On his breakthrough 2009 mixtape So Far Gone, Canadian child star-turned-rapper Drake arrived to the big-time almost fully formed. After some comparatively straightforward underground work he recognised that his sensitive flow – sometimes sung, sometimes rapped – was best serviced by chilly, minimalist beats; the kind Kanye had popularised just months before with his introspective electronic phantasm 808s & Hearbreak. Drizzy’s emotive coos on tracks like ‘Successful’ and ‘Say What’s Real’ pronounced his arrival to hip-hop’s head table. “I’m getting better still,” he declared on the latter and since then he’s spent two albums, debut Thank Me Later and now Take Care, polishing his style. His rapping has become increasingly spiky, his song writing ever-improving and his instrumentals more accomplished. As such, Take Care feels like a full realisation of the Drake sound as the 2009 Rookie of the Year becomes a genuine 21st Century superstar.
Musically, Take Care is Drake’s most concise set of songs to date. His long-time production partner Noah “40″ Shebib is responsible for most of the beats and the duo comfortably work in tandem. A smoky haze hangs over every track and Drizzy often sinks into a wallowed, surly state as he ponders his failed relationships and dissatisfaction with his own success. ‘Marvin’s Room’ finds him loitering in a bar, drunk dialling an old flame, while he continues to look for answers at the bottom of a glass on ‘We’ll Be Fine’ (“I’m trying to let go of the past / Should we make this one a double? You ain’t even gotta ask.”)
Considering the heavy subject matter it’s unsurprising that there are few club bangers, as Drake opts for spooky synth arpeggios and poignant piano chords over burly beats. But at times he morphs his sound to snap into line with some of his guests. Rick Ross brings a whole choir to the soulful ‘Lord Knows’ while fellow Toronto native The Weeknd takes the lead on ‘Crew Love’, lowering the temperature on Drake’s already icy sound. The only real misstep is a poorly conceived reimagining of The xx’s remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘I’ll Take Care of You’, with Rihanna’s thin voice being a poor substitute for Gil’s. But overall Take Care is a triumph, and for all of his apparent fear and self-loathing, Drake has crafted an astute, cohesive masterwork. You can thank him now. Dean Van Nguyen
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KEY TRACKS: ‘MARVIN’S ROOM’, ‘CREW LOVE’, ‘WE’LL BE FINE’.
FOR FANS OF: KID CUDI, LIL’ WAYNE, KANYE WEST.