For months, the Canadian rapper (who transitioned into music after starring on the teen soap “Degrassi: The Next Generation“) has been feeding listeners singles and guest spots and releasing track after track — including “Best I Ever Had”; “Forever,” which also featured Lil Wayne, Eminem and Kanye West; and “BedRock,” with other artists on Universal’s Young Money — as examples of what he’s capable of. Wooing girls, counting his money and being available for “every hook,” as Lil Wayne points out on Birdman’s song “Money to Blow,” have become Drake’s calling cards: The guy can rap, sing and use Auto-Tune with the best of them.
Disappointingly, it’s the latter two skills that permeate “Thank Me Later” — which comes out on Tuesday, June 15 — and drag it into monotony. Though Drake told Complex.com last February that “Thank Me Later” would, unlike his previous mixtapes like “So Far Gone,” “Comeback Season” and “Room for Improvement,” be a “solid hip-hop album,” that’s just not the case. Instead, the album goes down a slower, more ballad-heavy route, with many of its 14 tracks reflecting Drake’s confessed affection for R&B. In that same interview with Complex, Drake admitted, “I listen to R&B music more than I listen to rap. … I just want to make genuinely sexy music for women to listen to and for men to play for women.”
It’s that mindset that seems to pull more weight here: Guest stars like Alicia Keys, The-Dream, Young Jeezy, T.I. and Swizz Beatz all contribute to songs that focus on girls and fame’s effect on relationships, topics that fixate Drake. In fact, most of the album’s tracks demonstrate two sides of the artist — the one that’s comfortable with his newfound success, and the other, who hasn’t quite processed the impact it’s had on him. That’s a classic dilemma for any artist making it big, of course, but here Drake adds little insight.
The album begins with “Fireworks,” which serves as an autobiography of sorts: First, it covers Drake’s specific method for dealing with doubters (“Hate is so familiar to me/I’m slowly embracing it”); then his connection to Lil Wayne, who signed him to Young Money (“I hope that my success never alters our relationship”); and finally his need for companionship in light of his parents’ divorce (“Let’s stay together till we’re ghosts,” he implores of a lady love). Amid all that is Keys, who repetitively trills “Every night is fireworks/All I see is fireworks.” Without a verse of her own, Keys is just a pretty accessory, her vocals wasted.
The album’s molasses-slow vibe continues with “Karaoke,” which explores the “first cut is the deepest” adage about love, begins with Drake singing for about two minutes before he switches to rapping and back again; “Fancy,” which uses echoing, distorted vocals to discuss how attractive girls are with “nails done, hair done, everything big”; “Shut It Down,” which offers us lines like “I feel like when she moves/Time doesn’t” (I might have read that in a passed note in seventh grade); and “Unforgettable,” which is just the opposite.
Overall, most of the R&B-influenced tracks blend together, forming a solid mass of impenetrable mediocrity. How many verses can you really listen to with Drake saying, “Don’t be fooled by the money/I’m still young and unlucky,” before you begin to resent him for, you know, all the money and luck he’s been given?
The album, and Drake himself, seems to suffer from Kanye West syndrome: Wildly successful young upstart ponders the meaning of it all while also obnoxiously reveling in all the attention. It’s nearly impossible to take Drake’s introspective songs like “The Resistance” and “Show Me a Good Time” seriously, because all he does is pity himself: “I can’t tell you where the fuck my head is … Nothing really comes as a surprise right now … This is supposed to be what dreams are made of,” Drake whines on the former, while the latter is consumed by complaints about how it “feels like when you get into paper/Hip-hop hates you.” Tough life.
If Drake could have decided what “Thank Me Later” would represent for him as an artist and stuck with it, perhaps the album would have been as successful as the cocky nature present on first single “Over,” or the more genuinely soft side on second single “Find Your Love.” For now, though, this attempt to be both isn’t anything to be thankful for.
Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photo by George Pimentel/Getty Images