Drake's "Nothing Was the Same": Decidedly Different

Take Care took care of business. After winning several awards and receiving much critical acclaim, Drake’s last album solidified his position as a long-standing figure in both rap and R&B. His various vocal talents make him a versatile musician, but at the same time, raise an important question: which genre does he belong to? Many disagree with giving Take Care rap awards when at least half of the songs involved little to no rap at all.

Drake’s newest album, Nothing Was the Same (NWTS), is an answer to those concerns. Unlike Take Care, Drake opens his latest album with a lengthy song titled “Tuscan Leather,” focused strongly on his rapping capabilities. Yes, Drake ‘rapped’ in his last album, but something about this presentation is decidedly different. The rhymes are sturdier, pack a larger punch, and occur more frequently. He even refuses to accompany the verses with a chorus, only further drawing attention to the mystical beat and, more importantly, to his impressive delivery. This track is as durable as the leather in your car, and that’s exactly where you’ll want to bump it.

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As a mature artist, Drake has purpose in the way he orders his songs. There are some questionable entries, but overall Drake has skillfully sectioned off NWTS. After the purely rap-based intro, we progress into a trio of songs that want to get a message across. First up is “Furthest Thing,” quickly reminding the audience that Drake has not lost his versatility.  He sings about how he is the “furthest thing from perfect, just like everyone [he] knows,” before finishing with yet another rap verse. See the trend? It is good to see that Drake has retained some sense of humility, especially considering the songs that follow.

Yet again we meet the lackluster pump up song, “Started from the Bottom.” As irritating as the song can be (apparently it takes 32 “started from the bottoms” to get a point across), it does have some celebratory value at the end of the day. This leads nicely into “Wu-Tang Forever,” the last single released before the album dropped. The chorus and verse are nothing special, but his reference to Wu-Tang Clan ties together this triad of songs. If Drake is the furthest thing from perfect, he is even farther from the bottom, and he isn’t going to wait for us to deem him worthy of comparison to legends like Wu-Tang.

“Own it” is a clever 180˚ from “Wu-Tang Forever.” While Drake just finished speaking of a girl who is ‘all his’ (arguably referring to hip-hop as a whole), he now speaks of being completely dedicated to one girl. As for “Worst Behavior,” the song is focused on rap once again, but the first half of the song is uninteresting and lends itself to being fast-forwarded or even skipped. It seems a bit out of place in the album, and although Drake offers good delivery, it is hard to justify an entire song with one good verse.

The next trio of songs is a fascinating look at what Drake deals with whenever he agrees to a relationship. In “From Time,” Drake has Jhene Aiko sing the chorus because a) She delivers a beautiful hook b) He wants to focus more attention on his rap and c) She represents every woman that falls in love with Drake. Jhene asks, “What are you so afraid of? You give but you cannot take love.” Drake responds with verses that expose his reluctance, but also show how he always starts to give in to the idea. The song is very smooth and deserves a listen.

“Hold On, We’re Going Home” illustrates what happens after Drake gives in to a relationship. He is completely consumed by the girl he loves, and ditches all of his sorrowful R&B beats behind for an up-beat, dance-type record. He thinks that “[she’s] the one,” no doubt about it, and wants to take her home, possibly even to meet his family. The track offers a very catchy tune, neither rap nor R&B, that is positioned ideally in the middle. Finally, after falling in love, Drake hits the ground hard with “Connect.” He is back to his dark R&B ways, singing woefully about how the relationships never work out. He thinks “this time will be different,” but it never seems to follow through. He just wishes she “would learn to love people and use things, and not the other way around.” These three songs go perfectly together, and all parts of this dysfunctional love story are suggested listening.

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Apart from “305 To My City,” a song that seems a bit too slow for its own good, the rest of the standard album is back to focusing on Drake’s rap verses. “The Language” borrows his ‘Versace’-style flow, which is difficult to criticize after seeing the song’s massive popularity. “Too Much” is yet another song where Drake chooses not to personally sing, and instead assigns the job to Sampha. The relaxed piano keys match Sampha’s calming vocals as well as promote Drake’s content-driven verses.

Finally, Drake ends the album with another lengthy track “Pound Cake/ Paris Morton Music 2.” Both Drake and Jay-Z share memorable verses over a sample sung by the talented Ellie Goulding. As the only other rapper featured, Jay-Z performs a verse that is better than a majority of Magna Carta Holy Grail. The song transitions into the second part of his extremely popular “Paris Morton Music.” The lyrics are pretty good, but one important component is missing… the singing. If the message wasn’t clear before, Drake just picked up the megaphone.

Drake’s newest album is well-produced and complex. He could have remained comfortably between genres, but instead chose to develop his rap skills further than before. These changes could be short-lived, but they also might not be. This could be the turning point for Drake – the decisive moment after which Nothing Was the Same.

Images via tumblr.

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Jonathan Reed