Album Review: Nothing Was the Same

drake-nothing-was-the-same-artwork-2 (328x328)Drake’s latest album is a good one, and even when his trademark sensitive themes veer him towards the tiresome or the self-indulgent, he is saved by excellent collaboration, as well as “the best production on any rap album this year”.


In 2013, the biggest, most successful rappers don’t rake in the money by showing off their skills. They don’t make money by tackling social issues. Hell, they don’t even make money by rapping about selling drugs and killing people any more. No: in the age of Twitter the hip-hop elite stay on top on the radio and by getting personal.


Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham has built a career out of doing just that, and is the undisputed king of the no-holds-barred dirty-laundry-airing strain of rap that is by now a prerequisite for major league mainstream success. On his latest album, Nothing Was the Same, he spends even more time than before discussing relationships with friends, family, and a host of women (some famous, some not), as well as his other favourite topic, the trials and tribulations of fame. Six-minute opener ‘Tuscan Leather’ deals amply with this last theme; Drake works hard from the outset to affirm his credentials as an actual rapper with some deft wordplay and chest-thumping braggadocio. But as soon as syrupy second track ‘Furthest Thing’ drops it’s clear that the Drake Formula is at work here: for every four minutes of Drake the Rapper, there are another four of Drake the Sweetheart.


It’s the flipside of the Jeckyl and Hyde act that has made him the superstar he is, and ‘Furthest Thing’ sets the mood that dominates Nothing Was the Same; Aubrey has girls on his mind, lots of girls, and he wants them to know. “She just wanna run over my feelings like she drinking and driving in an 18-wheeler” he croons on ‘Connect’, whereas ‘Own It’ (a song rumoured to be directed at ex-girl Rihanna), has him declaring: “I don’t wanna fuck, I wanna make love.” Rihanna isn’t the only real-life entity whose presence lurks beneath the surface of the music though. Paris Morton, another ex, gets more than a couple of lines devoted to her, as does “Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree”, a waitress who has apparently had to lock her social media profiles due to unwanted attention since the album leaked. Even when romance isn’t the topic, Drake keeps his private life very much public: when performing ‘Too Much’ on Jimmy Fallon a couple of weeks ago he prefaced the performance with a warning to his mum that the lyrics, which touch more than a little on her private life, might upset her. In 2013, this is what rappers do.


Like all soap operas, it’s as gaudy as it is compelling, and at some points the appeal of listening to someone talk about himself for an hour starts to wane. It’s lucky, then, that the songs on Nothing Was the Same feature some of the best production of any rap album this year. Drake’s long-time collaborator Noah ’40’ Shebib handles the lion’s share of the beats, and maintains a cold, sparse atmosphere throughout. From the menacing bassline and shuffling percussion of ‘Started From the Bottom’ to the gorgeous piano samples on ‘From Time’ and ‘Too Much’, it’s sophisticated, restrained and mercifully distant from the maximalist bullshit that characterises most mainstream rap in the Young Money/MMG vein today.


Truth be told, wherever Nothing Was the Same succeeds, it’s as much down to 40 as the guy whose name is on the front cover. If you like your rap music with a back story and a big dose of personality, or you just appreciate it when a rapper shows his sensitive side, then this is the album for you. If not, then Drake’s patented brand of celebrity-rap might be a little too strong to stomach.