ALBUM REVIEW: Drake – Nothing Was The Same

Nothing Was The Same artwork
Nothing Was The Same artwork

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 11.36.33 AM

ARTIST Drake

ALBUM Nothing Was The Same

LABEL Cash Money Records

RELEASE DATE 24 September 2013

9.3 | 10

By now, Drake doesn’t need an introduction. His early fame as a child star has been well documented. Rising from the hit TV show Degrassi to forming an allegiance with Lil Wayne, making that potentially awkward transition from Guy You Want To Bring Home To Your Parents to Guy You Definitely Don’t Want In The Same Zip Code As Your Parents a little less awkward. While 2010’s Thank Me Later reeked of strike-the-iron-while-it’s-hot corporate slime, Take Care (2011) felt much more organic in delivery, an achievement made even more notable considering the various producers that helped turn the songs into reality. Take Care was also successful in giving us a closer look into Aubrey Graham’s psyche, a trait which the likes of 2 Chainz, Big Sean, and J. Cole continue to seek out. On 2013’s Nothing Was The Same, Drake confirms his placement on hip-hop’s hierarchy, having created an album with a distinct sound that is not concerned in the least with adhering to hip-hop’s standard tropes.

By now, Drake doesn’t need an introduction. He says as much on “Tuscan Leather,” a stunning opening statement: “How much time is this nigga spending on the intro?” Around 6 minutes, to answer the question (6:06 to be precise). A brilliantly composed beat courtesy of Noah “40” Shebib effectively cuts and toys with Whitney Houston’s vocal track on “I Have Nothing” to make the 6 minute opening salvo just as fresh and vital during the fifth minute as during the opening sixty seconds. As audacious of an opener as “Tuscan Leather” is, the succeeding two tracks perfectly incapsulate the two musical worlds Drake attempts to attract with Nothing Was The Same. Pre-album single “Started From The Bottom” found Drake catering to his audience craving something akin to “Forever” or “The Motto,” and its rags-to-riches story was relatable enough to help it resonate on a large scale.

“We don’t like to do too much explainin’,” raps Drake on “Started From The Bottom.” You’d be forgiven for thinking the complete opposite after hearing the pristine “Furthest Thing.” With soaring synthesizers firmly planting the track (and ultimately the album) in the sky, Drake does a whole lot of explaining, as he sings, “People I believed in, they don’t even show they face now / What they got to say now? / Nothin’ they can say now / Nothin’ really changed but still they look at me a way now,” and a little later, “And I hate you don’t think I belong to ya / just too busy runnin’ shit to run home to ya.” His feelings, and how he goes about expressing them, by singing about them as much as rapping about them, has always been a point of contention in hip-hop discussions about the versatile performer. What’s unfortunate about that discussion is how it completely overlooks how much improvement Drake has shown as both an emcee and a vocalist since his 2010 debut. His smokey, whimsical delivery turns apparent hip-hop clichés such as “I still been drinkin’ on the low / mobbin’ on the low / fuckin’ on the low / smokin’ on the low” into something more innocent. That he finishes the hook by singing of still being “the furthest thing from perfect / like everyone I know,“ makes it hard to not want to give him a pat on the back and tell him he’s getting pretty close. A little later on, on the sublime “Own It,” (which, coupled with “Wu-Tang Forever,” makes a lovely 1-2 punch) Drake sings, “Next time we fuck I don’t wanna fuck I wanna make love.” How many other rappers would be confident enough to sing such a thing on a rap album? Rick Ross? No thanks, he’s not really into love making. Kanye West? Most certainly not. That Drake continues to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable in hip-hop speaks volumes about his drive as an artist to cultivate unexplored land.

When Drake showcases his rapping abilities on Nothing Was The Same, the results are equally as rewarding. “Worst Behaviour” and “The Language” both succeed by implementing beats that subtly leave a sense of urgency. With both his flow and his singing voice improving album-to-album, he meshes the two together to immediate rewards on “Language.” The only slight slip-up occurs on “305 To My City,” which does fit the general aesthetic of Nothing Was The Same, but is more of a necessary evil than a satisfying listen.

A lot has been made about the seemingly misogynistic lyrical content of Nothing Was The Same. Similar critiques were given to The Weeknd’s latest, the highly-polarizing Kiss Land. The major difference between the two comes from the fact that while there is always an element of the possibility of change when it comes to Drake, largely stemming from sweet, affectionate singles such as “Find Your Love,” “Take Care,” and a song in the running for song of the year, “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” The Weeknd’s Abel Tesfaye by comparison seems almost stuck in his ways. It also helps that Drake produces his music with an eye to the sky. Some of this stuff wouldn’t sound out of place on a Passion Pit album.

Along with “Hold On,” Drake drops the similarly gorgeous “From Time,” featuring a star-making vocal performance from Jhené Aiko.“From Time,” along with the excellent “Too Much,” succeed in large part due to Drake allowing his guest vocalists to spend much of the time in the spotlight, as he drops out for extended lengths of time on both tracks. Sampha’s work on “Much” is especially heart-wrenching,  as the UK vocalist delivers one of the more memorable hooks here. The album ends with  the Jay Z assisted, and Ellie Goulding sampling, “Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2.” While Drake allows Hov to use the first half to express again how much wealth he’s accumulated (most notable line: “I made more millionaires than the lottery”), Drake takes the reigns during the back half and reminds us once again of his talents on the mic. Drake delivers a confessional verse, rapping about his memories of a girl he knew “before Wayne came and got me out of the backroom.” After that day, “Nothing was the same,” concludes Drake. But while he’s made that concession, you get the feeling that if he could go back, he wouldn’t change a thing.

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