Drake’s official debut album Thank Me Later is arguably the most feverishly anticipated Hip Hop release since his mentor/boss Lil Wayne unleashed the instantly classic Tha Carter III back in 2008. And in all honesty, they are both fantastic albums…but they couldn’t be any more different from one another.
Tha Carter III’s charm was also its chief drawback to some; namely, that it’s all over the place, with its 16 tracks running the gamut musically and conceptually. Tha Carter III lacked a unified sound or vision, which made for an enthralling, if at times jarring experience. Wayne came off as a hyperactive, blunt-smoking genius, capable of anything…except being focused conceptually.
Interestingly enough, Drake gives us the exact opposite experience with Thank Me Later. For a debut album, it’s truly impressive how focused and cohesive this album is, sustaining a moody, atmospheric, at times Sade-inspired sound and content of an undoubtedly personal nature across its 14 meticulously-crafted tracks, varying in particular volumes and themes, but working together seamlessly throughout. Fashioned as a concept album that picks up where last year’s game changing So Far Gone mixtape and EP left off, Thank Me Later tells the story of Drake’s whirlwind rise to superstardom, and the confusion, fear, betrayal, guilt and ruined relationships he has experienced in its wake. Drake has clearly labored over the final product relentlessly; there is not a moment on Thank Me Later that feels unnecessary or forced. Everything fits perfectly, with not a second of the album’s hour-long running time wasted. As far as album making goes, Drake deserves a pat on the back for at least making an actual album that works as one complete statement, rather than a glorified mixtape of cheap singles.
So don’t listen to the haters, bloggers and hip hop “purists” that have been crying foul since the former Degrassi cast member strolled into the spotlight last year. Drake takes what he does seriously; he’s no interloper.
Of course, as with Tha Carter III, what’s so impressive about Thank Me Later is exactly where the album runs into its major flaw; the album is so focused and tight conceptually that it might be a bit too confining as a listening experience. It’s not easy to make a 14-track album work together this seamlessly, and Drake and his producers’ strategy for achieving this is obvious and understandable. Particular atmospherics, tempos and drum sounds are omnipresent throughout Thank Me Later, not to mention Drake’s reliance on a signature approach to melody and songwriting, thus giving the album a same-ness that’s enjoyable, but a bit exhausting if you’re not a big fan.
Fortunately, Drake conceived of a cohesive sound for Thank Me Later that is relentlessly catchy, grandiose and at times downright gorgeous; not an easy feat when working with multiple, big name producers like Kanye West, Swizz Beats and Timbaland. The production work supplied by frequent collaborator Boi-1da is particularly stunning; the Young Jeezy-asissted “Unforgettable” boasts a beautiful Aaliyah sample, while “Miss Me,” featuring Lil Wayne, is anchored by a hypnotic, hard-hitting beat that absolutely kills. Thank Me Later is chockfull of high profile collaborations (with the likes of Jay-Z, T.I., The Dream, and Nicki Minaj) that could be interpreted as a crutch, though the album’s conceptual entrenchment in conveying Drake’s disoriented, awestruck reaction to fame suggests that these songs, which are all clustered together in the album’s midsection, are meant to highlight the level of success and popularity he has inexplicably found himself enjoying; in other words, when Drake says “I know way too many people here right now that I didn’t know last year/Who the fuck are ya’ll?” during the chorus of the album’s first single “Over,” he’s talking about them too. Crucially though, every collaboration is flawless, particularly Jay-Z’s brilliant verse on “Light Up,” as well as Nicki Minaj’s show-stealing appearance on the foreboding Young Money tribute “Up All Night.” And arguably the album’s standout might be “Shut It Down,” where Drizzy trades crooning duties with The Dream over a sparse, slowburning track that builds effortlessy to a sexy, massive crescendo of synths.
The jury’s still out on whether or not Drake is some kind of savior of Hip Hop, or if he’ll even be able to sustain the momentum he’s been building and match the success he’s already achieved. But kudos to Drake for sticking to his guns, and crafting an album that doesn’t comprise for mass appeal or pander to the charts. There’s no denying that Drake is the real deal, at this point. And there’s no denying the power of Thank Me Later either.
Because it’s good. Really, really good.