This debate, like any other debate, begins with a strong opposing opinions. These particular opinions came came from the wonderful world of Twitter between @AndrewTreske and @i_porter6:
Both writers have agreed to make their case for their respective sides. Porter will argue in favor of Take Care while Treske will argue in favor of Nothing Was The Same. We have enlisted renowned Drake hater Ethan “Squints” Butler to judge the debate.
Treske: I have struggled with my Drake fandom for some time. His persona, as our new writer Maryam Fikri outlined excellently, is not exactly for me. He seems slimy, too self-involved, and just not hard in anyway. I mean… He acted on a damn teen show for chrissake. Although my mind told me this, I still couldn’t keep away from his music. Each of his albums had great songs and showed pretty marked improvement. So Far Gone exhibited quite a bit of promise, Thank Me Later signalled his intentions, and finally Take Care expanded on and perfectly honed the first incarnation of Drake. I mean, the dude makes some amazing music, regardless of whether you like his vibe or not.
Still, Drake pre-NWTS was very much an undeveloped creature. He was undeniably talented and had a tremendous ear for music, but as far as cultivating his own signature sound, he didn’t really cut the mustard. He was playing by other people’s rules and conforming to the hip-hop genre’s conventions. Not creating new sounds, but trying to prove his mastery over old ones instead. Don’t get me wrong, his ear for music is and was always excellent and unconventional (he rapped/sang over Lykke Li on So Far Gone for example), but he did not hone his own specific sound yet.
With NWTS, Drake reached the peak form of his career thus far. It is a self-assured, self-realized, and defining effort that gives a sound to Drake. His lyrics are still narcissistic, bitter and vindictive regarding women, and sometimes (albeit rarely) truly moving, but on NWTS they are laser-focused with music that melds and blends perfectly with the vibe that he goes for. He is still the same ridiculously able communicator, but with force, muscle, and greater ingenuity behind his music. I will always advocate for NWTS more than Take Care because I think that Drake’s skill as a rapper is equal on both albums, but I think the production on all of NWTS is some of the best throughout an album you could ask for (shouts Noah ‘40’ Shebib). The music is so clean and unique. The beats are hypnotic and moody; flowing beautifully, and always with an interesting twist or turn. They create an insular, complete, and focused musical vision with aplomb. Drake does not feature guest verses, allowing his voice to triumph entirely. This is Drake and ‘40’ giving their uncorrupted vision. It is not an album with single after single, but it doesn’t aim to be.
The best kind of music looks to the past for reference points while being unafraid to trailblaze… NWTS does that with ease. Just listen to the tinkling piano aside the Wu sample on “Wu-Tang Forever”, the pristine and ever-evolving “Tuscan Leather”, the triumphant "Started From the Bottom", or the world-conquering “Hold On We’re Going Home” and try not to get sucked in. Take Care is a fantastic album, but it represents the beginning of the creation of his sound. People were still saying, “Drake sounds like ‘insert here’”; after NWTS, people started saying “‘insert here’ sounds like Drake.”
PORTER: Look, guys. I have been a loyal Drake fan since Comeback Season (“City is Mine” is that good good). I’ve seen him live surrounded by people way younger than I was. Hell, I even knew him in his Degrassi days, even before he was Jimmy. If there is anyone to guide you in your Aubrey-filled musical journey, it’s me. I’m taking Take Care over Nothing Was the Same because of its versatility on a macro and micro-level as well as its long shelf life.
Take Care lacks a signature sound because it’s not trying to have one. From a macro level, Take Care allows the listener to pick and choose the songs for the right feel, but if listened all the way through its tracks are ordered so that there’s no drop off in listening experience. Looking to turn up on a Friday night? Get things going with the title track and “Crew Love”. Would you prefer to hear straight bars? Put on “Under Ground Kings” and “Lord Knows”. If the night is ending and you’re looking for some pillow talk music, “Cameras” and “Practice” are your picks. If you’re hammered and lonely, there isn’t a better song than “Marvin’s Room” to vibe with.
Take Care is so good because it has so many moving parts. I will develop my argument on this later on, but I will say that Drake’s Hamlet-esque range, the different production style, and the amazing guest features are all on display in this album. As a result, it has had a greater cultural impact and will have a longer shelf life than that of Nothing Was The Same.
TRESKE: Before my critical retort, I should say that I think Take Care is a solid album. “Marvin’s Room”, “The Real Her”, and “Headlines”, all still bang and have some real substance (I should clarify, “Marvin’s Room" is AMAZING). It is a good album from someone in their ascendancy. More creatively daring and adventurous than anything he had previously done and just generally interesting and fun. Still, there are some major drawbacks in my opinion.
