Drake Finds an Atypical Place in Rap World

Drake -- "Thank Me Now" (Cash Money)

COURTESY CASH MONEY

The platinum success of Drake’s “Thank Me Later” is proof that self-deprecating, privileged, lovesick hipsters can find a home on the rap world’s hard streets. While Kanye West’s emotional unrest in the wake of personal tragedy incarnated itself on “808s and Heartbreak” and ended up cold, distant, and whiny—transforming West groupies into haters—Drake’s achievements in “Thank Me Later” what “808s” aspired to. Drake has barely an ounce of the swag possessed at near toxic levels by his musical compatriots, but his tortured thoughts on love, relationships, the downfalls of fame, and the difficulty of privilege make him endearing and relatable to the middle-class masses.

“Thank Me Later” is an uncluttered album fueled by spare beats, minor keys, moody synthesizers, and Drake’s hypnotically smooth voice. These traits are best displayed on “Show Me a Good Time,” which opens with syncopation that begs for sinuous movement in a smoky, dimly lit room at the end of a house party. Soon enough Drake begins his signature silky-smooth croon, begging for a good time that has glaringly obvious sexual undertones. But he quickly turns sentimental: “I live for the nights that I can’t remember / with the people that I won’t forget;” his first line of rap, reflects the youth, moodiness, and reflective attitude on fame that pervade the entire album.

“Don’t be fooled by the money / I’m still young and unlucky” notes Drake in “Karaoke,” a slow song with faint echoes of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.” Between those lines and the entirety of the ubiquitous summer hit “Find Your Love,” listeners can safely conclude that Drake has never had any luck finding real love. Most rappers sing about all the women they’ve bedded and the constant presence of voluptuoius and good-looking females in their lives, while Drake moans about the irony of how the girl he wanted to marry is now a wedding planner. This is what sets Drake apart; he’s not afraid to show the chinks or even gaping holes in his armor against the world, and by letting listeners into his heart, where his true feelings lie, he becomes our hipster best friend.

The only downfall to the album is the number of high-profile guests that Drake enlists to help him on his way to fame. Drake sounds best on his own; tracks like “Over,” “Find Your Love,” “Thank Me Now,” and “Show Me a Good Time” are all so effective because they feature Drake rapping and singing about his experiences in his unique style that no one else is successfully emulating. When he is placed against heavy hitters like Jay-Z, T.I., Lil Wayne, and Young Jeezy, however, he is hopelessly shown up by the ease with which these members of rap royalty spit their flows. Drake is a new kid on the block; whenever he writes a rhyme he sounds like he tried too hard to write it (as in the overwrought lyric: “Time heals all, and heels hurt to walk in”). T.I.’s southern drawl effortlessly coats “Fancy” like smooth molasses, while Jay-Z’s absentminded verse on “Light Up,” far from the best verse he’s ever performed, still brings attention to the fact that it’s better than anything Drake has come up with.

Despite its flaws, Drake’s “Thank Me Later” is a roaring success. There really aren’t enough popular, non-militant, emotionally confused rappers out there. Is there truly a market for this type of music, or will Drake end up as a one-album wonder? Drake can’t even tell you the answer; on the opening track “Fireworks” he notes that his “15 minutes of fame / started an hour ago.” However, while he is surprised by his success, he takes full advantage of his time in the spotlight. In the final track, “Thank Me Now,” he says: “I’m in the world where things are taken, never given / How long they choose to love you will never be your decision / And I’m aware that this could be the last time that you listen / So while I’m still here in this position / You can thank me now.”

—Staff writer Araba Appiagyei-Dankah can be reached at aadankah@fas.harvard.edu.

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