While album reviews are opinions, isn’t it possible that if enough people say the same thing that it’s safe to assume there’s at least some truth to the critiques or praises regarding an album? But what if there’s not a well-defined baseline opinion? Take, for instance, the long-awaited debut album by Drake, Thank Me Later. Pitchfork gave it an 8.4, nearly at the level of their acclaimed “Best New Music” tag. Twitter fiend and rock critic Christopher R. Weingarten called it “pure garbage.” As it turns out for this album, the truth actually ends up somewhere in between.
It’d be easy to see why this LP’s “pure garbage.” After months of buildup and delays, the album is somewhat underwhelming. While that has at least a little to do with the hype machine backfiring, it mostly has a lot to do with the final product. Through collaborations with Eminem, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and more over the last year or so, it was easy to lose track of Drake in the haze of big names. And there’s plenty of those on this album. From the sagely wisdom of Jay-Z on “Light Up” to the slang of T.I. on “Fancy”, each cameo does their best to boost the career of Drake (except the sum-of-everything-bad-about-R&B courtesy of The-Dream and “Shut It Down”). When it’s time for Drizzy to stand on his own, though, it’s clear that these cameos are more often crutches.
“Karaoke” and “Find Your Love” stand out as misfits from a rejected Sade mixtape. The mild, near timid beat and the strained vocals are bent and twisted with tweaks and effects in “Karaoke”. “Find Your Love”, though more upbeat, continues the trend of overwrought and over-digitized mush to a rhythmic, tribal beat. As blase as they are, they reveal a greater truth: that whole emo rap thing, adding emotionality to the cold world of hip-hop, is not an exact science. That within the confines of the hip-hop genre, there’s only so far you can expose yourself before you become the easy listening of the rap world.
Where the former Jimmy Brooks does get closer to a more perfect formula is in embracing the traditions of the hip-hop and R&B universes. Album opener “Fireworks” balances out his unique wailing with the vocal stylings of Alicia Keys, keeping Drake more or less stuck in the role of MC, where his emotional expression is more easily consumed and more palatable to a wider audience. Even “The Resistance”, the cousin to “Karaoke” and “Find Your Love”, shines brighter when he drops the injured birdie act and rips out some cold-as-ice flow covered in emotional bile. Tracks like the radio hit “Over” and “Thank Me Now”, the cockiest and arguably most catchy thing he’s done, paint Drake in the right light: sensitive bad boy with a cocky streak a mile long who is brash with his boys but always in search of the one girl to serenade with the pieces of his broken heart. After buying her some Fendi heels, that is.
Like the opinions regarding what is hopefully only the beginning from the Young Money centerpiece (after Weezy, of course), the effort is at its best when he can strike a balance between his two personas. But if anything, with the roster of guest MCs and producers, Drake’s shown his understanding of the game and his willingness to learn. Even without further development and growth, his career should continue to keep people talking, good or bad, all the way to the bank.