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On Nothing Was the Same, Drake displays lyrical depth

By Jeff Ihaza / Senior Staff Writer

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Drake

Nothing Was the Same

A-

Sounds like: Driving along Highway 59 in Houston. Alone. Thinking about “her.”

“Dropped the mixtape, that sh*t sounded like an album” Drake boasts on the lyrically lopsided posse cut “Forever.” When “Forever” was released, Drizzy was still shaking off his Degrassi background and disses aimed at the fact that his name is Aubrey. At the time, his breakthrough mixtape, So Far Gone, was getting unprecedented radio play and was even being sold at Borders (R.I.P.). The 22-year-old child star had plenty to boast about. His signature voice inundated the radio, and it seemed like he was only getting started. Now, nearly four years after the release of his spectacular debut, Thank Me Later, the Toronto-born rapper’s boasting takes on a new dimension. Here, we find Drake on his worst behavior, and as the album title states, nothing was the same.

The self-aware question, “How long this n*gga gonna spend on the intro?” that we get on the bass-heavy end of the opening track, “Tuscan Leather,” is representative of where Drake is as an artist. He’s made every right decision, so much so that the perils of seemingly bad moves are innately apparent. That’s where the brilliance of Nothing was the Same comes from: Drake is in on the jokes.

Take the outright gender-flipping “Wu-Tang Forever.” Aside from an almost indistinguishable Raekwon vocal sample, the song is the exact opposite of a Wu-Tang cut (Inspectah Deck is none too happy about it, either). Instead of head-busting violence, we get Drake offering himself up to a past lover a la Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In the World).” His crooning is borderline uncomfortable, but irresistible in perhaps the oddest way. By the time the song segues into “Own It,” the inclination to skip the pillow talk is gone and you’re awoken from a trance with a sly jab from Drake.

“I swear n*ggas talk more than b*tches these days,” he reminds us, blurring the line between femininity and the stereotypical machismo of the hip-hop world.

Much should also be said about the immaculate production on the record. Tracks blend together seamlessly like a vinyl, and as a project, Drake rejects the instant-gratification, Vevo-centric manner of production, instead working for something complete that begs to played from start to finish.

The bona fide hit “Hold on We’re Going Home” feels like a crackly vinyl classic by the likes of Curtis Mayfield or Whitney Houston, both of whom are sampled as bookends to the album. The song hopscotches on a Miami Vice drum pattern that beats out Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” as the song your parents will dance to at your wedding. The cheesy bar mitzvah feel of the song somehow works to Drake’s advantage. It’s infectiously treacly and he knows it. It’s like being on a road trip with Drizzy and he suddenly pops in George Michael. Then you realize that you’ve always really liked George Michael.

For all of its sonic pleasures, Nothing Was The Same also maintains emotional density. Drake’s perspective is complex: Whereas calling out exes on his early mixtapes probably felt therapeutic, something about the jabs on his latest record feels devastatingly lonely. By now the rapper truly has everything, but if the past four years have found Drake trying to fill a void, Nothing Was The Same is a strange admission that emptiness doesn’t disappear when your life is a completed checklist. 

The beautiful track “Too Much” near the end of the album finds Drake airing it all out: the impact of fame on his family life, isolation from his friends and self-inflicted pressure to be the greatest. The song feels like the abstract for the album. Don’t be fooled by “Started from the Bottom.” For Drake, the metaphorical “here” is a lonely place.

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On Nothing Was the Same, Drake displays lyrical depth