Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First Impressions...Thank Me Later

Freshly unzipped, it's contents shuffled into the thousands of mp3's that make up my iTunes, a full two weeks before it's June 15th releases date, one of the year's most anticipated albums, the most talked about debut from a Hip-Hop artist since The Game's The Documentary, the follow up to the critically acclaimed 2009 mixtape, So Far Gone...Drake's Thank Me Later.

I got a twinky of sour and a couple sheets of Bamboo.

Be back in 30.

Thank Me Later makes So Far Gone look like a mixtape.

Not that I necessarily think Thank Me Later is better then So Far Gone. At least not this early on after hearing it for the first time. But as a collection of songs, it matches SFG sonically & thematically, taking the somewhat dark tone of SFG to a natural progression. Like the beats on SFG, the production on TML (helmed by 40 & Boi-1da) is full of sparse drum patterns and meticulously layered arrangements. Outside work from heavyweights like Kanye, No I.D, Timbaland & Swizz Beats, along with contributions from lesser knowns like Omen, Tone Mason, Jeff Bhasker & indie Pop band, Francis and the Lights, provide just enough nuance to expand Drake's sound without changing what made the mix of original & repurposed production on SFG so special.

I don't typically do the track by track review style but since this isn't a review, but more my first impressions of the album, I figured why not?

Fireworks (Feat. Alicia Keys) (Produced by Noah “40″ Shebib): First things first...why'd they change the hook? The couple of lines Drake added to the front of Alicia's vocals kinda saps the energy and momentum she had going into the hook on the leaked version. I guess Drake wanted to take more ownership of the song but there is no such thing as too much Alicia Keys.

Or maybe Drake got miffed by being reduced to background duties on "Un-Thinkable" & after not even getting a cameo in the video, this is his way of getting some payback.

The track opens with the sound of actual fireworks bursting in the distance (Points for creativity) and transitions into a beat that's at once reminiscent of "Houstatlantavegas" & "Lust For Life" & yet another verse where Drake talks about his favorite topic, how the fame and the money have changed his life, blah, blah, blah...

"Money just changed everything, I wonder how life without it would go
From the concrete, who knew that a flower would grow
Looking down from the top & it's crowded below
My 15 minutes started an hour ago"

One should be bored with this subject matter, especially coming from Drake, but always self-aware, he manages to put just enough humility into these kinda verses to still make them listenable, even though it seems like we've heard them all before. The next two verses are about Drake's other favorite topics, lost love (between him and an ex and between his parents, respectively) and finding new love. There's a dip in quality from the first verse but this track sets the album up perfectly. Emo-Rap is his specialty and Drizzy Drake goes for the tri-fecta on the opener.

I'm still pissed at the chorus change though.

Karaoke (Produced by Francis & The Lights): I guess this is TML's "Let's Call It Off"/"A Little Bit". Produced by synth-pop maven, Francis Farewell Starlite, production wise, it's a very post 808's & Heartbreaks type of track and fits well in the overall scheme of things. It's the fact Drake ain't really saying shit and the way he's not saying shit that kinda sinks this one for me. I've heard throwaway tracks ("The Winner" & "Killer feat. Nipsey Hussle" come to mind) that are better then this. Saccharine sweet. My teeth hurt after listening to this. I've spun it at least 5 times and I'm still not quite sure what Drake's talking about.

The Resistance (Produced by Noah “40″ Shebib): "The Resistance" meaning Drake's second thoughts about fully giving in to his ambitions along with his new lifestyle and not being able to take everyone with you. Yeah, again with the money & the fame & the blah, blah, blah. Again, Drake goes to the "Oh woe is me, I'm rich and famous" well and again his honesty and willingness to set aside macho posturing and reveal insecurities and fears is far more compelling and endearing then the average rapper's default tough guy facade. Gotta give it to 40. Dude has those ambient, atmospheric kinda beats that set the tone before Drake even says a word.

Over (Produced by Boi-1da):
By now, you've probably been bombarded with this joint from radio & video shows to the point you mumble the chorus to yourself in your sleep. Thankfully, the song breaks up the sullen mood with an energetic instrumental (the strings are so serious) so sick you almost don't notice the mediocrity in Drizzy's lyrics.


From the Michael Jackson line to the Ebert & Roper reference to the awkward dead prez bite, there are more clunkers here then a used car lot. When it first leaked, many looked at the hook as the culprit but even though it was kinda wordy for my tastes, like anything that's forced on you multiple times a day, it grew on me to the point where I realized that the hook is the only positive element Drake adds to this song. For an MC like Drake (who wasn't the best lyricist from the gate), dumbing down your lyrics for the Young Money crowd may help you sell a couple records but it won't convert any detractors. Funny part is, I'm not sure if Drake was dumbing down or if he was just plain lazy with the lyrics. Catchy hook but Bo1-1da deserves alot of credit for this one.

Show Me A Good Time (Produced by Kanye West): The first of the two Kanye West produced tracks, this being the joint I could've actually heard Ye rhyming alongside Drake on. That's probably cause Drake flows just like Kanye would've had he actually bothered to give up 16 bars.

The beat straddles the line between Graduation & 808's & HB's Kanye, boasting summery piano chords backed up by Electronica infused drums with a few computerized yelps and some crab scratching (just to keep it Hip-Hop) to round it out. Drake comes off more relaxed here then any of the previous tracks and he sounds just as comfy on the hook as he does on the verses, for once pushing the downside of his success to the back and enjoying his newfound celebrity, guilt-free. I found myself digging this one way more then I expected to.

