Wearing your heart on your sleeve and rapping about your feelings – be it about women, haters, family – is all but the norm in hip-hop. On the surface, that’s the perception driven by gossip-mongering websites and blog headlines, Facebook status updates, tweets and memes. The downside of this perception is a depreciation of music’s intrinsic value. Hip-hop core fans these days conveniently forget that the late great Tupac Shakur succeeded because of his sincerity and passion, proving that rap didn’t always have to be about showboating, braggadocio or, worse yet, a pseudo-mafioso lifestyle. Of the new crop of rappers, Aubrey Drake Graham (aka Drake), the Canadian of mixed Jewish-Jamaican ancestry, has taken sincere rap and blended it seamlessly with strong R&B vocal chops. Nothing Was The Same, his third studio album, is a unique body of work that will likely be viewed in the future as the crown jewel in his catalogue.
NTWS showcases unreal versatility and cohesiveness, the result of the musical bond between Drake and his longtime producer, Noah “40” Shebib, who oversees the album’s musical direction. “Tuscan Leather,” the intro track, features a sped-up sample reminiscent of early Kanye West production; Drake rhymes candidly about his rise to fame and success, but comes across as more confident than arrogant, with a tone and cadence similar to those on his pre-stardom mixtapes.
The first signs of the emotional side of Drake emerge on “Furthest Thing,” a track that includes several instrumentals. At first, Drake wallows to an ex-lover over a melancholy, sparse instrumental about all of the wrongs he has committed. Suddenly, a more uplifting instrumental comes on, and the rapper Drake takes over his pitiful alter ego. This juxtaposition happens again, albeit in reverse, with the next two tracks, the hit single “Started From The Bottom” and “Wu-Tang Forever.” The latter is a misnomer, as the song is hardly about the legendary Staten Island crew, and instead about relationship dynamics.
Drake rhymes and sings so much about interaction with women that it dominates as the central topic. This doting about the fairer sex is partially due to lifestyle choices and celebrity, which evidently preoccupies the 26-year-old’s mind. The listener will get inundated with the subject to the point that the criticism of Drake being “soft” starts to seem justifiable. On “The Language,” he addresses an unknown rapper – probably Kendrick Lamar, who called Drake out along with numerous others on “Control” – but surely enough veers back to his Achilles’ heel, as he tells the other rapper to “come get your girl, she’s been here three days and she way too attached to me/I hate when they’re too attached to me/ I gotta get on the bus and get back on the road/get what I can out of the country/ Then I just get on the jet and go back to the cove.”
The hands-down timeless cut on NWTS is “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” which features production and vocals from Drake’s OVO Sound label signee Majid Jordan. Let’s just say that the comparisons to Michael Jackson are fully justified; there are no hip-hop artists who could come close to making something like this. “From Time” with Jhené Aiko also has timeless qualities, as the melancholy piano riff and spoken word-inspired rhymes by Drake detail the relationship with his dad, and Aiko’s airy vocals underscore the song’s theme.
Ironically, Drake rose to prominence by being embraced for the very same artistic qualities that now make him a favorite target of jokesters. As he has proven time and time again, Aubrey Drake Graham is perfectly comfortable expressing a wide range of emotions in his songs. Combined with the fact that he has no equal in terms of switching effortlessly from pure rap to the purest of R&B – and often blending the two – Nothing Was The Same isn’t a mere album title but an all-encompassing statement about how influential Drake has become.