Drake improves with ‘Nothing Was the Same’

Alexander McCall

On Drake’s 2011 album “Take Care,” the Canadian rap star surrounded himself with high profile guests such as Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Rick Ross.

On “Nothing Was the Same,” Drake’s newest album, there are a few obscure guest singers and one pitiful verse from Jay-Z. In other words, Drake’s done propping himself up with others’ talents.

“Nothing Was the Same” finds Drake and partner-in-crime producer Noah “40” Shebib reveling in the vivid, contradictory sound at which they excel. Together, they’ve made a pop-rap album as desolate as it is triumphant.

It’s a nice look for Drake; some would say he’s spent more time whining into Auto-Tune than making enduring music. While “Nothing Was the Same” isn’t quite a rap classic, it’s more confident and engaging than some of his past material.

The album opens with one of its best tracks, “Tuscan Leather.” A three-part epic without a hook, the track finds 40 flipping a Whitney Houston sample three different ways for an incredible effect.

The track’s mutating mood lets Drake begin with hyped-up celebratory raps and then gradually wind down to the self-effacing that characterizes the rest of the album.

Drake is more reliant on R&B singsong than all-out rapping, but “Nothing Was the Same” finds him proving his talent on both fronts.

On “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” he puts his singing up front with a melancholic R&B ballad. On the menacing “Worst Behavior,” he amps up his rapping to a throaty bellow. On album standout “Furthest Thing,” he pits the two styles against each other and it clicks perfectly.

This wouldn’t be possible without 40’s production. Though he doesn’t handle all the tracks himself, his synth-heavy, impeccably detailed beats permeate the album and lend considerable weight to Drake’s emotive persona.

That persona, at times selfish and sex-crazed, is more pervasive here than ever before. This is both an asset to the album and a major flaw. Drake presents himself as both a sensitive crooner and an a–hole, which leaves the listener a bit polarized.

Weirdly, the album also features numerous nods to the Wu-Tang Clan. Two songs sample them and they’re named specifically in “Wu-Tang Forever.”

Frankly, the references muddle the album’s sense of isolation. Drake has more in common with an introspective Kanye West or a sarcastic Frank Ocean than the Clan’s aggression.

Although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of some of “Take Care,” “Nothing Was the Same” is easily Drake’s most consistent album. Still, Drake and 40 aren’t likely to achieve a mood this starkly distinctive again, so it’ll be nice to see where they go from here.

Rating: Three out of five stars

REVIEW: COLIN MOORE, Senior A&E Reporter