In indie circles, R&B has long been stigmatised – sickly sweet vocals and dry humping inanimate objects not being in keeping with the ethos of the asymmetrically fringed masses. Drake has completely transcended any such snobbery with a delicate, mellifluous sound and unashamedly candid, emotive lyrics.
The half-Jewish Canadian – who played a wheelchair-bound student in TV teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation until 2009 – is clearly not your typical rap/R&B star. On his US chart-topping debut, last year’s ‘Thank Me Later’, he unleashed a lifetime’s worth of angst, becrying his lovelorn mental state.
‘Take Care’, his highly anticipated follow-up, begins in a more assertive mood, with the rapper declaring that he “killed everybody in the game last year” on opener ‘Over My Dead Body’. Success can breed arrogance but the platinum-selling artist’s braggadocio is suffused with melancholia. “I might be too strung out on compliments/Overdosed on confidence” he laments on lolloping lead single ‘Headlines’.
His lingua franca of heartbreak soon bleeds through on ‘Marvins Room’ as he tries to win over a girl he knows is out of reach. “Talk to me please, don’t have much to believe in/Need you right now, are you down to listen to me?” he sings down the phone, sounding totally crestfallen.
The despondency is obviously contagious, infecting his Young Money label boss Lil Wayne on ‘The Real Her’ as he bemoans: “Cos to her I’m just a rapper and soon she’ll have met another” (a line earnestly cribbed from ‘Miss Me’ on his protégé’s debut). The song’s second guest, Andre 3000, also gets in on the emo action, declaring: “Sittin’ here, sad as hell, listening to Adele, I feel you, baby”.
Just as on ‘Thank Me Later’, ‘Take Care’ is heavy with the beats of long-term collaborator Noah ‘40’ Shebib. But although the sparse arrangements are a perfect match for Drake’s often lethargic mood, when the hip-hop bent of Just Blaze’s production on ‘Lord Knows’ kicks in it hits like an elbow to the solar plexus, every euphoric gospel choir burst inducing a tremor of emotion through the body. In light of this, it somehow feels a shame Drake didn’t experiment more with unfamiliar sounds. Such is the esteem that he’s now held in, the refrain of “I’m just sayin’ you could do better” on ‘Marvins Room’ is one that lingers. Yet considering ‘Take Care’ is an affecting masterpiece easily on par with his debut, there could be no greater accolade for the genius of this man.