“Best I Ever Had,” the first single off of Drake’s So Far Gone EP, is by itself worth the price of admission. Not only was it the hottest song of the summer, it might have changed the course of popular hip hop. That’s not hyperbole — listen to the hook. Notice anything? You hear how strikingly human that voice sounds?

Drake

So Far Gone
Young Money Entertainment

That’s right. Drake scored this summer’s mega-hit without the use of the much-maligned, robotizing Auto-Tune effect. When was the last time that happened? “Umbrella”? So rejoice, humans. We have reclaimed the charts. And we have Drake — not Jay-Z, whose “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” made a strong case but did little to sway popular opinion — to thank.

This achievement isn’t lost on Drake. On the EP’s last track, “Fear,” he raps: “No Auto-Tune / but you can feel the pain / It all comes spillin’ out / like you hit a vein.” All over So Far Gone, Drake seems similarly self-aware.

On “Successful,” he reflects on his rising profile, one that reportedly sparked an intense bidding war between several drooling labels: “The young spitter that everybody in rap fear / A lot of y’all are still sounding like last year / The game needs change and I’m the motherfucking cashier.” When considering the facts, lines like these — and there are a lot of them — come off as more than the typical hip-hop braggadocio.

So Far Gone, the first proper release by the Canadian-born Drake, was first conceived as a 16-track mixtape. But due to the wild popularity of the prenominate “Best I Ever Had,” it was reformed into an easier-to-market seven-track EP. Considering that most of his songs tend to go on for about two minutes too long (most tracks hover around or above the five-minute mark), the abridgement was a wise move.

The beats range from relatively minimal and ambient (“Successful,” “Houstatlantavegas”) to organ-driven Southern funk (“Uptown”). For the most part, they do little to distinguish themselves as more than standard-issue. But Drake could rap over spoons and a kazoo and it would probably be more riveting than anything from Soulja Boy Tell’em.

If anything, So Far Gone is Drake’s coronation party, which makes it both completely spirited and a bit unsure. The constant presence of the avuncular Lil Wayne is a bit intrusive — he’s on three of seven tracks — and Drake seems content to ride his coattails throughout the entire EP. It would be wise for Lil Wayne to step back and let his protégé distinguish himself from his Old Uncle Weezy.

Despite Lil Wayne’s mentorship, Drake’s flow is closer to Kanye West’s. Not a spot-on rhythmic mastermind, Drake — like West — spits every line with laid-back authority and drops clever, accessible couplets that have the peculiar ability to stick in your ear for days.

As he gets the growing pains out of the way with this charming, uneven EP, Drake seems prone to make a bigger, more rounded splash with the release of his debut album Thank Me Later in early 2010. Until then, blast “Best I Ever Had” on repeat and hope Lil Wayne loosens his overbearing grip on the emerging star.

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