Drake opens this album the same way he opened his previous two -- with an update on his mindset in the form of the baleful, self-indulgent "Tuscan Leather." "We keep it thorough, n---a, rap like this for all of my borough ni--as/I reached the point where don't shit matter to me, ni--a," he boasts. It's six minutes of endless braggart rhyming, in which Drake flirts with the idea of going "an hour on this beat." He's daring you to skip the song. You probably won't, because producer Noah "40" Shebib chipmunkifies the same Whitney Houston sample three ways to keep things interesting.
After the tough talk comes the smash single "Started from the Bottom," a welcome reprieve from the bravado. It's hard to hear "Started from the Bottom," which started its radio reign six months ago, with fresh ears. If you can manage that, however, the song is more meaningful within the ebb and flow of the album. (Drake's "bottom" still sounds like most people's "top.")
The topics on Drake's third album have a lot in common with his previous efforts: dysfunctional relationships, family conflicts (personal and professional), people who question his supremacy, falling for the wrong girl, losing the good ones. "I'm just trying to connect with something / Don't talk to me like I'm famous," he pleads on "Connect." In making himself approachable, Drake succeeds where his pal The Weeknd struggled on Kiss Land ("This ain't nothing to relate to even if you tried"). Where Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail seemed insular, Drake's album is about everyday relationship issues everyone can grasp.
The album title is a smirk. Nothing Was the Same, yet nothing really changed. What's new is that Drake is more defiant. He's familiar with all the Twitter jokes; in fact, he's in on them now, even likening himself to Dorothy Gale (Wizard of Oz) on "305 to My City."
Nothing Was the Same isn't all jokes and jelly, though. Hip-hop is still very much a competitive sport and Drake is ready to rumble. This is Drake at his most combative, but there's also something innocuous about his strategy. For starters, he doesn't name any names, opting to aim at imaginary enemies on the perceived Kendrick Lamar diss, "The Language."
"I don’t know why they been lying, but yo sh-t is not that inspiring
Bank account statements just looking like I’m ready for early retirement
F--k any n--ga that’s talking that sh-t just to get a reaction
F--k going platinum, I looked at my wrist and it's already platinum"
By making his target faceless, Drake keeps things from escalating. Imaginary foes can't hurt you, after all. Drake is playing flag football with shoulder pads.
When he's locked in his zone, Drake gets so much of this album right. He sings his heart out on "Hold On, We're Going Home" and raps pashmina shawls around Jay Z on "Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2." Nothing reaches its full potential on album climax "Too Much," a poignant number about fear, family and alienation. British soulman Sampha almost steals the show with an aching hook that heightens expectation for each subsequent Drake verse.
Drake's music is as much about rhymes as it is about groove. He cares about words. He cares about his signature sound. And this album's identity comes from Drake's longtime friend 40, who produced most of it. The template is textbook Drake x 40: soul-heavy, slow-moving hip-hop. Even the Majid Jordan-produced "Hold on, We're Going Home" winks at past Drake hit "Find Your Love."
When he's not looking for love, Drake is positioning himself as a cultural vanguard. Rappers usually do this by invoking the spirits of past eras and icons. When Drake looks back, though, it's to forge ahead. Many of the songs on Nothing Was the Same salute the Old School: a puff of vintage H-town haze blows over "Connect," while "Wu-Tang Forever" nods to Wu's "It's Yourz." Drake even interpolates familiar lines from the likes of Ma$e, ODB, and Raekwon.
But these aren't mere tributes to rap idols. They're also about Drake -- where he sees himself in the light of those artists. No matter how nostalgic he's waxing, these songs always situate Drake in his own space and time. It's always a distinctively Drake sound. He's no longer the star-struck boy who was just happy to get a verse from Jay Z. Contrast Thank Me Later's Jay Z collaboration with this album's Jay Z collaboration:
Thank Me Later: Jay Z plays mentor to his honorary protege, offering tips on how to navigate the game.
Nothing Was The Same: Jay drops by to kick his rich rapper thing: "I had Benzes before you had braces." Drake doesn't flinch. "F--k all that 'Happy to be here' sh-t that y'all want me on," he retorts on the song's second half. He tells Hov not to "little bro" him anymore, dog. Maybe Jay is the one who's happy to be standing next to Drake?
- "Hold On, We're Going Home"
- "Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2"
- "The Language"
- "305 to My City"
- Box of Kleenex
- White Wine
- Satin sheets
- Wizard of Oz DVD