Is there a more self-contradicting rapper among Drake’s peers? Rick Ross at least owns his manufactured Mafioso persona and Jay Z really does seem to care about the commerce he disguises as art. Lil’ Wayne’s three life directives (one of which is unpublishable by this paper’s standards) are worn on his songs’ sleeves and Kanye West’s work often criticizes the very industry and environment that made him, so … maybe. But 26-year-old Aubrey Graham, ever the hyper-aware and -connected Millennial, can’t rap three measures without toggling between hubris and shame, scorner and scorned. He’s happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time.
Drake has confidently and completely fleshed out that constantly contradicting character over “Nothing Was the Same”’s solipsistic 60 minutes, which showcase more complicated and impressive rhyme schemes and a mastery of vocal inflection and tone that he was still working toward on 2011’s “Take Care”. He knows it too. “Same”’s lone guest verse comes from the aforementioned Jay Z, (who sounds lost and listless compared to the “triple entendre, don’t even ask me how” line he contributed to Drake’s debut, “Thank Me Later”), which clears out a ton of space for the young Canadian to work. It’s a stark contrast against “Take Care”’s limousine full of pop stars that elevated that album’s drama and revolved its many characters through the spotlight.
But on “Same” it stays on Drake and an hour of his pileup rapping proves exhausting, especially when he gets on his worst behavior. As on “Worst Behaviour”, a song containing a reference to O.D.B. that comes across as both tasteless and vaguely misogynist. Twitter turned it into a punchline the night it leaked.
But Drake contains multitudes so for every “Worst Behaviour” (and “Wu-Tang Forever”) we get a “Hold On, We’re Going Home” which feels like a crisp, breezy breather in the middle of this dense, minor-key record. Duo Majid Jordan contribute airy coos while Drake plays the sensitive type like an Oscar winner. “I can’t get over you / You left your mark on me”.
But like Ben Folds’ “Brick”, Drake uses his pop star pedestal to shape a story that deprives a former fling the recourse to respond. At least Folds kept it anonymous. "The one that I needed was Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree / I've always been feeling like she was the piece to complete me" is so specific that social media stalkers tracked the poor Atlanta woman down. If you think Taylor Swift’s mean then Drake’s straight-up spiteful.
One last thing: “Started from the bottom now we here” is a remarkably bold lie considering its source was once a teenage Canadian after-school special star. But Noah Shebib’s hypnotic snare sizzles combined with Drake’s assured delivery and absolutely occult skill writing pop hooks make “Started from the Bottom” a gripping, unassailable three minutes. For as long as Millennials treat self-awareness as virtue, he’ll be the generation’s biggest pop star, contradictions and all.