By John Lynch, Senior Arts Editor
Published September 25, 2013
With the release of his debut LP, Thank Me Later, Drake formally introduced himself to the popular music world as an artist with a versatile range and the potential to push hip hop into innovative, new territory. The album itself, though, was a confused and discordant effort and didn’t feel like the realization of his talents in the way that his sophomore album, the brooding and cohesive Take Care, unquestionably did.
Nothing Was The Same
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Drake’s latest work, Nothing Was The Same, continues to show his progression as an artist while reflecting on the elements that made his early career both exciting and misguided. In many ways, NWTS acts as an updated, more confident revisitation of Thank Me Later. From the opening bass line of “Tuscan Leather” — a track that masterfully manipulates a Whitney Houston sample over the course of two beat changes — Drake has clearly abandoned the gloomy soundscape of Take Care in lieu of the livelier, harder-hitting approach that he failed to perfect on his debut.
Shedding the indie-R&B influence of his second album, Drake embraces the grimy synths of Houston rap on NWTS to an intriguing effect. With this H-Town influenced production comes a welcomed increase in deepened background vocals and high-pitched samples swirling eerily in reverse, and Drake himself makes an effort throughout the album to experiment with a wide range of vocal pitches. Transitioning from deep-voiced, French Montana-like shouting to high falsetto cooing should be a recipe for unauthentic disaster for anyone in music, but at this point in his career, Drake actually has the confident artistic vision to pull it off.
With “Connect,” Drake puts a brilliant, triple-entendre twist on the Houston colloquialism “swangin’ ” — slyly shifting between metaphors as he tries to round the sexual bases with a home-run swing and swerving in his ride like he’s on the Texas interstate. Plus, there’s palpable irony in the fact that “Connect,” a song that’s culturally 100 percent American, is produced by the Scottish wunderkind Hudson Mohawke — who laces the Canadian rapper’s vocals with a memorable beat unlike anything he’s attempted thus far.
Perhaps due to the compounding growth of his wealth and resources, Nothing Was The Same sounds crisper than any of Drake’s previous works. The album’s executive producer, 40, once again provides Drake with consistent, high-caliber production. On the standout track “Worst Behaviour,” Drake puts on a bombastic performance that proves his flow is now undeniably one of the best in the game — especially in the spectacular final verse, which starts out biting Mase’s verse from “Mo Money Mo Problems” before gaining momentum and reaching a dizzying lyrical pace.
Though much of the album is impressively innovative and finds Drake branching out in a positive way (as alluded to by his murky lead single, “Started From the Bottom”), Nothing Was The Same does slip up occasionally when Drake starts singing. The melodies here aren’t nearly as compelling as those on his second album, perhaps because of the strong influence that The Weeknd’s songwriting and production had on the making of Take Care.
When Drake attempts to get personal on Nothing Was The Same, such as on the Sampha-featured “Too Much,” he can’t quite strike the same emotional chord that tracks like “Look What You’ve Done” hit on his last album. On the other hand, the “we’re not in Kansas anymore” singing bit at the end of the lackluster “305 To My City” is so dangerously close to self-parody that you could pretty much see Affion Crockett donning thick eyebrows and crooning the words in a YouTube video.
Nonetheless, Nothing Was The Same is a stellar album and a fully realized culmination of the artist’s abilities.