Where were you for the Great Internet Music Event of yesterday? Were you breathlessly following along as early adopters live-tweeted the leak of "Nothing Was the Same", the album that perhaps promised to be Drake’s Magnum Opus?
Of course, it’s late 2013 and though we have “release dates” for albums still, they’re getting close to meaningless. Nearly everything starts streaming a week early via Pitchfork Advance or NPR – and then of course there’s the leak date.
As such, Drake’s hotly anticipated third official studio album hit the dark corners of the Interwebs in the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning – so sure, it’s time to weigh in. Naturally the chatter is all about just how sad Drake is these days – and how hard he’s clinging to the Sampha/SBTRKT/Young Turks production sound.
So, since it’s gloomy and gray at Fusion HQ, and my face is leaking with a cold as I type this, it seems like a perfect time to dissect some initial impressions of this musical offering. Shall we?
On this track designed as an Official Opening Salvo, Drake says at one point, “I could go an hour on this beat, n*****.” At 6:26 for this cut, it sure sounds like he’s trying, too. This ticks a number of nice little needed boxes for the beginning of the album – decent rap chops and zeitgeist-y ‘90s nostalgia references.
Teardrop rating: 1, but only because of the melancholy beat
Here’s Classic Singing-Mode Drake, bemoaning fair-weather friends and a tormented relationship. There are also some super emo lines here: “I hate that you think I don’t belong to you” he intones at one point; “furthest thing from perfect, like everyone I know” repeats in each chorus.
Teardrop rating: 3 – This would have been four, but at 2:45 the beat changes to some classic neck-snapping, New York-style hip-hop and Drake turns determined-sounding rather than depressed.
“Started From the Bottom”
You already know this one. This is the biggest downside to album releases by major singles artists – they’re often full of songs we’re already sick of by release date.
Teardrop rating: 0. This is triumphant Drake.
Actual members of Wu-Tang Clan already dissed this song for not actually relating to the group, so don’t come to this track hoping for some kind of tribute. (Well, beyond a sample of the actual 1997 Wu-Tang song "It’s Yourz.")
Lyrically it is a tribute of sorts, but to a long-standing, on-and-off relationship Drake’s had with a lady since the days of Wu-Tang. That’s nice, but the most attractive thing about this track is the minimalist boom-bap beat, especially the melancholy piano part samples from Zodiac’s "Loss Config".
Teardrop rating: 3. He doesn’t sound that tormented.
Finally, we have some total Drake emo-ness overload from the get-go, when he intones, “You’re still the one that I adore.” Then – wait for it! – “Next time we fuck, I don’t wanna fuck, I wanna make love.” Once you’re done drying up your own tearz (of laughter) enjoy the beat. I liked the shout-out to journalists at the end. Hi, bb!
Teardrop rating: 5 – plus some. Have a tissue.
Here, Drake’s lyrics again take a backseat, serving as punctuation to the production (reportedly by DJ Dahi and 40). About 2:40 in, Drake does his thing of referencing an old song by lifting lyrics and changing them a bit. This time it’s Biggie’s "Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems." One can only hope that Drake’s youngest fans will figure this out (wrings old-people hanky in nervousness).
Teardrop rating: 2. This is mostly defiant Drake, except for the part about, “mu’f***a never loved us.”
"From Time" (feat. Jhené Aiko)
L.A. singer/songwriter Aiko – attempting a kind of comeback after some industry blips in the early ‘00s – makes this bittersweet duet which, once again, boasts some more sad piano. Drake references passive-aggressive texting and advice from his mama. Many cries ensue.
Teardrop rating: 4
“Hold On, We're Going Home" (feat. Majid Jordan)
This is another song that’s Old News If You’re On the Internet, but it remains one of the absolute best on the album, thanks to lush, ‘80s-tastic production by 40. The track hits that sweet spot between synth-pop, yacht rock-y stuff, and intonations of latter-day chillwave. Drake’s chorus here is super hooky, too. This is a winner.
Teardrop rating: 3. It’s not that sad – gosh, not everything has to be, guys.
Following up one of the absolute best tracks on the album, this one falls kind of flat as a Generic Thoughtful Drake song. File this under album filler.
Teardrop rating: 2. He’s mildly bummed about missing someone while he’s on the road, or something.
Eh, this opens with run-of-the-mill boasts about jewelry and goes on to shout out Cash Money and complain about jealousy. This is also album filler.
Teardrop rating: 0
“305 to My City”
Oh hey, here’s Drake’s shoutout to Miami, where he briefly “lived” in an empty condo that got featured in the I’m On One video. This is kind of like the narcotized response to that – if you took a Khaled song and pumped it full of pills or lean. The beat on this one sounds almost chopped and screwed – witchy! – and Drake’s recounting of leased Jaguars in Miami sounds about right.
Teardrop rating: 1 for the minor-key tonality, but not for lyrical content
“Too Much” (feat. Sampha)
English singer Sampha’s voice is like good sex made audible. So yeah, this is a winner from the beginning. Sure, this rides the Young Turks-y sound sooo hard but hey, it works. Oh Drake is also on this song? Okay, cool, that’s fine.
Teardrop rating: 3
"Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2" (feat. Jay Z)
Here’s Rap Drake back again, acquitting himself nicely in rapid-fire form over a beat laced by a vaguely wailing woman and, yes, another Wu-Tang snippet, this time of “C.R.E.A.M.” The track also features one of the few guest appearances of the carefully chosen ones on the album.
Jay Z doesn’t disappoint here, but is it telling that Drake invited him, rather than any of his Cash Money elders, to guest? Either way, this is another standout, and one of the most orthodox hip-hop songs in this collection.
Teardrop rating: 0. Again, this is Realer Rap Drake.
This is technically a “bonus” track. But the sing-song chorus and hook – plus another one of those vaguely ‘80s-cheese beats – make this real ear candy, though not quite single material.
Teardrop rating: 0. This is a rare moment where Drake sounds straight-up happy.
“All Me” (feat. 2 Chainz and Big Sean)
On yet another “bonus” track, Rap Drake comes back and joins 2 Chainz, who almost steals this song and sounds less cretinous than he often can. Note to Drake though: “On a roll/Like Cotonelle” – no. Never compare yourself to toilet paper.
Teardrop rating: 0. Again, there’s no crying because this is Vaguely Boastful Drake.
“The Motion” (feat. Sampha)
Hi Sampha. I have no idea what you look like but it doesn't really matter because that voice (bats eyelashes). Oh your friend Drake came along again? Okay, that’s cool (again). Is this an outtake from a SBTRKT album or something? No? You sure? Whatever, can we still make out to it?
Teardrop rating: 3 for overall minor-key tonality again
Drake's easy to clown, sure, but what he does well is take relative risks for an artist of his stature -- not just musically but in terms of how he presents masculinity. (Sure, he looks for underground artists and blows them up, but that means your favorite underground artists can maybe make money and keep making their own music. Also, it raises the taste level on terrestrial radio!)
You can make fun of him for being soft, but how many other male artists flitting around commercial hip-hop and such aren't scared to be a little soft? (That's excluding the straight-up R&B guys.) I've always had a soft spot for Drake and...