Album Review: Drake – Thank Me Later

[Young Money; 2010]

Maybe I’m just that out of touch with what passes for good hip-hop these days, but could somebody explain to me what it is about Drake that we’re supposed to be getting excited about? He’s a decent MC, but that’s all he is—decent. And not particularly innovative either. His sense of entitlement vastly outstrips any accomplishments to date. Here’s his life’s story so far: he played the kid in the wheelchair on the shitty next-generation reboot of Degrassi (it’s all about the original ’80s version, real talk), decided he wanted to rap, got discovered by Lil Wayne, and put out a mixtape (last year’s So Far Gone) that received inordinate amounts of hype from certain unnamed indie gatekeepers who really should know better. That’s the whole package. That’s also the entirety of what Drake has to rap about on his debut studio album, Thank Me Later.

Even more so than the half-assed singing and same-y, strings-and-synths beats, the pervasive element of Thank Me Later is a lyrical tendency of Drake’s that is incredibly annoying and impossible to ignore: on nearly every song, he will say the first half of a line, and then finish it with a couple of words that are kinda-sorta related to the thought he just started. To wit: “I’m about to pop off… fireworks”; “Learn to speak my language… Rosetta Stone”; “Presidential suite girl… Barack Hussein”; “I got these new rappers nervous… prom night.” It’s a complete cop-out. He’s done the math, and seen how crazy indie blogs go every time his mentor Lil Wayne drops a WTF free-associative non-sequitur. Drake’s clipped, raspy flow nakedly apes Weezy’s, the only difference being that his idea of a rewind-button-worthy one-liner is “I like my women book- and street-smart/as long as they’ve got a little class like half days.” Hey, I guess when a high school soap opera is your frame of reference…

Drake’s lack of personality is so contagious on Thank Me Later that none of his more famous and talented guests manage break through the wall of mediocrity to redeem these songs. Alicia Keys is mere wallpaper on the opening track, “Fireworks”—her hook could have been sung by absolutely anybody. Jay-Z’s verse on “Light Up” is sub-Blueprint 3, which I didn’t think was possible. Even Lil Wayne himself is so DOA here that I can’t find one line from “Miss Me” that’s worth quoting. To say he’s on autopilot would be an insult to Dedication 3.

I guess I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with Drake if he wasn’t being paraded around as the future of rap. This is forgettable, inoffensive pop-rap—maybe a little self-satisfied given Drake’s lack of any real resume, but not bad in the way that a lot of mindless radio rap is bad. It’s pretty mind-boggling, and almost insulting, that he is so unquestioningly being passed the torch of mainstream hip-hop. It would be like if Pitchfork started giving Jack Johnson 8’s and 9’s and going on about him as rock’s great hope for the future. This is music you can ignore, and probably should ignore given how banal some of these lyrics are. If Thank Me Later goes mega-platinum and Drake stays popular for the next four or five years (and I’m really afraid this will happen), his Young Money contract could go down as a black mark on Lil Wayne’s record similar to Eminem’s discovery of 50 Cent. Drake seems like a nice enough guy, but he doesn’t do anything on his debut album to justify his high opinion of his own career. Don’t believe the hype… Public Enemy.