I know way too many people here right now
That I didn’t know last year, who the fuck are y’all?
I swear it feels like the last few nights
We been everywhere and back
But I just can’t remember it all
– Drake, “Over”
Drake’s the first superstar of the second decade of the 21st century. Of course, given that this decade is driven by a here yesterday, gone today, forgotten tomorrow mentality, the nature of his drive to being a superstar PRIOR to releasing his debut album is a story unto itself. A young man with the right look, pedigree and style for mainstream acceptance hasn’t existed in hip hop since Will Smith, except in 2010 it’s going to take a little bit more than mainstream acceptable cartoon rhymes and humor tracks to get over. Drake was not shot nine times. Nor has he gone to prison and been released holding a #1 rap album and a mainstream record deal. No, Drake also hasn’t sold drugs and laundered his success into a wildly successful imprint. Aubrey Graham sat in a wheelchair and was a passable teen actor on Degrassi: The Next Generation. His intellect and witticism as a budding lyricist apparently led him to Lil Wayne, who mentored, developed, and maybe even borrowed the notepad on occasion of the young Canadian from the T Dot. However, a lauded mixtape turned EP turned legendary debut single “Best I Ever Had,” and turn as the most visible rising public face of Young Money Entertainment later, and we’re here. The young man that blends the best elements of Smith, LL Cool J and yes, Kanye West and Lil Wayne has become the LeBron James of hip hop without even playing a full season in the big leagues. Debut album Thank Me Later is a reflection on Drake’s cognizance of his bizarre rise, and his ambition to enjoy success and preserve it, even in the face of immense hate given his unique career to date.
This is by no stretch a great album. It is a debut, fraught with the issues of which many debuts are waylaid. At 61 minutes, given much of the subject matter, the album may run a bit long, and may at times appear tedious. Also, the release has eight guest appearances that in literally every case expose the emcee as not remotely close on a lyrical level to likely any of the top ten emcees in the game. Tracks like “Miss Me” featuring Drizzy’s lyrical hero Lil Wayne and “Unforgettable” featuring trap superstar Young Jeezy are noticeably better when in the hands of veterans, while Jay-Z on “Miss Me” does a tremendous job in appearing to be a wizened grandfather of the game and delivers a solid, yet effortless sixteen bars, cosigning without overshadowing.
Drake is a success and at best when flossin’. There’s no better way to put it, no different way to state it. Drake shines as an emcee when he’s himself, a very young man of very considerable means, as B.I.G. says famously in “Big Poppa,” “money, hoes and clothes” is all this brother seems to know right now. Given that he was raised in a broken home, having material gain as the second half of a foundation equation for his life is a popular life circumstance for many rappers these days, but none has ever taken the time to describe it as Drake does here. Album opener “Fireworks” handles this eloquently in the metaphorical, possibly the best discussion of young wealth and fame, a song that the Waka Flockas of the world should consider in the face of the frivolousness of Fozzy Bear chains, an endless supply of open nightclubs and loose women.
Drake has decided to adopt and strive to be adept at the principles of hip hop storytelling espoused by the likes of Nas and Andre 3000. He’s only adept at telling one story right now, but he tells that story with a precision and depth that it warrants both mention and praise. Producers 40 and Boi-1da, the Canadian tandem responsible for “Best I Ever Had” and much of the wildly successful So Far Gone mixtape/EP shine here, brighter than veterans Timbaland, Swizz Beatz and Kanye West, who in attempting to match the intensely thoughtful tableau, fall short of the standard set by those who know Drake best. While rookies like Nicki Minaj are less than skilled at Drake’s level of reflection, tracks like “Resistance,” “Shut It Down,” “Up All Night” and “Fancy” are great showpieces for what will make Drake a name of importance in the industry.
In final, this album is merely the beginning for Drake. It is not perfect, but it shows the foundation for perfection. If Drake remains intensely thoughtful and develops his skill to craft metaphorical anthems with catchy adlibs, he’ll truly be the definition of “Successful” that he so desperately wants to be. At the end of the album he wants us to “Thank Me Now.” That’s quite the audacious statement firmly couched in the naivete of youth. Drake is a top contender, but yet to be the champion. Soon, he will be. “Thank Me Later?” Sounds about right.