Take Care: The Miseducation of Drake (guest blog for AlLindstrom.com)
I’ve been wanting to write about Drake for a while, so let me get right into it.
First off, there are going to be some people who simply don’t like Drake, for whatever reason. Some people don’t think he’s that strong lyrically (more on that later). Some think his subject matter is limited (more on that later, as well). And some don’t like the mixture of R&B in his records, or the fact that he often displays his emotions. Let’s talk about that first.
I think it’s the height of corniness to keep faulting Drake for not creating a sound that he has no intention of making. How many times do you have to say “this new Drake song is soft, b – like teardrops on a pillow”? We get it. You don’t like singing or mellow, emotional music. That’s why God created Slaughterhouse. If you prefer old school Mobb Deep records, go listen to that. Why listen to every new Drake record hoping he suddenly changes direction and starts rapping like 50 Cent (which would open up an entirely new level of criticism – see **Tony Montana**)? That’s not his lane. Not everybody is angry. Not everybody wants to hear rappers killing everyone or rapping aggressively.
I’m not a Taylor Swift fan. It’s just not my type of music. Yet, you won’t see me bashing every new song she releases saying it “isn’t hip-hop enough”. She’s not a hip-hop artist, so why would I compare her to that? I don’t listen to Adele’s 21 hoping to get amped up. Saying every Drake song is kitten whisper soft shows nothing more than you’re obsessed with an artist you claim to hate and you don’t have enough else to write about.
It’s also extremely hypocritical. You know that Drake is popular so you use his name to gain twitter followers or blog views. That’s the same as a rapper selling out and making a cookie cutter radio song to gain airplay – which is something these so-called hip-hop purists hate. So writing about Drake to gain views is basically the same thing. Especially when it’s a dozen articles on an artist you supposedly don’t, all saying the exact same thing. You know how often I write about artists I don’t like? Never.
If you don’t like soccer, don’t tell everybody how much soccer sucks. My wife likes reality shows, doesn’t like sports. I like sports, don’t like reality shows. I don’t say her shows are stupid, and she doesn’t say mine are. We just like different things. There are many different types of music, many different types of television shows and movies. Drake has a certain lane and he doesn’t stray from it. That should be applauded in an era where everybody tries to copy whatever is successful or tries to be everything to everyone. Hip-hop is about diversity and Drake is doing something that nobody else does. Nobody faults Skyzoo for being too lyrical.
Next, let’s get this out of the way. Drake has bushy eyebrows. Also, Jay-Z looks like a camel, Nas contradicts himself, Wayne wore women’s leotards at an award show and Rick Ross was a correctional officer. Great. How many times do we have to rehash these same lame jokes? Every time I see someone on twitter tweet or a blogger write about that, it makes me sad for journalism. All it does is prove that their writing scope is insanely limited. When you have to resort to pointing out irrelevant things such as those about an artist, either they’re doing something right or you’re doing something wrong.
*exhale* Okay, let’s talk about the album.
Take Care is an amazing body of work. Drake really figured it out this time. His debut Thank Me Later sounded like a mash-up. A collection of mediocre, good and great songs put together into a compilation. It sounded like somebody else’s idea. Having said that, it was still solid – one of the better debuts an artist has ever made, especially considering the expectations. A bunch of those songs are still in my regular rotation. But as a whole? It was a bit of a disappointment. It seemed more about the names and loading as many huge stars onto the project as possible to force it to be epic. Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Alicia Keys, TI, Swiss, Jeezy – even a fucking Aaliyah sample! But in the end, all that was left was a collection of records. It was an unfocused effort.
Take Care doesn’t suffer from this at all. Even though Take Care is also star-heavy, far less emphasis was placed on who is featured on the album than last time. First off, Drake wisely put his go-to producer Noah “40” Shebib at the center of the project (did you ever imagine that a child actor once known as Wheelchair Jimmy and a Canadian producer named Shebib would be on top of the hip-hop universe?). Every song went through him. He had the flexibility to add, edit or change any beat that was being used on the project. That allowed for the cohesiveness that was lacking on his debut.
I really respect this direction. For those who followed my personal career, when I was creating Sorry I’m Late, we did something eerily similar. Of the 12 songs, I had our go-to producer YZ produce 7. But he recorded, mixed and edited all of the records, including songs that were produced by Needlz, 88-Keys, Nottz and Dub B. It gave the album a cohesiveness that couldn’t have otherwise existed. Like Noah (prior to Thank Me Later), YZ was an accomplished, yet little heralded, producer. It was about the talent and creating great music far more than it was about using the credits for promotion.