Perfect song to bump in the ride and set the tone for a night of clubbing and lowered inhibitions. Get your pre-party on.

Up All Night (Feat. Nicki Minaj) (Produced by Boi-1da):
Picking up right where the last song left off, "Up All Night" finds Young Money Drizzy stunting in the spot with YM's first lady, Nicki Minaj riding shotty. Over a dark, brooding Boi-1da joint, Drake reaffirms his allegiance to his team and wastes a perfectly good track with his superfluous lyrics...

"Okay, now we outta here, toodles to you bitches
And if you doll'd up I got the voodoo for you bitches
Yeah, I'm busy getting rich, I don't want trouble
I made enough for two niggas, boy, stunt double"

Young Angel tries to get his Hov on but ends up falling way short. Good thing Nicki leaves her "Black Barbie" shtick at home and delivers a standout verse to pick up the slack...

"Yo, if Drizzy say get her I'ma get her
I get the kind of money that make a broke bitch bitter
I got that kinda…(wait wait) fixate
Which bitch you know made a million off a mixtape?
That was just a keepsake"

Who woulda thought Drizzy would get murked on his own shit by a girl? If Ms. Minaj can keep her animated antics to a minimum, I'm actually thinking her debut will be something worth checking for.

Fancy (Feat. TI and Swizz Beatz) (Produced by Swizz Beatz): I won't lie, I expected this jawn to be terrible. Surprisingly, it's pretty decent. Dedicated to the chicks who keep "everything did", the high heeled contingent of Drake's fan base will eat this one up. The track is a MJB throwaway that didn't make her last album (You can still hear her on the hook), but after Drake provided the assist on "The One", I guess Mary let him take it and run with it.

T.I. turns in a decent performance but his presence really wasn't needed. He actually sounds outta place. Swizzy & Drizzy would've handled this one just fine without him. Not a huge fan of this song myself but I won't front, when the beat drops out and Drake hits the 3rd verse, I can't help but think the track should've been more like this the entire way through.

Shut It Down (Feat. The-Dream) (Produced by Noah “40″ Shebib and Omen): Drake knows who his fanbase is and I'm not mad at him for catering to the ladies. Another one of the early leaks, I've been bumping the unfinished version for a minute and I've been curious to see whether the fully mixed & mastered album version would be an improvement or a step back. The verdict? Both. Adding a full verse from The-Dream was very necessary. His vocals bring an energy that Drake's singing typically lacks.

Now Drake's rap verse is another story altogether. It seems shoddily put together and on a track as well crafted as this one, it's a rush job that really takes away from the overall vibe. Luckily he manages to make up for it with an extended 3rd verse that brings it back around and officially makes it a Drake track. I think there was a concerted effort making sure Drake wasn't outshined by his features and in this case, it worked. If nothing else, you walk away from this song realizing exactly how talented a songwriter Drake is. This could have easily been a song for The-Dream.

Plus, the longer this album plays, the more you understand exactly how important 40 is to the whole Drake movement. His creativity on the production side pushes already dope tracks to new heights.

Unforgettable (Feat. Young Jeezy) (Produced by Noah “40″ Shebib and Boi-1da):
The best hook Young Jeezy ever recited was written by a Jewish kid from Canada. Go figure. This collabo with Young Jeezy (Drake's favorite rapper) is Drake firmly in his lane, effortlessly switching between rap & R&B mid verse over a 40/Boi-1da track that conjures a similar vibe as SFG's "Successful".

The worst part of this track is that Drake & Jeezy could only muster up a verse a piece.

Light Up (Feat. Jay-Z) (Produced by Noah “40″ Shebib and Tone Mason): The collaboration everyone has been waiting on (cause "Off That" is too horrible to actually count), Aubrey gets a chance to work with his idol, Jay-Z on this one and the results exceed expectations. Over a somber backdrop, Drake continues to explore the alienation that success brings, with lines like...

"They always tell me no one is working as hard as you
And even though I laugh it off, man, it's probably true
Cause while all of my closest friends out partying
I'm just here making all the music that they party to" get the sense that the fame and fortune is far more bitter then it is sweet. Even though Drake delivers one of his most concise lyrical performances on the album, it's a standout verse from the old head that gives this song it's weight. Obviously drawing from recent events in his own life, Jay gives Drake a glimpse at the dark side of winning...

"And since no good deed goes unpunished
I'm not as cool with niggas as I once was
I once was, cool as The Fonz was,
But these bright lights can turn you to a monster
Sorry mama I promised they wouldn’t change me,
but I woulda went insane, had I remained the same me
Fuck niggas, bitches too
All I got is this money, this'll do"

Probably one of Jay's most insightful verses in a while, easily surpassing BP3's best moments. Even though I'm still trying to decipher his triple entendre this is a classic Jay-Z verse and one can only hope his new material is as candid & revealing. Overall, this is one of the crown jewels of Thank Me Later and both MC's rise to the occasion. Well played gentlemen.

Miss Me (Feat. Lil Wayne) (Produced by Boi-1da and Noah “40″ Shebib):
Originally slated for Bun B's upcoming album, this song made the rounds on the internet as "All Night Long" before it was re-tooled and Bun got replaced by Lil' Wayne.

Cece’s Interlude (Produced by Noah “40″ Shebib)

Find Your Love (Produced by Kanye West)

Thank Me Now (Produced by Timbaland)

More To Come