Album Review: ‘Nothing Was the Same’

drake-nothing-was-the-same-artwork-2Drake’s back. This time, don’t expect a motto. You’re not going to get a YOLO or shamefully catchy hooks. You’re not going to get Wayne features. You’re not going to get Aubrey Graham, chipper Canadian gangster extraordinaire. Drake’s back, and for once, he sounds pissed.

Whereas “Thank Me Later” contributed uncountable soundbites to pop culture and things to put on snapbacks, one of the few similarities it shares with the new “Nothing Was the Same” is that both records have Drake’s face on the cover. Drake’s newest is dark, void of many appearances from guests. It’s so much of a solo record that the first verse on the record features Drake proclaiming, “this is nothin’ for the radio, but they’ll still play it though/’Cause it’s that new Drizzy Drake, that’s just the way it go.”

And all cockiness and rap bravado aside, he’s right. Drake knows he’s at the point where he doesn’t have much competition. Any petty little stone he tosses makes a big splash in the pop culture ocean. Even in the wake of the laughable “Started From the Bottom,” this child star/rich kid-cum-rapstar knows how to work the game, whether he’s providing the Motto or rather painfully lonely verses for 67 minutes on this new record. And frankly, he does a pretty damn good job doing it.

Putting aside that Drake did not start at the bottom, his new record is certainly full of musical merit. The recipe is pretty simple — one part really tight verses, one part producer genius Noah “40” Shabib’s characteristically empty beats. And that’s it. Stir.

Even though you’re getting basically an entire hour of Drake’s voice, it doesn’t get old. He micromanages his tone and his lyrics, giving it enough variation to keep the record fresh from cover to cover without it being too sporadic.

And the production is exceptional. Shabib’s beats are more notable for their emptiness than their fullness. They’re not especially busy, putting little clicks and yips and claps exactly where they need to be, but nowhere else.

“From Time” is a reverby piano-plucker that sounds like it might have three tracks on the beat — maybe.

“Furthest Thing” has definite radio potential due both to Drake’s singsongy hook and the simultaneously driving and sleepily headnodic beat that houses his verses. The funny thing about radio potential in the context of “Nothing Was the Same” is that the already released singles, especially “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” almost don’t jibe with the rest of the album.

The blatancy of the radio jams on this record just make them stand out in a weird way. Not to say they’re bad tracks — in fact, they’re solid — only, they’re difficult to reconcile with the context of the rest of the record. But musically, this record is hard to knock.

If there would be, however, anything to knock about “Nothing Was The Same,” it would actually be the sparse verses by guest appearances. Sadly enough, Jay-Z’s verse on “Pound Cake” is one of the weakest moments on the record. Stacked next to the consistently tight Drake verses, the guest verses are all a bit lacking in gusto and don’t sound right on the album.

The other speck on an otherwise pristine record is that it ends on a terrible note: Big Sean. The record should not have ended with Sean’s nasally vocals yelling out “little b—-!” It’s just the wrong way to wrap up an album with the generally cohesive Drake-classic loneliness and bitter anger. But in the grand scheme of the record, it’s easy to shrug off a weak verse that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

On the whole, Drake’s done very nice work here. It’s impressive that the only weak moments on the record come from the guest rappers. The beats are great, and Drake sounding pissed off for a change is refreshing. “Nothing Was the Same” is engaging and can be listened to from front to back without getting bored, trapped out or annoyed by boastful verses. You don’t get a motto or a soundbite or Wayne verse, but you do get a damn good record.

Rating: 4/5

 

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