Maybe Drake has it all figured out, while the rest of us remain in the compartmentalized, pre-millennial world of CD stores.
It used to be that anyone blending R&B and hip-hop was labeled a sell-out by rap’s hard-core contingent. Then, Diddy’s 1990 Bad Boy reign made the marriage of the two genres a standard — add an R&B chick on a Biggie chorus and watch the platinum plaques stack — just don’t ever let rappers sing, or singers rap.
Drake isn’t the first MC to hold a tune. Biz Markie, Ja Rule, Nelly and Kanye West have all made melodic impacts. Similarly, crooners like Bobby Brown, Mary J. Blige and R. Kelly have all made attempts at rap, but unlike anyone before him, Drake appears to have mastered and ultimately masked the tightrope walk on his latest Nothing Was the Same in stores Tuesday (September 24).
“On a mission tryna shift the culture,” Drizzy raps on the six-minute long intro, “Tuscan Leather.”
When the Young Money star made his first big musical splash on 2009’s So Far Gone mixtape, he did so with jarring emotion, moving back and forth from rapper to singer and then evolved the formula on his subsequent projects (Thank Me Later and Take Care). Unforgettable features like Rick Ross’ “Aston Martin Music” and DJ Khaled’s “I’m On One” found Drake playing switch hitter, delivering both edgy rap bars and masterfully melodic hooks. He does the same on Nothing Was the Same, except over the course of the LP’s 13 tracks you never, ever see the costume change.
Here’s a challenge: try to categorize “Furthest Thing,” where Drake starts coming to terms with all of his dualities. “Somewhere between psychotic and iconic/ Somewhere between I want it and I got it/ Somewhere between I’m sober and I’m lifted/ Somewhere between a mistress and commitment,” he breathes in a calm rap tone.
With no pause in the action, the purveyor of the OVO Sound transitions without ever breaking his stride. “But I stayed down, girl I always stayed down,” he sings to his committed mistress.
Is it rap? Is it R&B? Does it matter?
With seamless transitions, Drake weaves in and out of genre confines like a NASCAR champion racing to the finish line. “Started From the Bottom” and “Worst Behaviour” are loud and rambunctious, while “Wu-Tang Forever” is a double-sided sex ode that seems to be equally about how Drake bent the rap game over backwards.
Fist-waving fans who were mad at the track named after rap’s rawest nine-man group should take a closer listen. “What made me think about the game girl, and how I switched it up wit a new thang/ Young n—a came through on his Wu-Tang/ And nowadays when I ask about who got it, they say, ’It’s yours,’ ” he sings.
Like the Wu, Drake combines witty and unpredictable styles. “From Time” is jazzy and subtle, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” recalls ’80s pop rock and “The Language” is dark and a possible response to Kendrick Lamar’s controversial “Control” verse — depending on who you ask.
NWTS stitches a variety of themes and sounds, but there is nothing patchwork about it. With all of its diversity Drake threads a common theme: Drake. Nothing Was the Same is as much about Drizzy’s adjustment to the rap game, as it is the rap game’s adjustment to him — it’s a culture shift for sure.