Drake’s debut album delivers

Drake’s debut album is the first of many climaxes in a career that seems too crazy to believe. Less than a year and a half ago Drake—government name, Aubrey Drake Graham—was known for his role on the Canadian high school drama Degrassi: The Next Generation.

This week Drake released his first album and the hype is completely eclipsing that of Eminem’s Recovery. In overshadowing Marshall Mathers, one of the most important rap phenomena of the new millennium, the conclusion is obvious: Drake is calling the shots, and we’re just along for the ride.

Thank Me Later is special, not just in that it’s Drake’s debut studio album, but because it is almost untouched by record label meddling. Thank Me Later stays very true to the style we have come to expect from Drake, and hasn’t been watered down or butchered by label executives looking over his shoulder.

The same crooning vocals over satiny-soft rhythms are audible on this album in “Fireworks” and “Karaoke”. Running parallel to Drake’s undeniable romantic side, songs like “Over” and the party-anthem “Miss Me” mete out enough frenetic rhyming to stop Thank Me Later from turning into an R&B record “for the ladies”.

In the creation of Thank Me Later, Drake has made a very clear window into his life. He is a 23 year old who spent his adolescence in the spotlight and on the grind, trying to make it to fame. Now that he’s finally made it, its obvious that paranoia has bummed him right out. In a forgettable “CeCe’s Interlude” he flows over a synth beat, “I wish I wasn’t famous//I wish I was still in school”.

Drake’s debut isn’t full of rapping about struggling to rise above economic hardship (he was raised in a wealthy Toronto neighborhood). Half of the songs on Thank Me Later describe his obvious discomfort at being famous, which is a tough pill to swallow considering how he dragged out a very publicized bidding war for his signing. “Fireworks” is a moody dissertation on impermanence, whether it is his up and down romance with Rihanna or the fleeting nature of fame. “The Resistance” laments the loss of pre-fame Drake’s privacy and personality, “Up All Night” is a candyfloss sex-rap with the halting Nicki Minaj, and “Find Your Love” (his current single) tackily stakes Drake’s claim to Teenage Heartthrob of 2010.

Thankfully, a stable of superstars are waiting in the wings to temper Drake’s blues with some rhymes of substance. In keeping control of his album, Drake seems to have managed to pry the very best out of his guest artists on Thank Me Later. “Unforgettable” is a moody romance-rap, which reveals Young Jeezy’s previously unheard of soft side (Drake sings the hook, while Jeezy rhymes about his love affair with the rap game). “Light Up” rekindles introspection in hip-hop god Jay-Z, showing off one of his most thoughtful verses in ages (“I’m not as cool with n**s as I once was/I once was, cool as the Fonz was/but these bright lights turn me to a monster”). “Miss Me” is a bouncy banger that features an energetic (and sober) Lil’ Wayne and contains one of Drake’s most audacious statements to date (“And Drake just stands for do right and kill everything”).

Last but certainly not least is “Over”, a song that was a hard sell for many people, as Drake has often been criticized for rapping off-beat (this writer was one of those hard-sells). However, after a few repetitions, it becomes clear that “Over” could decidedly be one of the best songs of his past, present, and future career. With crisp hooks and deadly wordplay it sets a tone that marks a turning point in Thank Me Later. Drake combines his fear of fame (“I know way too many people here right now that I didn’t know last year”) with over the top confidence (“I really can’t see the end getting any closer//But I’ll probably still be the man when everything is over”).

Admittedly, portions of Drake’s albums have been synthed to death (see “Fancy”), but he deserves a hearty round of applause for its production. It is one of the only hip-hop albums to almost come without a single stylistic precedent. Drake’s elegance in the studio is almost impossible to imitate without being called out as a heinous poser, and Kanye West is his only obvious forefather (808s and Heartbreak’s moody self-loathing and dark emotionality).

With his release Drake has commented that the pressure is off and he can now begin working on a sophomore album. It will be interesting to see whether Aubrey’s next piece shows the star maturing to come to terms with his fame, or if he will try and drag his anti-fame whiney baby act into a sequel.

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