Drake - Nothing Was The Same
Release Date: September 24, 2013
Record Label: Young Money/Cash Money
“I'm just as famous as my mentor.”
So exclaims Drake on the first track of his third full length album. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this statement is just how unsurprising it is. Sure, there was a time not long ago when Lil Wayne dominated the rapper-turned-pop star crossover realm, but I feel safe in saying those days are behind us. When you think about it, is there anyone not named Jay Z or Kanye West that's as popular as Drake? I'd say not really, but that's not the most impressive thing about Drake. What sets Drake apart from his mainstream rap peers, especially in 2013 when albums from Big Sean, J. Cole, and Wale are amongst the best selling in the genre, is that he actually makes challenging, focused, and artistic music.
This realization, however, is nothing new. Those that have been following Drake from the So Far Gone days have always known he was destined for greatness. Even if Thank Me Later fell a little short of expectations, it was still an incredibly solid debut with some of his strongest tracks to date on it. But it was his stunning sophomore album Take Care that earned him the respect of people in both the hip-hop community and the general music community. On that album, he seamlessly combined the worlds of rap and R&B over a backdrop of hazy, downtrodden music as he spilled his heart out, singing and rapping about his family relationships and his personal relationships. The long awaited follow up, Nothing Was The Same, sees him refining that sound into something that's more bare bones but still very grandiose.
Like all Drake full lengths, a good majority of the album is produced by his long-time collaborator and best friend, Noah “40” Shebib. 40 has always taken a ton of influence from Kanye West, and on Nothing Was The Same, he takes that influence to new levels. Take the previously mentioned first track, “Tuscan Leather,” for example. 40 not only uses his usual brand of downtempo, foggy synth pads, but he utilizes a chopped and sped up vocal sample to lay the foundation of the boisterous track. In terms of starting off Drake albums, this song is a little different than what we're used to, coming out of the gate hard and fast. But here, he's in more “Over My Dead Body” mode than he is “Fireworks,” talking about how he “reached heights that Dwight Howard couldn't reach.” People tend to have a problem with Drake's boastful lines, and at this point in his career if you haven't grown to find them the least bit endearing the only thing that might make you like them more is if you accept that he's deserved it. When he says “This is nothing for the radio/But they'll still play it though/'Cause it's that new Drizzy Drake/That's just the way it go,” you know he's right; Drake has already proven that when he drops new music it's going to make an impact.
And make an impact it has. Before the album was even announced, his single “Started From The Bottom” went from being cooly received by fans to one of the biggest rap hits of the year so far. Not to mention the string of non-album tracks that surfaced throughout the year. By the time the September 24th release date was announced, however, it was a mystery how the album would turn out. The other single, “Hold On We're Going Home,” offered a little insight, with its light and breezy feel-good R&B sound getting lodged in every listener's head from day one. But, despite being an easy album highlight, the song doesn't necessarily represent the album as a whole. As a matter of fact, none of these songs do. They're all rather diverse and distinctive, though they all come together to form a very cohesive and concise project.
There are many songs that can be placed into separate categories here, which helps bring things together. You've got the smoky, Take Care-esque R&B tracks like the front half of “Furthest Thing” and the Hudson Mohawke produced “Connect," the bravado filled rap tracks like “Started From The Bottom,” “Tuscan Leather,” and “Worst Behavior,” and then songs like “Wu-Tang Forever,” “Pound Cake,” and “Own It” that fall somewhere in the middle. Drake offers a lot of different styles of himself, but he strings together his personality in ways that feel genuine and true to who he is. He can go from being overly confident on “Worst Behaviour” to incredibly personal on “From Time” without forcing anything, painting himself as a complex character with many sides to who he is, which is why the album comes across as such a varied project.
Nothing Was The Same is perhaps the most Drake-centric album yet. That's quite the feat, as Drake has made a name for himself by rapping about not much other than, well, himself. But here, there's only one guest rapper that appears, and Jay Z surprisingly fits quite well thematically into the Ellie Goulding and Wu Tang-sampling “Pound Cake,” even if his verses aren't nearly as good as the one Drake lays down before him. Other than artists like Sampha and Jhené Aiko being utilized as hook features, every verse on the album belongs to Drake, and Drake takes this opportunity to show off his variation of flows and styles, which continues to grow by the album. In addition to his rapping, Drake's singing has improved even further than where it was at on Take Care, with “Hold On We're Going Home” containing his best vocal performance to date. Drake has grown in nearly every aspect of his artistry, although from a lyrical standpoint it would be fair to say he hasn't grown quite as much as in other aspects. Still, his lyrics are effective, insightful, and certainly still a big part of his appeal.
Drake might be the biggest rapper in the world right now. If Nothing Was The Same is the best selling rap record of 2013, it certainly won't come as much of a surprise. Even if Eminem outsells him, even if it fails to outsell Jay Z, Drake has still put out the best mainstream rap album of 2013 outside of Yeezus, and given that Yeezus is deliberately alienating, it may as well not even be in the running. Nothing Was The Same is going to be a smash hit, just like every Drake album. It will be just as fitting for it to reach that status as it was for his other albums, because just like Thank Me Later and Take Care were at the time of their respective releases, Nothing Was The Same is the best Drake album yet.
As much as a lot of people I know dislike Drake I still check out every new album he releases. It's definitely starting to grow on me, not as quickly as Take Care did but I'm pretty stoked on it. All I've been listening to the past few days
Take Care was a grower for me, but I started enjoying TC quicker than this. Took me a few more listens with NWTS... but I absolutely love it. Have listened at least 25 times, says my iTunes. Still unsure which I like best, I guess time will tell. I think TC had catchier songs, but I absolutely love this album.