“Shelling out the humanity beneath the stardom, it presents us with a man who’s not perfect - though he sounds and looks it - and that, for all his greatness, he fears what everybody fears: loneliness...”; release - 2011
Henry James wrote in The Portrait of a Lady, ‘Live as you like best, and your character will take care of itself.’ With sophomore LP, Take Care, it’s clear that Drake– drink in hand, chips on the table and eye on the girl over there (or, maybe that girl over there) – is doing just that; taking care of himself and, while he’s at it, taking care of the hip-hop industry. Like the spoken words, Take Care is loaded; a heavyweight record, each of its tracks a mini-autobiography into which Drake freights his past and present, working his experiences of love and loss, fame and fortune into nifty rhymes and self-affirmative hooks. In its entirety, the album comprises a composite journey of selfhood, a soundtrack to the rise and rise of the star that is “Drizzy” Drake. Take Care is a reflection of who Drake is, and who he’s becoming.
Take Care starts where Thank Me Later left off, with the first words Drake utters on the opening track, ‘Over My Dead Body’ recapping the success of the former: “I think I killed everybody in the game last year, man,/ Fuck it, I was on, though.” Ever confident, Drake makes room for further triumph: “Second album, I’m back paving the way”. Take Care is the perfect comeback record; with more depth both musically and lyrically, it’s a huge step-up – actually a whole other flight altogether – from his debut, which proliferated more talk than talent and presented Drake as a cocky rapper and singer who boasted he was at the top of the game before he actually was. Drake admits it himself in ‘Under Ground Kings’, Take Care’s answer to the American gangster track, as he raps, “I’m the greatest man, I said that before I knew I was”. While Take Care retains much of the early swagger of tracks like ‘Over’, it is to greater effect as Drake finally finds his stride as a rapper and singer, balancing both vocal talents to flaunt his full potential. In no way does Take Care’s genius purge or even tame Drake’s huge ego; if anything, it gives him all the more narcissistic license. Quite simply, to borrow the words of Beyoncé – a certified expert on all things egotistic – Drake ‘talk[s] like this ’cause he can back it up’.
In the way of self-confessional rap, the songs on Take Care reveal much about the many faces of Drake, shedding a required humanity over his stardom. For instance, he doesn’t take much care of his money: “Drizzy got the money, so Drizzy gon’ pay it” (‘Headlines’); he has some very complicated relationships: on ‘Shot For Me’, Drake, the arrogant ex-boyfriend, sings, ‘bitch, I’m the man, don’t you forget it’, only to confess in his soft-spoken rap, ‘girl, I can’t lie, I miss you’; and very straight-forward ones: ‘girl you ain’t the only one that’s trying to be the only one,/ At least I admit that, if you get that, and you with that,/ Then, fuck, let’s get it then’. There’s one more thing Drake is willing to admit: like everyone else, he hates being alone; on ‘Take Care’, he raps, “you hate being alone, well you ain’t the only one” and on bonus track, ‘Hate Sleeping Alone’ (a giveaway title), he describes a life lived “hotel to hotel”, in which he “could use [some] company”.
For an artist as self-involved as Drake, Take Care is a surprisingly collaborative effort with contributions from regular Young Money affiliates, Nicki Minaj on blithe R&B track and predictable future hit, ‘Make Me Proud’ and Lil Wayne on thug love song, ‘HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right)’ and again on uber-slow jam, ‘The Real Her’, along with hip-hop’s go-to guy for a slick verse, Andre 3000. Birdman jumps in on monster track, ‘We’ll Be Fine’ while Rick Ross gives his two cents on the retro religious, ‘Lord Knows’. Replete with cascading, church-acoustic choir vocals produced by Just Blaze, there’s something ‘Jesus Walks’ about ‘Lord Knows’, reminiscent of an early College Dropout Kanye West. Its upbeat, swooping rhythm even lends it a little ‘Touch the Sky’. Evidently an inspiration to Drake, there are other Kanyean traits to be found elsewhere in Drake’s rap, with traces of his glove in hand humour in ‘We’ll Be Fine’: “she said, I’m such a dog,/ I said, you’re such a bone” has Kanye all over it; it’s like his rap on Chris Brown’s ‘Deuces’ remix, “you should have your own travel agent ‘cause you a trip” and “you should make your own toilet tissue, since you the shit”. Drake even borrows Kanye’s trademark, “huh?” as he peppers his second verse of ‘Over My Dead Body’ with it: “Feel like I’ve been here before, huh?/ I still got 10 years to go, huh?”
Done before Kanyeisms aside, the most experimental sound on Take Care, featuring the incredibly talented vocalist, The Weeknd, can be found on choppy dubstep banger, ‘Crew Love’. In spite of its minimalism, ‘Crew Love’ is a multi-layered, James Blake-esque polyphony; ethereal and harmonious yet disruptive and cacophonous, a sublime song that does a lot by doing relatively little in equally little amounts. Its echoed lyrics produce an audible gooeyness while The Weeknd’s hauntingly cooed, “ooh ooh” acts as a buffer to the song’s thumping beat throughout, from which sonic flairs and trickles of piano are launched like fireworks, with a quietness and then an explosion, as they melt into the track’s almost chilled chaos. Like a fire that’s just burned out, the fade out of ‘Crew Love’ makes room for the album’s stunning title track, ‘Take Care’ to emerge from its ashes, kindle and spark. ’Take Care’, which sees Drake reteam with Rihanna and a new hook up with producer, Jamie xx – as well as a sampling of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘’I’ll Take Care of You’ – is evocative of early ‘90s dance music, with its bouncy piano chords and techno beat, but slower. Updated by an electric guitar riff and frenetic drum beat, the pace of the song flits back and forth in pendulum-like conversation between Rihanna’s soberly sung melody (“if you let me, here’s what I’ll do, I’ll take care of you”), and Drake’s resolute rap (“they don’t get you like I will,/ my only wish is I die real,/ ‘cause that truth hurts and those lies heal”). Between them, Drake and Rihanna fondle an undeniable sexual tension but of a different variety to that flaunted in their video for ‘What’s My Name’, the steamiest of milk-spilling music videos that curdles even Kelis’ ‘Milkshake’. ‘Take Care’ instead achieves, in its endeavour to smooth out the pains of heartbreak, a careful delivery of its brimming chemistry. The result: a heartrending, vulnerable song about love and recovery and learning how to take care of somebody else whilst still taking care of yourself.
Take Care has so many drop-in guests that it sounds like one big party, but in no way do Drake’s collaborators prop up his LP. Like the people we try to surround ourselves with in life, they bring out the best in Drake. Here is an album that’s collective and personal; a solo project made up of many parts and people. For this reason, Take Care is Drake at its very essence. Shelling out the humanity beneath the stardom, it presents us with a man who’s not perfect - though he sounds and looks it - and that, for all his greatness, he fears what everybody fears: loneliness. With its eclecticism of voices, sounds, rap and song, samples and references to the past, present, future, Take Care is a postmodern testing palette for Drake, a platform for the kind of music he was born to make. Above all, Take Care is a testament to the Drake that’s here, and the star and the man well in the making, as he decides in ‘Crew Love’, itself a divided song rife with the conflicts of its multiple layers: ‘I think I like who I’m becoming.’