OK, here’s the thing. Hip-hop should be many things, but chummy is not one of them. And it is starting to get exactly that. The most annoying embodiment of this new chumminess came on the Jay-Z track ‘A Star Is Born’ from ‘The Blueprint 3’, where Jigga basically reeled off a list of all the people in hip-hop who were, like, doing really well for themselves, creating, in the process, one of the most nauseatingly cloying and eager-to-please-everyone records of all time. ‘Thank Me Later’, the new album by Canadian rap superstar Drake, is much like that track extended over an entire album. It’s just about the chummiest, friendliest hip hop album ever, a gathering of the hip-hop equivalent of The Scene That Celebrates Itself. They are literally all on here.
What it also proves is that the big-budget hip-hop community needs to expand its talent pool somewhat, because it’s the same old faces that are starting to show up everywhere. ‘Thank Me Later’ includes a huge cluster of the same people who guested on ‘The Blueprint 3’, for example. Indeed, just as Drake popped up on Jay-Z’s album, so the favour is returned on here, and you can add Kanye West, Alicia Keys, Young Jeezy, No ID, Timbaland and Swizz Beatz to the list too. Drake’s effort also includes other heavy-hitters, like Lil Wayne and TI – it becomes more a case of who DOESN’T show up for a guest appearance at some juncture. It sounds less like one man’s album, more a social gathering of very rich people over beats, and when you’re throwing so many marquee names into the mix, it suggests a real lack of faith in one’s own material, a case of ‘never mind the quality, just look at all my famous mates’.
And Drake doesn’t actually really need them – he’s at his best when he goes it alone. The mournful ‘Karaoke’ and ‘The Resistance’ reveal that, in addition to having a warm, assured flow, Drake also has a nice line in gentle, soulful vocals.
Of the collaborations, the hook-ups with Young Jeezy and the jarring, minimalist ‘Miss Me’ with Lil Wayne are the most profitable, the faintly aimless ‘Fireworks’, on which Alicia Keys thankfully refrains from utilising her vocal foghorning, less so. The Jay-Z guest spot, ‘Light Up’, is a bit all over the shop, and to be honest sounds like it was arranged in about five minutes.
What’s striking about ‘Thank Me Later’ is the downbeat, sober vibe of it all and the lack of an obvious nightclub banger – the beats generally complement Drake’s laid-back, meandering rhymes and often the whole thing comes perilously close to – whisper it – trip-hop. But it’s those constant and predictable superstar interjections that prevent the album from standing out as much as it had potential to do. So come on then, modern hip-hoppers – can’t we all try to not get along?
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Click here to get your copy of Drake’s ‘Thank Me Later’ from the Rough Trade shop