Drake On Top Of Industry With 'Nothing Was The Same'
Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 25, 2013 20:09
“I can’t see them coming down my eyes, so I gotta make this song cry,” rapped Jay Z on “Song Cry.” This was as much introspection as the hip-hop industry of 2001 would entertain—the rest was all sports cars and models. Still is, for the most part. On Nothing Was the Same, Drake asks us to not talk to him like he’s famous, like he’s a part of that wealth that gives you a hard amnesia. The album takes us back to the days of wood-grained studios, of rich, velvet sofas and hand-rolled cigarettes, Moet champagne, cream linen suits, and gold-plated microphones.
Think back to the room where Marvin Gaye was holed up for a year writing about his divorce, when his wife had come back not for forgiveness but for a million of his money—a fortune he had made writing melodies for her. Drake takes us into this world on his latest release, slated to become one of the most honest, beautiful records of the year. And at a point when it’s not unusual for the hottest rappers to fall into a formula—the club song, the radio hit, the breakup track—Drake abandons structure for something more meaningful because of its inconclusiveness.
Credit is due to executive producer Noah “40” Shebib for taking Drake so far outside of his comfort zone that the artist had no choice but to begin to think of an album as an hour of space. Drake treats the release like some warehouse gallery, and gives us his honest reflections on the most human things in life—his relationship with his father (“When he put the bottle down / girl that n—ga amazing”), abandoned friendships (“And all my family that I’d be around … Start treating me like I’m him now / Like we don’t know each other, like we didn’t grow together / we’re just friends now”)—over some of the most inorganic, unnatural audio of the decade. The album never goes full Yeezus, but Shebib finds melody in something that could easily be the soundtrack to somebody building a steel tankard. Think back to “Street Lights” off of Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, and how we got here will start to make sense.
The second single off of the album, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is our generation’s answer to “Sexual Healing.” It’s a fantastic cut and the ’80s feels are real but, sonically, it’s a victory lap in the middle of an album about homelessness.
NWTS is heavy on soul samples, but uses them more for their historic significance than as an essential part of composition. A sample of Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.” takes the phrase “cash rules everything around me” and flips the boast into an indictment of the industry. “Nothing was the Same” gives us a more sophisticated look at how Drake is dealing with stardom, carefully avoiding the criticism that Take Care received as an album about how much it sucks to be rich and famous. On “Too Much” (feat. Sampha), Drake looks beyond how notoriety affects him and instead focuses on those around him: a mother that is too tired to leave the house, an uncle that has given up his dreams of becoming a musician. “Money got my whole family going backwards / no dinners, no holidays, no nothing / there’s issues at hand that we’re not discussing.” He even speaks on his Degrassi roots—a topic that he has obviously avoided in previous, safer albums.
People seem to want Drake to be the poster child for heartless “emo rap,” but Nothing Was the Same is the album on which he embraces his emotionality, confronts his past, and becomes the star that we didn’t think we ever wanted him to be. Abandoning the security of formula, Drake is able to find confidence in abstraction. Off of the album’s closer: “Only real music’s gonna last. All that other bullshit is here today and gone tomorrow.”