First and most importantly, Take Care is five songs too long. Drake is a charismatic and talented rapper and able to carry the extra onus and weight that the album-length places on him, but there is no doubt that some fat could have easily been trimmed from the official release. “The Ride”, “We’ll Be Fine”, “Doing It Wrong”, “Practice”, and “Look What You’ve Done” are all songs of merit (some more than others), but would be better served as one-off releases. They make the album a more onerous and dense listen and go some way toward blurring the album's vision. There are many amazing ideas that are pursued in the music, but they are not zeroed in on with the intent required for a great album.
My second criticism is the unfortunate hip-hop convention of guest verses littered throughout Take Care. A guest verse can bring excitement and a refreshing change of pace to an album, but too often, the posse cut tears away from engaging with the artist that made the album. I understand that this was Drake’s star-making turn, so adding a name like Rihanna or Rick Ross was much more meaningful, significant, and necessary at the time, but I still think it detracts from the album as a whole. Take Care is an album that has many standouts, but the guest verses only contribute to the lack of cohesiveness on the album as a whole.
Also, a quick aside. I am sorry, but "Take Care" is complete B.S. in my opinion. It is an utter ripoff from "I'll Take Care of You" of Jamie xx's spectacular Gil Scott Heron remix album, We're New Here. I mean... Even the chorus is a word for word thieving. It actually makes me mad that they just sprinkled Rihanna on there and thought that was ok. Yuck.
I guess much of this debate centers around what an album means to the listener. I prefer albums with complete stories and a general musical atmosphere. An album with six mind-blowing singles and twelve other songs that make it feel bloated and less accomplished is not great by my definition. Prodigious talent is needed to produce something like that, but it is the sign of an artist that is not fully matured. This is where I think Take Care falls short.
PORTER: Look, there’s a lot of things to like about NWTS. Outside of this debate I'm a big fan of it. The three song medley of “Worst Behavior”, “From Time”, and “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is excellent, and it's 40's magnum opus. But while you praise it for being concentrated and filled with complete stories I find that as a major flaw. If I’m looking for focus, I’ll turn to Yeezus or Good Kid m.a.a.d City. With those albums, they’re either sonically unheard of (like Yeezus) or have an overarching storyline (like GKMC) that requires them to be focused. I don’t see a reason to stay in one lane when an artist like Drake has the ability to do so many things.
As I mentioned before, I see Drake as Hamlet. The Shakespearean lead is the dream role for all serious actors because of its range. At various points in Hamlet, much like that of Take Care, the title character is brooding (“The Real Her”), thankful for past kings (“Under Ground Kings”), angry (“Lord Knows”), loyal (“Crew Love”), lustful (“Marvin’s Room”), meta (“The Ride”), and loving (“Look What You’ve Done”). Drake does all of this by being both a rapper and R&B singer, making it even more of a virtuosic performance. While he does both on NWTS, there isn’t a rapping equivalent to “HYFR” nor a singing equivalent to “Marvin’s Room” on that album.
By keeping NWTS so defined, it felt flat. Songs like “Own It” and “305 To My City” blend into the scenery and lose their luster. "Tuscan Leather" and "Sure Thing" were supposed to be big demonstrations of Drake's virtuosity, but now that time has past these song are never brought up because they're boring. BORING and FOCUSED.
You know what happened to Hamlet when he chose to focus? He got killed while Fortinbras (King Kendrick), a prince who’s better at being focused than Hamlet ever was, took the crown.
Another argument you have against Take Care is you think the guest verses take away from the cohesiveness of the album. Not every guest verse worked (notably Nicki on “Make Me Proud” and Birdman, who’s talking over the end of “We’ll Be Fine” shouldn’t even count), but none of them were as bad as Jay-Z’s verse on “Pound Cake/ Paris Morton Music 2” He got "Renegade"-ed on a track that wasn't even his. Rather than harming it, the majority of the Take Care verses enhanced the album. The album introduced the mainstream audience to The Weeknd (who nailed his parts on “Crew Love”, “Good Ones Go” and “The Ride”) and Kendrick Lamar (“Buried Alive”). Rihanna took Gil Scott-Heron’s “I’ll Take Care of You” and gave it a spin to make a woman the dominant side of the relationship, something that’s rare in most Drake songs. Rick Ross simultaneously defines sophisticated ignorance and drops the funniest line on the album when he says he’s the “only fat nigga in the sauna with jews”. Andre somehow had a verse in “The Real Her” that displayed pure talent by putting Boise State and Adele in the same sentence without anyone questioning its efficacy. Even Lil Wayne proved he could still rap his ass of on “HYFR”. Not to beat the Hamlet conceit to death, but a good piece of work happens with a variety of parts all working together.