There is an amazing chemistry between the two and Drake is really in his comfort zone on 40’s tracks. Noah knows his strengths and weaknesses and isn’t afraid to tell Drake when something isn’t working. That’s invaluable in an industry where most of your inner-circle is star-struck. This album feels complete. It recognized a vision. Not a single record sounded out of place, except maybe Practice (more on that later).
It opens up right where TML should’ve left off with Over My Dead Body – a brilliant beginning. The music, as it is throughout the album, is magnificent. He raps over simple piano chords and very light, sparse drums. He’s as genuine and honest as ever and continues to expand his flow – an improvement which he displays over the course of the album. This, along with The Ride and Look What You’ve Done, is one of the most poignant records on the album. This isn’t just a superstar bragging about money, this is a superstar who admits to feeling pain. What Jay-Z did for humanizing hustlers on Reasonable Doubt, Drake does for the emotional struggles of successful people. I’m not putting TC on RD’s level, by any means, but I’m trying to explain the depth of which his lyrics reach.
You’ll notice right away, however, in the first two tracks, that his subject matter isn’t going to delve much deeper than it already has. Drake raps about Drake. His story is a fascinating one, though not everyone will agree. He was a successful teenage actor who decided he wanted to take a shot at music, and quickly became successful at that. He discusses that, as well as the pitfalls of fame. Missing his old friends in Toronto. His unlucky streak in love. People sometimes claim that they can’t relate because they aren’t famous or that he doesn’t talk about anything other than love and his career, but that’s only true if you take what he says at face value. I’m far from rich, but I’ve experienced a tremendous amount of personal and professional growth since my days in Brooklyn and I often feel many of the same emotions that Drake expresses.
Funny, many of these same people listened to Watch the Throne, regardless of the fact that none of them have the money to chop up a Maybach when they’re bored. Or they listened to 50 Cent, despite the fact that they’ve never shot anyone or been shot. Most artists talk about themselves. It’s about how well and how creative you can do it. I don’t want to hear about Kanye shooting anyone or 50 talking about the AIDS epidemic in Ethiopia. I listen to 50 when I want to get riled up and feel tough or punch a wall. I listen to Jay when I want to lose myself in my imagination of having a cheat code for life. I don’t only watch movies that only relate to me. I watch good movies about a variety of topics. This is Drake’s. There aren’t many who have followed the path he has.
I think much of the hate stems from subconscious jealousy. I think Jay gets that a lot too, but that’s a different article. See, fans love hearing about struggle. They love the underdog (that’s why they USED to love Jay, til he became too successful). They like hearing about Sha Stimuli’s ups, downs and almosts. They like rooting for people. They like that because many hip-hop fans are struggling to achieve their dream, so they love hearing stories about an artist who was in a similar place as them and became successful. It gives them hope.
But Drake? Drake wanted to be an actor, then became one. Then he decided he wanted to become a musician, and he did that too. His mixtape birthed a nationally successful single in Best I Ever Had. Kanye West then produced the video. His debut album featured hip-hop and R&B’s top tier artists and producers. So I think people feel like “EXCUSE ME for not shedding a tear that Rihanna dumped you and was just using you as a rebound. YOU WERE FUCKING RIHANNA!”. These aren’t regular people problems. It’s like the millionaire complaining that he has to pay a lot of taxes. Most people just don’t relate. What people should (but probably won’t) do is realize that everybody’s problems are the same at their core, we just eat at different restaurants while going through it.
His subject matter is not going to surprise you: relationships, success and it’s pitfalls. If you’re looking for something else, go listen to someone else. I will say, in order to have a long career and not get stale, he will eventually have to touch on new topics and create some concept records. It’s still early in his career. Nas didn’t create I Gave You Power right away (though it only took until his second album). But Drake has gotten VERY good at making songs about Drake.
The head-and-shoulders standout track on Take Care was Lord Knows. WOW. Did Just Blaze deliver the beat of the year or what?? He brought in a live choir and produced the shit out of this. And shockingly, Aubrey sounded aggressive and comfortable on the record, delivering some of the best of the album. This track was SO good, that Rick Ross didn’t even fuck it up. His verse, which included the oft-quoted “only fat nigga in a sauna with Jews”, was clever. This is a strong candidate for song of the year and if they don’t make a video for this, I’m going to punch my friend’s dog in the stomach.
