Drake announced in 2012 that his third album would depart from the cough syrup-and-love Jones sound of the Grammy Award winning “Take Care” (2012).
“Nothing Was the Same” lives up to its promise, cementing the 26-year-old wonderkid as a pop rap juggernaut.
“Pop rap” isn’t used here derisively. The album wears its influences – namely Marvin Gaye – to strong effect.
Drake’s louder and more direct here than he’s ever been.
“Tuscan Leather” addresses his rise to the Best Rapper Alive circle proudly while defending his boss Lil Wayne from detractors.
Jay-Z shows up for a metaphorical torch pass on “Pound Cake,” although his relaxed delivery can’t help be shown by Drake’s energy.
This is a Drake album, so old girlfriends rear their heads more often than not. The good thing is he’s more open about them than in the past.
Girls – one married, the other resentful, another still infatuated – are discussed with a painful honesty won through maturity.
This might be the last time we see Drake as a weepy heartbreaker, but maybe not.
Delivery has always been Drake’s ace in the hole. Here is no different.
“Nothing Was the Same” is Drake’s most vocally adventurous yet. He belts out lines, mashes them to fragments, runs them in and out of maze-like schemes without showing an effort.
He’s easily this generation’s Jay-Z, albeit with baby fat in his voice.
The production on this album is a warmer, clearer affair for Drake. Whereas “So Far Gone” (2008) hinted at a bright, upbeat sound on songs “Uptown” and “Congratulations,” “Nothing Was the Same” pulls out all the stops.
Smoldering organs and hard-hitting drums characterize the musical vocabulary. The drums bang so hard one wonders if Drake had Mike Will Made It program them a la “Mercy”.
The details are rich too – noise swells on “Worst Behavior,” chimes on “Furthest Thing,” backwards-run chipmunk vocals on “Tuscan Leather.” Producer and co-architect Noah “40” Shebib is essential to Drake’s sound, editing the work of collaborators Mike Zombie, Hudson Mohawke and Chilly Gonzales into one cohesive narrative.
“Nothing Was the Same” honors the promise of an unlikely rap hero ignored by XXL’s 2009 Freshmen list.
Is he soft? Yes. The mantra “No new friends, we don’t feel that… where your real friends at?” is on some “Sailor Moon” hoopla.
But the album does bang. Drake belongs to a select circle of rappers in a time where genre walls are collapsing. He’s smart and adventurous, a true match to his “Nas” Kendrick Lamar.
Time will tell where Drake’s career will take him, but his future looks safe from here.