For most of the last decade, major-label rappers extolled the virtues of the “good life,” a sentiment best expressed by the Champagne-sipping Kanye West single of the same name. The vanguards of the next generation seem determined to convey the exact opposite: the perils of being young, gifted and miserable. This is the conflict at the core of 23-year-old Drake’s debut album, “Thank Me Later” — how to reconcile fame and fortune with the aggravations of living in the public eye.
Written by Jeff Weiss
Like his peer Kid Cudi, the Toronto rapper-singer born Aubrey Graham uses West as his central aural and emotive influence (West produces the tracks “Show Me a Good Time” and “Find Your Love”). Ignoring West’s celebratory side, Drake continues where “808s & Heartbreak” left off, in search of anthems for the easily alienated.
A former child actor-turned-Cash Money prospect-turned-hip-hop’s next great hope, Drake sets the tone on the very first line of his official debut with the admission that “the money changed everything.” On “Karaoke,” he kvetches, “don’t be fooled by the money, I’m still just young and unlucky.” The hit single “Over” centers on the lonely-in-a-crowd hook, “I’ve seen way too many people … who I didn’t know last year.” Boasting rigid rhyme schemes descended from his other mentor Lil Wayne, Drake often finds himself outclassed by his blockbuster guests: Jay-Z, T.I., Young Jeezy and Wayne.
The album’s salvation is its immaculate chrome-plated production and silken pop hooks — like some unholy amalgamation of the Backstreet Boys, Phil Collins and Mase. Unfortunately, the emotionally charged lyrics rarely evolve beyond platitudes, exposing a profound emptiness at its core. The gratitude can wait, but therapy now might not be such a bad idea.