Another highlight is a song that I’m sure will get lots of hate, the title track featuring Rihanna. For fans of good music, and happy, normal people, this song is killer. I can see hip-hop purists not liking it because of it’s obvious house influence, but this song is amazing. It’s a single that sounded like it was JUST about to get cheesy but never did. The chemistry these two have is amazing. It’s funny to wonder how many of these sad, regretful songs were written about Rihanna, which makes the song that much more alluring. I can imagine Aubs keeping this song on repeat, staring at a picture of Ri-Ri, single tear in his eye, while having regretful sex with some random girl that he met while away from Toronto.
I don’t know if there’s a hip-hop artist who’s as honest as Drake. One listen to The Ride (which I believe is the end of a trilogy, started by The Calm and The Resistance) and you can feel like you understand his thoughts. He does come off as someone who has it all, yet still constantly complains. I see where people can take this negatively.
The album is too long. The Practice had no business being included in the album. I kept praying that this was some type of bonus song and that my illegally downloaded leak was wrong. I’m glad this review is finally finished so I can delete this horrible thing from my playlist. I get what he was trying to do, but he should’ve left this as one of those octobersveryown.com freebies. Maybe I’m wrong and this will become an Atlanta anthem, but to me, it’s bad.
He could’ve easily replaced this with Club Paradise of Dreams Money Can Buy (great songs). Actually, he should’ve just cut it. At 18 songs (plus 2 bonus tracks), it’s already way too long. I liked Cameras – the idea of it – but I quickly got bored of the monotony of the beat and hook even though it was lyrically and conceptually strong. When I shuffle it and it comes on, I find myself wanting to skip it. Andre 3K’s verse on The Real Her was completely unnecessary. I mean, it’s cool to have Andre on your album since everybody (except me) seems to think he’s some sort of rap God, but it was just completely out of place. So was Kendrick’s verse on the interlude, but at least his verse was really good and added something to the song.
If the album would’ve ended on track 15 with Look What You’ve Done, it would’ve been damn near flawless. Everything up until that point, excluding Cameras, was impressive and served a purpose. After that, however, it was just a mess. HYFR was just a random collab with Wayne which should’ve gotten leaked on the blogs and forgotten about. Sure, Drake’s fast flow was cool, and the song wasn’t bad, it just didn’t maintain the focus that the album had created. The Real Her was a good song for the first couple minutes. The beat was creative. Drake crooned as usual. But then Wayne came in with a pretty horrible verse. And then, as mentioned, 3K comes in out of nowhere and drops a predictably crappy 3K feature – the type he’s sadly becoming known for.
It reminds me a lot of Reasonable Doubt (again – NOT saying it’s on the level) because the first three quarters were flawless, then it had some random, unnecessary songs, and then closed out remarkably. The Ride was awesome. For all the “journalists” who “reviewed” the album before even hearing that record, you did yourself and your readers a tremendous disservice. This song is the epitome of Drake. This album has officially made me a The Weekend fan. The Crew Love feature was also dope, though I wish they would’ve came up with a different name. Crew Love will always be Beanie bodying a beat hardbody to me.
I think Drake works with all of these people as a way of elevating his status (ie. Stevie Wonder “collaborating” on a song by playing a harmonica on the outro that any decent harmonica player could’ve done). Funny thing is, Drake is one of the rare artists both talented and interesting enough to carry an album by himself. Why he keeps putting everyone else on his tracks is baffling to me. Sure, Kendrick’s verse was cool, but it should’ve been on Kendrick’s project. Wayne doesn’t add ANYTHING to any of the songs he’s featured on. The Nicki verse and hook were solid, and Rick Ross surprisingly delivered a solid verse, but other than that – save the features for hooks.
Going back to Look What You’ve Done, this is exactly the type of track that makes Drake such a polarizing figure. See, even on his most heartfelt song, the things he’s complaining about are still better than most people’s DREAMS. “***Riding in a drop top Lexus. Hoping not to get arrested”. He isn’t exactly talking about beating cancer or having to sell drugs to make some money to feed his daughter. He was talking about having TOO much success and TOO much support. But the problem is, the song is SO FUCKING GOOD! We might not relate to the message, but the way he delivers the message is breathtaking. That’s just his personality.
