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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Drake

Drake's sensitivity is the butt of every joke. But it's the reason for his excellence.
Ryan Bassil
London, GB
September 16, 2013, 4:12pm

The best week for millenials since forever has begun. In the space of a few days we’ve got the launch of the next iteration of the greatest video game franchise ever made, the newest release of the greatest mobile phone operating software, and, since last night, probably one of the greatest hip hop records of the year, Drake’s Nothing Was The Same. It’s enough to make me wish a disaster of Michael Bay proportions on the earth, just so I have an excuse to hibernate inside and neglect socialising with anyone for the rest of Autumn. And Winter. And, fuck it, probably the rest of the year, too.

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But, even if the other two media events of the week didn’t happen, the idea that a new album from Drake is met with equal amounts of expectation and hype as Kanye West’s Yeezus is a thing in itself. It’s not that Drake hasn’t been successful - Thank Me Later debuted at number one - it’s just that his output hasn’t always been so widely covered. In 2013, the release of a new Drake album is not just a prerequisite for backpack bloggers with a time conscious upload rate to frantically scrabble for wi-fi in restaurants and bars, but also for casual listeners, Pitchfork heads, and serious ambience affiliates who have probably spent their first few listens levitating over their keyboard. Despite all the hyperbole, Aubrey Graham has “Started From The Bottom”, and now he’s here.

But it hasn’t always been that way, at least not for me.

When I first heard Drake’s Thank Me Later, it arrived off the back of the hype of “Forever”, which, despite its all-star-studded feature cast, was still a song that my protein shake friends listened to while pumping iron in the gym. It sounded like music made for the guys who shop at Abercrombie & Fitch and feel the need to book Very Imaginary Player tables at the club for their chilled Ciroc to be delivered to, people who generally made me feel inadequate at every possible opportunity. I was determined to hate it. And I did. To me, it was the soundtrack to every single night out that I didn’t enjoy, or couldn’t afford. I didn’t understand it, and upon realising that Kanye West put out a better version of the good parts of this record before Drake even decided that he couldn’t act and opted to try and rap, I almost deleted it from my iTunes.

A few years later, after a tip-off from a girl that I liked, I started listening to “Karaoke”. And, by listening, I mean that I would play it on repeat. About fifteen times a day. I’m not sure if it was the production from Francis & The Lights, or the overtly personal lyricism from Drake, but something about that track comforted me.

“Isn’t it ironic that the girl I want to marry is a wedding planner and tells my life is too much, and then moves to Atlanta.”

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It’s a simple line, but it spoke to me, and still speaks to me. In essence, this was the one thing that I liked about Drake. It didn’t matter that he was talking about someone I didn’t know, because he’d possessed the core component of every excellent artist, which is being able to make the listener feel like they’re not alone in their own problems, heartbreak, or loss.

I still dislike a high percentage of the rest of that record. “Up All Night”, “Fancy” and “Over” didn’t make me want to arrive in the club. It was never a place that I was part of, or wanted to be. Instead, those tracks made me want to cut my wrists and pour vodka in the wound, but still, in those moments of desperation, I’d want to find myself listening to “Karaoke”, or perhaps at a push, “Find Your Love”.

The idea that I liked “Karaoke” after a girl showed it to me is interesting, because the ties between relationships and Drake have forever been intertwined. Those ties are the reason why some of the more concreted hip hop listeners won’t take Drake seriously. Because, despite the more liberal attitude of recent, hip hop still has very concreted ideals. As Vince Staples so perfectly encapsulated on Earl Sweatshirt’s “Burgundy” - “Why are you so depressed and sad all the time like a little bitch? What’s the problem man? Nigga’s wanna hear you rap, we don’t care how you feel.” – unless your feelings are related to the #struggle, then they’re not relevant to the majority of listeners who are steeped in stereotype.

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Drake’s new songs are full of feelings. They may not be the most candid, but, just as I felt with “Karaoke”, he has a bunch of other songs that evoke different emotions for different listeners. Those emotions are the butt of every Drake joke. But, while the internet riffs on Drake being the type of guy to help his ex-girlfriend move in to her new crib with her boyfriend, it’s his sensitivity that is not just the reason for his excellence, but also pits him into his own arena. While the rest of the “Control” community are figuring out what to do next, Drake doesn’t even have to play ball, because he’s not even in the same league, he’s in a different game.

Take Care is the tipping point. Unlike Thank Me Later, which only had about two songs that veered into audio therapy, at least half of Take Care is made up of songs to accompany drinking white wine and overthinking life choices alone in your room. And, those are the best tracks on the album. “Marvin’s Room” is still the best thing that Drake’s ever done, while “Over My Dead Body”, “Shot For Me”, “Doing It Wrong”, “The Real Her” and “Look What You’ve Done” were all built on the right amount of melancholia. Even the Rihanna featuring title track which veers into nightclub territory, is still good, with its Lesley Gore reappropriating “it’s my birthday, I’ll get high if I want to” speaking to every lonely stoner with a broken heart.

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Drake is at his best when he’s at his most stripped down. Now, with the release of his third studio album, Nothing Was The Same, he’s found the perfect marrying of beautifully lugubrious song writing and bangers that the YOLO crowd won’t be embarrassed to bump in the car. “The Motion”, which is included as a bonus track on the record, is a perfect example of this. While there are still tracks that only cater to men who are afraid of being emasculated – “Started From The Bottom” and “Worst Behaviour” being the main two - the majority are exemplary pieces of song writing that I’m not afraid to say I thoroughly enjoy, no matter how damp they are.

It’s not a perfect record. “The Language” provides a nice bit of filler. But if “Hold On We’re Going Home” and the rest of its contemporaries are anything to go by, once Drake ditches the obligatory hard chunks, he’ll be able to produce one of the best hip-hop records of the 21st century.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanBassil

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