Funny thing about Drake: I'm forced to care. This goes beyond my duties as a music writer; rap now is in a state where someone like Drake or Rick Ross becomes the sun and everyone surrounding becomes an orbiting satellite. I'm a huge fan of co-Money Youngins Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, and I'd like to keep up with Andre 3000, The Weeknd, and Rihanna as well. And many of those folks are likely to be on the next big rapper's album, too. That's just how it works; if I want to hear the newest Wayne verses, I've gotta hear this guy. If I sound like I'm shrugging, you're right. Not really a Drake fan. But I'm not much of a 2011 fan, either. So I'm open to anything that gets people excited before I get my year-end lists in order.
"Over My Dead Body"
I could barely make it through Thank Me Later, which had a six-minute opener and lots of soft-focus beats and self-pitying rhymes. So this is already better: it's only four minutes and he fuck-yous the haters early on. The beat is closer to Deerhunter's shimmering Halcyon Digest.
"Shot for Me"
"I know that you gon' hear me cuz I'm the man/ Yeah I said it/ Bitch I'm the man/ Don't you forget it." Is he being ironic? Does it matter? It's so much more fun to hear his embrace of wealth and power like his hero Kanye than his wishes to be with a Regular Girl in a dorm room. And the Lex Luger-style rattlesnake hi-hats cut the aural puddle nicely.
Three tracks in, a rhythm. A rickety synth rollercoaster, mirrored by pizzicato strings and affixed with an 808 snare pretending to be a marching band. More (self?)-mocking: "All these niggas sound like All My Children." I've just identified one of my Drake Problems: How does his voice manage to be so limply melodic on hooks and shrilly, brattily upfront on verses? There is no comfortable Drake cadence. I liked this song though, even the little poem thing at the end.
The Weeknd collaboration. Predictably, it's the weirdest thing so far, though Abel Tesfaye doesn't have many insights leftover from his two 2011 records. "What you bothering me for?" he sings. The miniscule amount of released music it takes now for people to turn into paranoid Michael Jackson. This is beautiful, though, I admit through clenched teeth -- which is kind of how I felt about the lush asshole's paradise that was House of Balloons.
Oh, awesome. Rihanna leads a straight-up house track, perfect pianos and all, until I remember exactly what it is: Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX! That absolutely gorgeous XX guitar is unmistakable. The song's great in any form, though I think I prefer the original; this is Drake's best melody, but his dragging behind the beat is annoying me -- and I'm hardly the guy who usually gets annoyed by that sort of thing.
"Marvin's Room/Buried Alive (Interlude)"
An epic, unwinding song, as you already know. This is where the Degrassi alum finally makes good on his poltergeist minimalism and well-deployed singing voice. And his emo! This song is unabashedly emo, from fuck-that-next-guy to the irresistible phone interjections from the girl he's singing to ("Are you drunk right now?" is a hook). And the second-album stakes render his pathos over the top, where it should be: "I've had sex four times this week, I'll explain/ I'm having a hard time adjusting to fame." And then something more confessional, ironic or not, than any emo band I've ever heard: "I just need someone to put this weight on." Now hang up, lady. The outro reminds me of one of the Roots' cool, underrated voyages like the ending of "Break You Off." Though he clearly stole the idea from his Weeknd homeboy. And the end verses remind me that Toronto's an underrated luxury city in rap.
Not a tribute to Pimp C I don't think. "Got rich off a mixtape/ I ain't even see straight," yeah, yeah. "I'm the greatest, man/ I said that before I knew I was" is surprisingly revealing though. Lots of rappers say they're the greatest on their first album, but few will admit they were just kidding (though he's not now of course). "Tell me lies/ Make it sound good" is a more acceptable credo than anything rock 'n' roll's coughed up lately. "Duffle Bag Boy" is a great choice of interpolation.
"We'll Be Fine"
Another Drake problem: not much pop personality. He's a synthesizer but too modest about it; when Lady Gaga does a Tarantino pastiche she wants to make sure every tiny reference pops out in 3-D detail. Drake switches effortlessly from rapper to singer to strangely unfunny observational humorist. I'm grim to report that his quest for fame is the only thing holding it together: melodic structure, hooks, rhythmic momentum (something he barely skates even when he's good). I chose this spot to bitch because this is another perfectly pleasant Airy Drake Song I don't have dick to say about.
"Make Me Proud"
Did I mention I'm halfway through this thing and this is the first time I noticed hashtag rapping? I'm so I'm so I'm so proud of him! This is a piece-y song but the great parts are great: not one but two choruses, a typically adorable Nicki verse ("I'm a star -- sheriff badge") and spare audio burbles that drop in and out whenever they damn well feel like it without sacrificing melody. His best.