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The Drake Dialogues: Take Care, Because Nothing Is Ever the Same

The Jewish rapper releases his new ‘Nothing Was the Same.’ A pair of rabid hip-hop fans debate its value.

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(Illustration based on album art courtesy of Cash Money Records.)
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And Drake wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.

And because he had just gotten out of a really emotional one-night stand with a stripper.

Ever since Aubrey “Drake” Graham signed on to Young Money Entertainment back in 2008, he’s turned heads for a thousand different reasons: He spent his childhood shuttling between the rich parts of Toronto as a child actor and the poor parts of Memphis as the son of an alcoholic; his flitting between harder rap sounds and emotional R&B; and not least of all, amidst the strong Christian traditions of rap, his strong, self-assured presentation of his Jewish heritage. How many other rappers hold second bar mitzvahs for themselves? Various mix tapes, ceaseless guest spots on radio-friendly tracks, and two albums cemented Drake’s place in the rap universe. His third album, the just-released Nothing Was the Same, through hype, sales (the album debuted at No. 1 on Billboard 200), and sheer willpower, threatens to make him a gas nebula, one of those rare, giant stars that alter everything in their orbit simply by their continued existence.

As a music writer for Tablet, it’s long in my best self-interest to follow Drake’s career very closely. It hasn’t hurt that I’ve loved his music—on this very website, I called Take Care, his 2011 release, “a record so momentous it feels like it could transform an entire genre.” But to discuss this album properly, I knew I had to look outside myself. Instantly, I turned to my best friend from Jew School as a kid, Ivan Rott. Something must have been in the water at Maimonides Academy, because Ivan turned into one of the Internet’s best rap bloggers, producing the vital HipHopIsRead, where he’s perhaps best known for his reviews in .gif form and the uncanny ability to track down the original sources of rap samples. But I soon discovered that Ivan does not like Drake. Not at all, in fact—for reasons you will discover shortly. And Nothing Was the Same, the Drake-iest of Drake’s albums, had only exacerbated the divide. So, we did what diehard rap fans have done since the beginning of time, or at least the late ’80s: Listen to the album a thousand times and then disagree strenuously about it.

***

David Grossman: Are you familiar with the singer Daniel Johnston? He’s made 17 albums, and all of his love songs, the story goes, are about the same girl, the first one he ever kissed. I can’t compare the two on a personal level (Johnston has severe bipolar disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder), but I kept thinking of Johnston while listening to Drake’s Nothing Was the Same. The women keep changing, of course, but Drake finds himself singing the same song over and over.

This isn’t a happy album. The verbal gymnastics from his last album, Take Care, are gone. What’s still there is Drake’s desire to swing for the fences, which occasionally means he’ll say some dumb shit. (“Next time we fuck/ I wanna make love” is just godawful, as is that not-really-clever line about “pussy power.”)

This might make it sound like I dislike the album. But I don’t. In fact, I’ll even go further than your gif review did and say I actually like it, a lot. It might not reach the levels of diversity and genius that Take Care did, but Drake’s talent is overwhelming. His greatest strength is his ability to make it seem like he’s operating without a safety net. Like on one of my favorites from the album, “From Time.” He jukes, going from talking about his relationship problems with a girl to suddenly discussing his father, a figure well-noted in Drake lore for his coldness, his ability to con and scam Drake, while showing him the best music Memphis had to offer growing up. My eyes perked up, how could anyone have any idea where this was going?

***

Ivan Rott: Admittedly, I’m not too familiar with Daniel Johnston, apart from the “Hi, How Are You” T-shirt I noticed Kurt Cobain used to wear. But touching on the point you’ve raised about personality disorders, there must be something to be said about a child actor turned rapper who spends most of his time on records complaining about how hard his cushy life has been. Take for instance “Started From the Bottom,” which, sonically, is something I can totally appreciate. The bass-heavy beat is immersive, and Drake’s blasé, yet catchy, hook is genuinely enjoyable. But the premise of the track, suggesting that Drake survived some sort of harrowing, miserable existence prior to his present incarnation as a pop music juggernaut, is laughable. It reminds me of Eminem grumbling “radio won’t even play my jam” on The Marshall Mathers LP’s “The Way I Am.” Playing the wheelchair-bound Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi is the toughest “role” Aubrey Graham has had to tackle.

I’m not a hater though, and Nothing Was the Same definitely has its moments. We can both agree that the ‘80s drum machine thump of “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is intoxicatingly dope. And “Worst Behaviour,” in all its braggadocious, Ma$e-lyric-swiping glory, is incredibly catchy. I’m not too sure how long the few singular gems on the album will stay in my rotation, though. Unlike Take Care, which featured stellar contributions from Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Andre 3000, and more, Nothing Was the Same finds Drake flying solo for the most part. Regrettably, the few guest rapper features all sound phoned-in and are probably the lowest points of the album. 2 Chainz’s verse on “All Me” has got to be the laziest in his catalog—and that’s saying something. And hearing Jay-Z say “cake” approximately fifty-’leven times on “Pound Cake” has got to be one of the most head-scratching experiences for me, a (former?) Hov fan.

***

DG: Nothing Was the Same a downgrade from Take Care? Absolutely. But Take Care’s a real special album. It’s filled with soaring highs—the bar mitzvah celebration of “HYFR”—and crushing, headshaking lows, like a paranoid Drake rifling through women’s phones for proof of disloyalty, paparazzi, misplaced trust—anything he can think of. The Drake of Take Care is ecstatic, depressed, judgmental of the system that raised him, thrilled to be here, paranoid of those around him, and really, really would like to have sex, right now. In short, it reminded me of what I was going through at the time: being 24 in 2011.

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The Drake Dialogues: Take Care, Because Nothing Is Ever the Same

The Jewish rapper releases his new ‘Nothing Was the Same.’ A pair of rabid hip-hop fans debate its value.