“And really, I think I like who I’m becoming,” rapper Drake admits on “Crew Love”, a track from his recent sophomore attempt _Take Care._ On that track he’s talking about trading dreams of graduating from Harvard for the ability to smoke weed in cool places and support his family with his wealth, from craving a paper on the wall to paper in his wallet. It’s a hesitant embrace of abandoning comfortable middle-class aspirations for a messier, grander, more self-determined existence based on art.
The hesitancy of that embrace is key. _Take Care,_ like the rapper that birthed it, is also in a constant state of becoming. In terms of style, Drake claims to be much softer than he was on his debut album _Thank Me Later._ “She says they miss the old Drake, girl don’t tempt me,” he warns on single “Headlines”. While tracks like “Make Me Proud” with Nicki Minaj or “Lord Knows” with Rick Ross still bump, it’s more due to the guest verses or the beats than Drake’s introspective reflections, on topics such as the men who must deal drugs to buy Christmas presents for their daughters on “Lord Knows”, or his crooning hooks (“I’m so proud of you”, he cheers to Minaj). Leave Drake alone now and you get songs like “Good Ones Go”, the album’s sung interlude in which Drake begs a girl to keep waiting for him—“don’t you go getting married, don’t you go get engaged…can’t lose you, can’t help it, I’m so selfish.” Compared to his solo tracks on _Thank Me Later,_ like the aggressively sexual “Show Me a Good Time” or bombastic “Over”, “Good Ones Go” is practically a Michael Bublé tune.
Like many music artists, Drake now expresses disdain for singles; in an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year, he even claimed to hate them. You won’t find the swagger that dominated on tracks like 2009’s single “Forever”—except, of course, on the aforementioned single “Headlines”. Drake is now outwardly much more broken heart than “sprained ankle” that shouldn’t be messed with, and yet he can still slay a beat, simultaneously comparing himself in all seriousness to a mob boss and complaining about the emotional knockoff rappers he’s inspired (“All My Children,” he jokes).
Drake, on the other hand, does nothing to hide which artists have inspired him. True to his roots, Drake offers guest spots primarily to label-mates from Cash Money records like Lil Wayne and the label’s weird “father” Birdman. “Weezy and Stunna [a Birdman alias] my only role models,” Drizzy declares, though confusingly he also names Hugh Hefner and Michael Jordan as his only role models in the next line. More confusingly, Drake’s evident musical influences are very far from those provided by Weezy and Stunna. For one, Drake panders much more to the independent music scene, bringing in producers like British remix artist/big fan of steel drums Jamie xx and allegedly keeping a copy of dubstep introspect James Blake’s first album in his Toronto studio. These influences, heard in songs like “Take Care” and “Make Me Proud” keep _Take Care_ fresh.
An influence that quickly grows old, however, is Drake’s desire for historical context. In contention for the Least-Original Claim to Heritage award is Drake’s statement “I’m a descendent of either Marley or Hendrix, I haven’t figured it out cause my story is far from finished,” on “Lord Knows”. While Drake may share some cursory background details with each (Hendrix spent some of his childhood in Canada, and Marley was also biracial), the statement reads mostly as a tired way of saying he will either die after a relatively long life or flame out while young. These icons provide shoes that are too big too fill for Drake, at least after so little time as a musician.
Drake’s different facets all come together in the witch’s brew that is “Marvin’s Room”. Recorded in the same LA studio where Marvin Gaye spent the latter half of the ‘70s brooding over his divorce, this single is everything that is great and everything that is wrong with Drake. It’s overly soft, even in the production, and oh-so introspective as Drake contemplates calling a gone but not forgotten ex. He eventually does, only to rub the breakup in her face (“I’m just saying, you could do better. Tell me, have you heard that lately?”). It’s cruel, and yet somehow beautiful.
Drake is no Marvin Gaye in terms of vocal strength, but he at last produces something that feels real and original. “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You?”, Gaye’s song recorded in the same studio about the dissolution of his marriage, is a message to an ex as well, but he focuses on the good times they had and how he can learn from it. Drake, in “Marvin’s Room”, keeps it raw and twists the dagger, contrasting his depression and bitterness with rhymes about cognac and the good life. If this song represents what the artist who is becoming Drake will create in the future, it may not be too late for him to fill a pair of Marvin’s shoes.