Somewhere along the line of hip-hop, it became okay to do a couple things: 1) You get to opine the downsides of being ultra-rich, super-famous, and hideously-good-looking, and 2) You get to do it in a really pretty way. The first time I noticed it was Kanye West’s Late Registration, which took his R&B infused glamor-hip-hop, and brought in a layer of sadness over the fact that, no matter how rich, famous, and good-looking you happen to be, you can’t do shit to change the lives of those around you. It was incredibly prominent on “Heard ‘Em Say” and “Roses,” two songs at odds with the massive size of the record that contained them (an album that was still fairly reserved when compared to the albums that came, minus the gloriously minimalist detour 808s & Heartbreak). Kid Cudi took it a step further with his tales of grungy rockstar excesses and drug habits on Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager. It suddenly became cool to question your place in things. There’s something tragic about Take Care, and you know it just by looking at the album’s cover: Drake will always be a man with swagger, but he’s a nigga who goes through real shit, just like everybody else in the game.
One of the first things you notice about Take Care is that it almost never feels overblown. Marvin Gaye is sitting on Drake’s shoulder throughout the record, and it makes for an intensely interesting listen. You know you’re listening to a different breed of hip-hop record when the first line is “How I’m feeling, it doesn’t matter.” “Over My Dead Body” is an undeniably beautiful song, where Drake’s reserved bravado is spilled out over a gentle piano line and a drum loop. It sets the stage effortlessly for the record, which feels incredible in scope, and yet never quite takes off. Even when he delivers the biting hook of “Marvin’s Room,” though he delivers it under his breath (“Fuck that nigga that you love so bad / I know you still think about the times we had”), but it feels almost furious.
Don’t take that as a bad thing. Take Care is an album that could, if it wanted to, be the brightest thing you’ve heard all year, but it never even threatens to. Somehow, even when Nicki Minaj shows up on “Make Me Proud”, she chills the fuck out a few degrees. And she’s Nicki Minaj. “Make Me Proud” is one of the only tracks on the record where Drake breaks from his sad sack mood to prove that he’s worth the intense hype, and somehow he still exudes an air of coolness. Here, he’s so cool that even The Weeknd feels like a second banana, and Abel Tesfaye is practically sub-zero. It’s almost beautiful. Even Lil’ Wayne, who shows up on “HYFR (Hell Yeah Fuckin’ Right)” rhymes with more passion than he’s exuded on the last three records he’s put out, and it rubs off on the star, who is almost unbeatable in the track.
I feel as though “beautiful” is the the one-word description for Take Care. There’s something to be had when a fast rising star spends the title track of his insanely-hyped record singing to his ex-girlfriend, and then closing that song out with a Gil-Scott Heron sample. It may be too soon for Drake to come off as “going soft,” but it’s a shade that suits him quite well. “Shot For Me” comes off almost defeated, with him trying desperately to be bitter at a girl who left him. Not many high-profile rappers are this comfortable making a record about the low-points that come with fame (the loneliness, the lack of privacy, the women who are with you because you’re you), but Drake pulls it off effortlessly.
That’s the other word that I could just use over-and-over to describe what Drake’s accomplished here. People will inevitably talk about how the woozy, sad-sack crooning is boring, but if it is, it’s because he’s made it look easy. Take Care is the record that we were promised when the good-but-lackluster Thank Me Later came out last year. Drake is on the fast track to being a major star (he already sorta is, but a bigger star), and if this is what we have to look forward to, I have no problem with his fame.