On Marvin’s Room, he tells his ex that he’s been having random, meaningless sex all week but that he wants to come see her. WHO GETS AWAY WITH SAYING SHIT LIKE THAT?? Drake does. Because he knows exactly how to deliver the message. Bill Clinton got a blowjob WHILE IN OFFICE, but was so smooth, that he was able to direct the focus away from that little detail and still end up as the most popular presidents we’ve had in the past few decades. But Herman Cain? He supposedly touched a few butts 15 years ago but can’t seem to get out of his own way while explaining it. Something far less severe than getting head in the Oval Office – that allegedly happened back when the Yankees were winning all those World Series – is going to cost him the GOP nod.
See what I mean? Some people got it, and some just don’t.
Where else does this album fall short? Well, it’s message. It’s a great album. It’s obviously a hybrid between R&B and hip-hop. I think it’s silly to have to box it. We didn’t box The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, did we? Do we not consider that album hip-hop because she sang? Is The Love Below not hip-hop? It’s hypocritical for us to not let Drake into our very specific definition of a genre which, ironically enough, was built on originality and thinking outside the box. So we’ve now gotten to the point where we try and fit music into the very box that we were supposed to be breaking out of? Hip-hop as music has always been about not following the trends and doing what’s different, yet we’re constantly berating those who escape what’s expected. Hip-hop is getting old. People my age (34) or older are sounding more and more like our parents did when we started listening to Run DMC or Nas. We’re gonna diss the new artists who are wearing skinny jeans and just ignore the fact that our parents used to think our size 44 jeans were ridiculous? We’re gonna criticize Wake Flocka Flame for not having a message and Wiz Khalifa for rapping about weed but pretend that Snoop Doggy Dog and Cypress Hill were some sort of prophets who rapped about more than weed and murder? Every generation is going to have their own artists that they relate to. The same way we weren’t appreciating our parents’ favorite artists, the younger generation isn’t going to fully appreciate ours. It’s natural for the younger people to break away and want to have their own things – trends, music, clothing styles. Each generation thinks their way was right and the new way is silly. Welcome to getting old.
That wasn’t random. It’s related to this review. A lot of the hate for Drake stems from the fact that he doesn’t represent what we feel hip-hop should be – what it was founded on. But hip-hop has evolved. We’re no longer a niche. Hip-hop is mainstream music. There’s still plenty of Skyzoos and Sha Stimulis to listen to. Artists who better fit the original definition of hip-hop. And that’s the beautiful thing about today. We don’t have to listen to Drake if we aren’t in the mood for emotional music. Music is freely available to all of us. Yet, many of you do listen to him and then act surprised or angry when it doesn’t sound like Slaughterhouse. Most people listen to music for enjoyment, not to study lyrics or to hear about struggle. They listen in the car on their way to work. R&B and country music always sell well, just like romantic movies, because people are ALWAYS falling in and out of love. There’s always a market for that. Drake is in that lane.
So Drake is our generation’s LL Cool J – only better. Is that so bad? LL is one of the forefathers of rap and is a legend, maybe even a top 10 or 15 of all-time. What’s impressive about Drake is that he does these relationship R&B records, but writes them as if he was rapping. The words, the curses, they’re so natural. His raps are witty. The words are exceptionally real. He isn’t Pharell trying to do something he isn’t naturally good at. He’s more lyrical than most “radio” rappers. Can’t we just appreciate it for what he is?
I could probably type another 12 pages on this topic. It goes so much deeper than just one artist. The hate Drake experiences represents a shift in our culture. The aging of a genre. Hip-hop is supposed to be tough. Graffiti on the walls. Bare knuckle brawls. Naughty by Nature. But it’s grown up now. And there’s another generation who’s embracing and expanding the genre. We can either accept it or end up sounding exactly like we’re parents – doing the very thing we swore as kids that we’d never do. Hip-hop is no longer exclusively the school bully. Sometimes, it’s the guy who bought the teddy bear for his girl and then cried when she broke up with him and dated the bully. Blame Kanye for ushering in this trend (has everybody forgotten about his teddy bear logos already?) – but would anybody really want to imagine hip-hop without Kanye’s influence?
If I was rating this album, I’d give it about an 8 out of 10. To give it any more would be an insult to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which did everything Drake did AND delivered amazing message after message. But to give it less would an insult to the very genre that we claim to love.