Drake, J. Cole, Waka Flocka Flame, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, French Montana

Hip-Hop/Rap
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Editorial Review

Drake takes on his critics with latest album, ‘Take Care’
By Sarah Godfrey, Published: November 15

It has happened to everyone from Kanye West to Andre 3000 to the guys from P.M. Dawn, really any hip-hop artist whose music has taken a gushy, introspective turn: One minute they’re called mold-breaking and refreshing, the next they’re derided as overly sensitive and soft.

Maybe the rapper Drake’s teen-idol past, Canadian citizenship, guilt-soaked verses about what seems to be a pretty awesome life, and those ugly sweaters just became too much to bear. Or maybe it’s just an inevitable side effect of astronomical fame. But between his major label debut, “Thank Me Later,” and its follow-up, “Take Care,” there was an undeniable uptick in Drake haters who bashed the rapper for being overemotional and whiny.

As is Drake’s way, he unpacks and analyzes the backlash on “Take Care,” but he doesn’t just talk about how it makes him feel — he refutes the criticism. Newly minted rap superstars deciding to take on their “haters” has led to the downfall of many a promising sophomore hip-hop album release, but here it works. This is partly because Drake’s rebuttals are elegant, partly because they’re surrounded by his usual emo fare but also because it’s just nice to hear him pondering something other than emotionally fraught relationships with exotic dancers.

Even those who hate to hear Drake rhyme and sing about love might enjoy hearing him rhyme and sing about hate. The “Take Care” track Drizzy’s harshest critics could potentially enjoy is the one that takes them to task. “Lord Knows,” a Just Blaze-produced skull-crusher, with its driving beat and gospel choir notes, stands in contrast to the rich, hazy production style that defines the album’s sound. Rhyming beside rapper Rick Ross, Aubrey Drake Graham sticks his chest out and proclaims that expressing his feelings doesn’t make him soft, and he dares anyone to say otherwise. The Toronto native has always interspersed confident boasting with rhymes about his insecurities (“Over” from “Thank Me Later” being a prime example), but there’s a difference between bragging and defending oneself from attack.

On “Practice,” when Drake coos over a snippet of Juvenile’s “Back That Thang Up,” making it into a love song, the whole thing comes off as a tongue-in-cheek reaction to the notion that his presence can reduce even the hardest track to mush. On album-opener “Over My Dead Body,” Drake addresses all criticism aimed at him, point by point, including skepticism that “Take Care” will match the success of “Thank Me Later” and 2009’s “So Far Gone,” the mix tape that made him: “All these people really discussing my career again? / Askin’ if I’ll be going platinum in a year again? / Don’t I got the [music] the world wanna hear again? / Don’t Michael Jordan still got his hoop earring in?”

Still, “Take Care” does not alienate fans who believe Drake to be at his best when he’s at his woe-is-me worst. The moments of toughness stand out, but they are rare — the majority of the album, those fans will be glad to know, is music to cry by.

The success of the strange, dusky single “Marvin’s Room” is a testament to our collective love of humiliating drunk-dialing stories and refrains that contain curse words. “Look What You’ve Done” explores Drake’s familial relationships, but it also reveals that he measures time by the major romantic events of his young life (“It’s like ’06 in your back yard, I’m in love with Jade”). “Doing It Wrong,” a track about responsible breakups, features the only sound on the planet more likely to induce tears than Drake’s voice — a Stevie Wonder harmonica solo.

On the Lil Wayne-assisted “HYFR,” Drake outlines some of the lessons he’s learned since “getting richer,” including “working with the negatives can make for better pictures.” “Thank Me Later” showed that Drake is great when he is moaning about the negativity in his life, but “Take Care” shows he can also be pretty brilliant when he is smacking it down, too.