By being unfocused, it gives him and his guests time to shine. Remember, Treske: this isn’t a debate of what album Drake is better on, but which Drake album is better. And an album with so many parts that work, it a much better re-listen than NWTS.
Let’s take a break from the action and discuss Drake’s newest project.
Halftime Thoughts on If You’re Reading this It’s Too Late
TRESKE: My first thoughts on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late? I was just flat out confused. It provoked so many questions. Was it an album or a mixtape? Does that distinction even matter? Did he release the albxtape to give the middle finger to Cash Money? Why is Drake’s hand-writing so bad? Like bagged milk and hockey, is that a Canadian thing?
At first listen, I was anything but enthused. It is dark, moody, and brooding. Drake was doing that annoying thing where he draws words out (Ex. “show me pictures of they frieeeeeeeeeeeeeends” on “Enemy”), and he didn’t really go in on any song except “6PM in New York.” But oh boy, it has grown on me. Drake is clearly just messing around with flows and experimenting throughout the albxtape, but he still manages to throw Tyga, Diddy, and Cash Money under the bus with vicious efficiency. I think the real winner is the vibe it gives off. It is a perfect album for a night drive. The beats are bruising with dark swirling synths, clean and driven bass, and sharp, snapping snares creating a laid back but sneering atmosphere. Drake is hitching his horse to the right wagon by teaming with Boi-1da and 40.
If this is him messing around and trying to get off Cash Money, I can’t wait to see what Views From the 6 has in store for us.
PORTER: I had a pretty similar experience as you. Initially, I thought it was trash. I thought the albxtape (excellent word coining, Tresk) came off as lazy, having no clear message or sound. After a whole year of putting out singles that were almost all hit, I was disappointed. But then I kept listening and came to the realization that If You’re Reading This is without a doubt a grower.
A few notes:
-Whenever Drake puts out a song named after a place at a certain time, it’s guaranteed to be a banger. “6PM in New York” is my personal favorite on the albxtape, and follows in the footsteps of “5AM in Toronto” and “9AM in Dallas”. “You need to act your age in not your girl’s age” is “Ether”-level clowning #Pray4Tyga
-Are enough people ripping on Drake for singing Erykah Badu on 6Man? They should be. Shouts to Lou Williams though. This would be the coolest thing involving him if he wasn’t dating two chicks at the same right now.
-RIPYMCMB. Drizzy has met his album demands. Weezy is suing the label to get out. Nicki has essentially outgrown the crew and could probably drop an albxtape to cut ties. What’s the opposite of the Birdman hand rub?
-”Running through the 6 with my woes” is EVERYWHERE. Whether it be at a pregame of trust fund yuppies in Boston (area code 617), or in car of hardos who blare music outside my apartment way too late at night, or all over Vine, it’s unavoidable. Fuck is a woe anyway?
-I can’t wait to see for Views From the 6. With Kanye, Kendrick, and Drake all dropping albums this year, the rap god power rankings are finna get interesting.
TRESKE: I am not really going to bore you with too many more words on the debate. My argument really centers around two premises. One, Take Care is bloated and still hangs on to too many genre conventions. It is a signal of more originality, but many of the best ideas on the album are expanded on and more focused on NWTS. Two, on NWTS, the production is in-house and spectacular. The music is made by the same people as opposed to guest producers popping up everywhere. I think as far as creating something that melds together and unifies with Drake’s gifts as a rapper and communicator, the music on NWTS is more daring, interesting, and superior.
PORTER: I could’ve done a lot of things to prove Take Care is the superior album. I could’ve told you how much cooler of an album cover it has. I could’ve told you how it makes me feel like a badass whenever I sign my emails with “Take Care”. I could’ve expressed that an album about a star on the rise is more empowering and relatable to its audience. I could’ve mentioned the excellent guest production of Jamie xx (“Take Care”) and Just Blaze (“Lord Knows”). But instead I’ll close with a quote from poet WIlliam Cowper: "variety is the spice of life". Without it, life is bland. Just like NWTS.
Both made a lot of great points. Docking Treske because his Twitter account is private and thus defeats the purpose of embedding tweets. Docking Porter points because of the Super Bowl. Ultimately, I'm awarding Treske the W here because he bothered addressing Drake's penmanship and I'm a stickler for typography.