So blame it on Mr OVOXO, the reason why I’m breathing on the vanity I know”.
With an admittance of self-importance, Kanye similarities are indisputable. They even pool from the same suite of collaborators (Drake’s label boss Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, André 3000 and Nicki Minaj for starters). It might be contractual for marquee rap albums to feature a Rihanna cameo these days. Her contribution here is questionable: a karaoke cover of Gil Scott Heron & Jamie xx’s ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’, this is mixtape material. Its inclusion on an album proper is moot to say the least never mind being the titular song. However. Ethics aside, as a standalone track it is pop perfection – and this is where Drake strives.
Drake’s ear for fresh production is his cash-cow. “Over-dosed on confidence”, ‘Headlines’ nods to the of-the-moment electronic works of Montreal-producer Lunice. From his home town of Toronto, Drake recruits his close friend Abel Tesfaye – aka reigning r&b revivalist The Weeknd. ‘Crew Love’ is an anthemic buddy-song, chopping 808 drum lines with a swaying codeine-soaked melody chronicling life of excess and industry parties “Why? Cause they lovin’ the crew.” The pair hit it again on closing track ‘The Ride’.
The trite message of ‘Proud Of Me’ might be his ultimate damnation if it weren’t such a banger. Cascading in with a skittering dancefloor rhythms, Drake’s emcee flows to rap-croon then snags with a smooth chorus hook before passing the gun to Nicki Minaj, who shoots at the chest with bad ass gangsta verse, “B-b-b-bet I am / All of them bitches I’m better then.” And that’s it. Bang. Sentiment discounted, that’s how to write a killer tune.
As easy as it might be to dislike a whinging millionaire narcissist, Drake carries himself with nice-guy vulnerability, surrounded by spikes of real-life concerns that stop his ego from West-size inflation. Sure there are flaws. Take Care is 20 minutes too long and there’s glaring bombastic over-indulgence. There’s bad rhyming, fiscal whining, career emulation and pilfering from dead icons. All this is easy overlooked from his unique stand point. He’s a mainstream pop star (and avails of every privilege that brings) with a solid knowledge underground music. Marrying these worlds, Take Care is a mass appeal pop record with ambitious and progressive production.