To say that Drake’s debut album Thank Me Later was explosive would be an understatement. Released in 2010, Thank Me Later was the perfect blend of R&B and hip hop that epitomizes Drake’s signature sound. Sure, he’s signed on Young Money and surrounded by cash-grabbing pop acts like Lil’ Wayne and Nicki Minaj. Despite the huge mainstream following all of these artists have, there is a massive amount of talent there, and Drake stand above the rest of his label mates as a beacon of genius. If Thank Me Later wasn’t enough to convince you that he was on to something brilliant, then give Take Care a listen. Not only does it avoid the sophomore slump, it sets the bar extremely high and cements Drake as a major talent in the industry.
With only a little more than a year in between releases, Drake has been able to refine his sound into a synthesis of soulful R&B and hip hop that hits hard. The hype surrounding this album must have opened the creative floodgates in Drake’s head, because Take Care does everything it can to separate itself from the pack. Opener Over My Dead Body opens with a beautiful piano melody that plays throughout as Drake tears through the verses. Featuring beautiful vocals from Chantal Kreviazuk, it’s a first track to remember, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Drake’s raw delivery in the verses meld with the delicate hooks in a way that other artists wouldn’t be able to make work.
Similarly, Shot For Me transitions from a soft first verse to the traditional rap verses that made Thank Me Later so popular. Fans will already be familiar with the first single off of the album, Headlines, and they’ll already know why it’s such a great single: it’s as catchy as a cold. Dropping the R&B elements for a more traditional hip hop sound, Drake absolutely kills the track, letting his personal issues bleed into the lyrics with lines like “If they don’t get it they’ll be over you/That new s**t that you got is overdue.” Changing on a dime, Crew Love lets frequent collaborator The Weeknd shine in a track that makes use of ephemeral beats that sound fitting behind Drake’s voice. The Weeknd’s high-pitched crooning blends beautifully with Drake’s familiar voice, hopefully paving the way for more collaborations from these two.
Title track Take Care features a duet with Rihanna, and her always angelic voice adds pain to the song that Drake returns admirably. Rihanna still steals the spotlight, with her breathy delivery towards the end of the song, singing “If you let me, here’s what I’ll do/I’ll take care of you/I’ve loved and I’ve lost.” The beauty of this song is found in the hurt both artists convey, and at this point on the album, Drake doesn’t let up on the personal outflow of his pain.
Marvin’s Room is probably the best song that Drake has written thus far into his career, if only for the beautiful outpouring that is put on display in his lyrics. Songs this intimate are a rare treat, but Drake’s retelling of a drunk call to an ex-girlfriend is absolutely painful to listen to. The emotion is palpable, and lines like “I’m just saying you could do better/Tell me have you heard that lately?” are delivered perfectly. The bare bones beat sets the mood perfectly, as if he were truly alone, calling from a place tucked away inside himself. Drake has matured in the short time between albums, and Marvin’s Room is the perfect example of how much he has done so.
After this amazing track is Buried Alive (Interlude), which is slightly disappointing after the excellence that was just put on display. Luckily it’s short, and Underground Kings gets the album back on track with another radio ready song. The creepy strings that play throughout the background break through the monotonous lyrics, although the chorus definitely makes a better impression than the verses do (“People always ask how I got my nice things/Take my crown to the grave, I’m an underground king”). We’ll Be Fine is another lyrical letdown, but the beat is so catchy that it still stands as the ultimate party song on the album. Despite the lyrics, I still found myself singing “Are you down? Are you down? Yeah, you all the way down” all the time. For some reason, Birdman is relegated to nothing but some random (and frankly, stupid) ad-libbing at the end of the song, so after about three minutes you’ll probably skip past it.
Luckily, Make Me Proud is up next, and it absolutely shines as one of the better tracks on the album. The verses give Drake the chance to let loose and go crazy, while the hook will be stuck in your head for weeks (“I know things get hard/But girl you got it, girl you got it/There you go”). Nicki Minaj’s turn is exactly what you would expect from her, which is either good or bad. Personally, her insane verse is a great contrast to the beautifully calm hook she sings afterwards. Overall, this is definitely one of the better tracks on Take Care and an obvious single choice. Rick Ross helps out on Lord Knows, a track anchored by a choir in the background, diversifying it from other tracks on the album, but stretching just a bit too long, just as the next song, Cameras/Good Ones Go (Interlude), does.
These two songs together clock in at almost 13 minutes, and there are 17 tracks on Take Care. As great as the album is, Drake would have benefited from leaving a few songs off or releasing them later as b-sides. At this point on the album, the songs do start to drag on and blend together. Although those two songs drag along at a slow pace, Doing It Wrong is a pure R&B treat, with Drake strictly singing his way through this break up song. Trying to make himself not sound like the bad guy in the relationship, it still hurts to hear the pain in his voice. The harmonica solo delivered by Stevie Wonder at the end is interesting, but not really necessary. The Real Her keeps the slow burn going, but Drizzy gets some help from Lil’ Wayne and the legendary Andre 3000, helping to elevate this track over everything else on the album. Weezy gives his best on his verse, punctuating Drake’s singing with his signature laugh, while Andre 3000 makes the track by simply being there.
Look What You’ve Done is probably the most hard-hitting song on the album, with Drake dedicating his verses to the people that helped him become who he is now. The track is revealing and intimate, and the peek behind Drake’s normally cocky swag is unforgettable. It gave me chills hearing him detail his family life in a way that wasn’t as whiny as Eminem or other rappers. This is definitely one of the best songs on Take Care, while HYFR finally speeds the album back up again. Resembling more of a throwback the first days of Drake’s rapping days, it has Weezy and Drizzy going back and forth. Hearing the mentor go head to head with his student is a moment that will bring smiles to anyone who listens.
Although Practice starts off strong enough, with more R&B stylings taking over, the lyrics in the chorus make it hard to enjoy. After hearing emotional songs like Look What You’ve Done and Marvin’s Room, it hurts to hear Drake resort to “Girl you look good/won’t you back that ass up?” It’s definitely a lackluster song, especially when compared to closer The Ride, another song with The Weeknd. The percussion heavy beat lets Drake finally go hard and make the last track one of the better ones on the album. The Weeknd is mostly relegated to wailing in the background, but in the few lines he has up front he shines as always. Take Care is a long album, clocking at almost an hour and a half. Spread out over 18 tracks, this is a huge record in content, delivery and quality. Despite the small mistakes that are present here and there, this could be the album that Drake is remembered for. With so many songs that hit the right spot, it’s impossible to not find one enjoyable track.
From the emotional Marvin’s Room to party starter We’ll Be Fine, Take Care swings back and forth effortlessly between smooth R&B and hip hop that is unique in Drake’s delivery. Although the album does begin to drag towards the end, nobody can blame Drizzy for wanting to put as much as he could on this record. He is a born performer, and he put all of his heart into Take Care. Comparable in scope and epicness to Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Drake may have just released his biggest album. But if Take Care is what he can do in a year, just imagine what he can do with even more time.