Drake – “Nothing Was the Same”

(Photo Credit: defpenradio.com)

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Tuscan Leather,” “Own It”

Contrary to Drake’s previous albums, and most albums by any known rapper, there is only one major guest spot on “Nothing Was the Same”. And it feels very, very deliberate. Jay-Z shows up on the album’s last track, “Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2″ for a lengthy guest verse. This placement signifies something, a very boastful claim. With Kanye West’s “Yeezus” outcasting him from Top 40 radio and commercial hits, and with Jay-Z’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail” being a massive and unpopular stumble, this leaves the throne at the top of hip-hop suddenly open. Drake, already immensely popular, has laid claim to it. It’s a bold risk for a young musician, but the combination of emotions displayed across 2011′s “Take Care” and “Nothing Was the Same” prove that he might just be the next hip-hop king. Jay-Z’s verse feels like a bowing out, relinquishing the throne while still promising not to fade away.

The album’s first track, “Tuscan Leather,” is over six minutes long and self-aware about it’s length. Twice he raps, “How long this n***a gonna spend on the intro?” His self-parodying is dripping with boldness – he acts as a critic, gawking at Drake’s unconventional song structures. The rest of the track is mainly claims about wealth and luxury, fairly typical claims but ones that are made believable just by sheer effort on Drake’s part. And this song sets the album’s tone – unconventional song structures, and surprisingly effective effort and emotion from Drake. The complex man that we know – half sad and misunderstood, half rich celebrity – is the same man that comes through on “Nothing Was the Same.”

Boasts about having millions come alongside musings to figuring out your true friends on an album that’s often slightly unsettling. Love songs are honest and devastatingly poetic, and the boast songs always come close to overboard without ever reaching. Songs blend together instead of standing alone. When “Own It” ends and “Worst Behavior” starts, whisperings of the words ‘Own It’ continue in the background. And Drake knows when to take rapping to the backseat – slower songs are half-sung, decently. And an occasional guest spot from relative unknowns break up the tone. Jhene Aiko is more of a presence on “From Time” than Drake is, his rapping coming secondary to her singing.

Drake has a strong personality, and it helps to add depth to what might be an otherwise average rap album. It suffers from typical tempo issues, but it is lyrically original and honest, as Drake becomes the semi-reluctant heir to the hip-hop throne. Kanye and Jay-Z seem willing to step aside, at least for the time being, and leave their throne to their younger prodigy.

-By Andrew McNally