Aubrey "Drake" Graham does not make things easy for himself. For an artist with such obvious talent, he is prone to making missteps that often land him at the butt-end of the joke.
Everything about Drake defies what people expect of a rapper. He is sensitive, vulnerable and his collection of Bill Cosby-esque sweaters epitomizes the term, "embarrassment of riches." On his third studio album, Drake finally embraces what makes him different, and the result is quite pleasing.
Nothing Was the Same is the kind of album will solidify Drake's status among the rap industry's elite. Hip-hop purists and alternative music press will surely disagree, but this album is one of the best hip-hop/R&B releases of the year.
First and foremost, the production of Noah "40" Shebib and Boi-1da on NWTS is what makes the album. From the first track, "Tuscan Leather," the sonic landscape of this album is an absolutely perfect fit for Drake's white-wine-by-candlelight aesthetic.
As for the rapper himself, Drake continues to hone in on the right balance of rapping versus crooning throughout the album. This album certainly leans toward the softest side of Drake. Even the tracks that are meant to display the rapper's knack for bravado eventually weave into some really heartfelt stuff--and it is actually not a bad thing.
However--unlike most of his catalogue--there is never a moment on NWTS where Drake seems to be trying too hard. Too often in the past, Drake's own insecurities have led him to overcompensate for his supposed wimpiness. Finally, he seems to embrace it. And why not? The formula definitely seems to work for him commercially.
The success and overall quality of the album's first two singles--"Started From the Bottom" and "Hold On, We're Going Home"--are an indication of an artist finally becoming comfortable in his own skin.
On a more esoteric note, tracks like "Started From the Bottom" and "Wu-Tang Forever" almost give the impression that Drake is trolling those who criticize his suburban upbringing and perceived softness. The idea of Drake invoking the name of New York's most vaunted rap collective was enough to set Twitter ablaze. Talk about free publicity.
Suspiciously absent from the album is any sighting of Drake's mentor, and frequent collaborator, Lil' Wayne. This is probably for the best, and seems to signify a passing of the torch among the Young Money ranks. Wayne is still the boss, but Drake has long been the most interesting, relevant artist on that roster.
Though his sad-sack routine can grow weary at times, NWTS is the most earnest effort of Drake's career. In the post-Yeezus era of experimentation, Drake has simply fine tuned what has always worked for him and the result is one of the most listenable albums of the year. He is not pushing any boundaries, but when did that become the sole prerequisite for a good album?
Listen to: "Too Much," "Furthest Thing," "Worst Behaviour" and "Hold On, We're Going Home"