About a year ago, my colleagues and I at iHipHop sat around debating whether the actor who once played a paralyzed high-school student on Degrassi would be able to sell a million copies in his first week. After taking the music world by storm from a mixtape released independently, anything seemed possible for Aubrey Graham, better known as Drake. Amidst rumors of monumental label advances, offers, and co-signs from industry heavyweights like Lil Wayne, it seemed like people were lost in the hype surrounding the twenty-three year old and forgot about the music that him a star. 2009’s So Far Gone managed to climb the charts after its commercial re-release featuring nearly ten less songs than the original version given away for free online; it even spawned at Top 10 single (“Best I Ever Had“). All along it was the listeners who heralded his music as something worth purchasing rather than simply downloading it which is a rarity in this day and age. On the heels of So Far Gone’s imminent success, Drake had all the momentum in the world, building his own lane gaining female listeners, young and old alike and earning respect amongst even the most rugged artists in the game. It’s undeniable that So Far Gone was impeccable for its ability to stand up next to commercial releases, with ambient, but catchy anthems that showcased Drake’s lyrical ability, vocal range, and his capacity to mesh with his contributors. When crafting his debut, Thank Me Later, Drake held a virtual rolodex of producers to help the album live up to its hype; but for the most part he chose to keep things in the same vein as what made him successful. Once again enlisting his go-to producers 40 and Boi-1da, rehashing the connection he built with Kanye West, and adding the multi-platinum duo of Timbaland and Swizz Beatz into the equation, it appears that Thank Me Later is Drake’s chance to serve listeners a big budget sequel to So Far Gone; but is less sometimes more?
Thank Me Later benefits from a strong start with Drake displaying his flow over a smooth instrumental (“Fireworks“). The Alicia Keys-assisted hook sets the tone well and lets us know this isn’t going to be your typical rap album. Rather taking the usual route of starting an album with an abrasively hype anthem, Drake ponders what a life without money and infidelity can offer declaring, “me and my realtor we built up a better rapport/got my mom into a place with better décor/she searched the entire city, I let her explore/and now she sayin she’s more lonely than ever before/ how many of our parents marriages lasted/I was only five I bet I barely reacted?” Drake continues the laidback vibe with the synth-inspired “Karaoke.” The song is undeniably catchy and has a retro feel to it until Drizzy comes in with a relation-oriented verse. On “The Resistance,” Drake seems somewhere stuck between Lil Wayne and KiD CuDi. Spitting more insistently than usual, Drake manages to narrate his feelings of confusion over a minimalistic beat by in-house producer 40. Drake never lacks in terms of flow, and manages to intertwine deep thoughts with laughable lines like “I’m twenty-three with a money tree/growing more too, I just planted a hundred seeds/it’s ironic cuz my mother was a florist/and that’s how she met my pops and now my garden is enormous/it’s happening Penny Lane, just like you said/I avoided the coke game and went with Sprite instead.”
Although it hasn’t affected the anticipation of Thank Me Later, the album’s singles are arguably its low-point. Honestly, “Over” has grown on me since I first heard it, but it’s far from the best Drake has to offer. The same can be said for “Find Your Love.” Drake has a unique ear for beats; whereas his mixtapes would indicate the Toronto-native would be more susceptible to choosing a more soulful Kanye production, he instead chose a beat that sounds like a 808s & Heartbreaks reject. Drake belts out his best soprano but his efforts sound more fitting for a Shakira counterpart than a Hip Hop artist. Maybe Drake’s knack to incorporate R&B into his music has allowed him to transcend genres, but it’s inescapable that his previous body of work has set a certain level of expectation. However Kanye West’s other production credit on “Show Me A Good Time” proves to be one of the album’s most interesting tracks. Drake displays his versatility by referencing Wu-Tang Clan and Tribe Called Quest and even inferring that he may gain rights to J Dilla instrumentals while incessantly crooning throughout the hook.
Recruiting fellow Young Money affiliate, Nicki Minaj, the duo holds it down for the rest of the crew on “Up All Night.” Despite production that’s anything out of the ordinary, the charisma of both artists makes it likely to be a future club banger. Drake’s flow proves surprisingly subpar in comparison to Young Money head honcho, Lil Wayne, who manages to outdo him on “Miss Me.” Likewise Jay-Z avoids being overshadowed on “Light Up,” although Drake definitely holds his own against the rap veteran and offers some intriguing references (“this shit feels like when Fredro Starr was in Sunset Park stunting hard in his yellow goose“). The overall result of the collaboration is favorable despite a lackluster hook. Swizz Beatz provides one his finest instrumentals to date for “Fancy” featuring T.I. Drake slows the song down from its initial aggressiveness and steadies the albums pace, while providing some wondrous punchlines (“I just knew that she was fine a ticket on the dash“). Unfortunately Drake takes this opportunity to a sappy level on the misguidedly titled “Shut It Down.” The effort sounds like it is best destined for a junior prom slow dance and nothing more. Luckily the chill “Unforgettable ” is redeeming as he and Young Jeezy trade verses over an Aaliyah sample. The album’s climax is oddly one of its most upbeat songs. The Timbaland production on “Thank Me Now” has a larger-than-life feel, which is only fitting for an album that’s focal theme is the changes and pressures that come with stardom.
Thank Me Later is a great pop album that has enough to offer listeners from Hip Hop heads to teenage girls. There’s a lot to like about Drake’s debut while there’s also a lot to avoid, especially if you’re phobic of particular musical styles. The album boasts an impressive production lineup, but it doesn’t always deliver, despite Drake’s ability formulate a distinct style around nearly every beat. Thank Me Later embodies so much about what’s right and wrong about today’s music, as it’s somehow uncompromising yet conforming at the same time. For every expected feature and peculiarly synthesized beat, Drake manages to offer a breath of fresh air and entertainingly take an introverted approach which makes his music relatable. Thank Me Later is far from classic by any standards and it may not be esteemed by fans in the same regard as So Far Gone, but the possibility alone makes it an adequate first album, even if it doesn’t go platinum in its first week.