Rapping, Bitches, Rapping, Bitches, Bitches and Rapping: Considering Drake’s Take Care

Why so serious?

While indie rock seems to have morphed into post-millennial adult contemporary and electronic music, while vibrant and exciting in many ways, is still the province of the very young, hip-hop is still a generational game.  The folks my age who are still wilding out over the new Wilco album can still find things to appreciate about Grizzly Bear or Dirty Projectors or Hey Rosetta [are y’all still on them?].  The folks my age are barely paying attention to Deadmau5 and Skrillex.  But the folks my age who like hip-hop still know who the young bucks on the come up, are, because they need to know who to shake their head at.  Folks younger than me are going bananas over Nicki Minaj, folks my age are thinking Lil Kim already worked that lane, folks older than me are thinking MC Lyte could body both of them.

See though, the folks my age are people who didn’t always have hip-hop, so when they see the kids who never knew what life without hip-hop was like dougie-ing and getting silly or whatever the hell they’re doing this year, they sometimes take it personally, an affront to the ‘real hip-hop.’  The popular argument around hip-hop  blogs lately is that rap is music for the kids in the streets [Chuck D of Public Enemy didn’t want to MC when he was 24, because he thought he too old], and you can’t ignore artists like Lil B or OFWGKTA or even Soulja Boy, because that’s what the kids are feeling.  Not the streets, the kids. Two different things.  But that’s a topic for another post.

I mention all of this because I’ve concluded that Drake is probably the last rap artist popular with the kids that I will be able to derive any personal enjoyment from.  His sophomore effort came out a couple weeks ago, and while it won’t take my ‘Album of the Year’ crown [is that even possible anymore?] I will say it’s one of the weirdest, most complicated rap albums I’ve heard since Kanye’s last effort.  

Musically, it’s a Drake record.  If you’re familiar with his style, or that of frequent collaborator Noah ’40’ Shebib, you know what you’ll find [though one of the samples appears to have come from a YouTube recording, which is probably a revolutionary advance of the sampling game]: electronic snares, syrupy basslines, reverb out the ass, the overall sense that they recorded the whole thing underwater. Even the opener ‘Over My Dead Body’ echoes the first track on Thank Me later, with the quartet of melancholic piano chords and female vocalist accompaniment [this time downgrading from Alicia Keys to Canadian songstress Chantel Kreviazuk(?!)]

Coincidentally, as with Thank Me Later, the opener’s my favourite song on the album. 

Guest spots from Just Blaze and Rick Ross [who collaborate to make the most typically ‘Hip-Hop’ record on the album], Toronto wunderkind The Weeknd, up and comer Kendrick Lamar, a harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder, a rare appearance from Andre 3000 [who, in like ninety seconds delivers the most insightful and elegant analysis of the emotional economy of strip clubs I’ve ever heard] combine to make a beautiful mess of an record owing more to the RnB of the 90’s more than any rap artist [indeed, Aaliyah’s name comes up more than a couple times on the album].

Thematically, Take Care riffs on the usual tropes of rap stardom in ways I’ve never seen.  If the first album worked the typical ‘coming to terms with fame’ story so many rappers blather on about, this album is unique in the sense that it addresses the schism between the famous and the people around them.  From what I’ve read about the album, the recording of it marked the longest extended period Drake spent in his hometown of Toronto since his rocket launched in 2009. And in doing so, he learned that lesson that only people who get out of their city can understand:  you can go home again, but don’t expect people to  stay in the same place while you’re gone.  Which is one side of the album’s thematic coin.  The other is a little more complicated, and what makes the album exceptional.

When I’m working at the store, a lot of my younger female coworkers in their early 20s sometimes latch onto me for advice on the boys in their life, usually along the ‘he broke up with me, now he keeps calling me or drunk texting me, what the hell?’  And I tell them the one truth I know about men, the one truth I’ve been guilty of myself and see repeated again and again, and it’s the notion Drake struggles with throughout his album.

When a man has a woman, even once, even if he lets her go, he always thinks he can have her again.

You can have that one for free, ladies. There’s a whole truckload of gender politics in that statement, I agree, but we’re only talking about how this refers to Mr. Graham. 

Drake obsesses about the women he left on this album.  The loves he lost in the pursuit of his career haunt every corner  like those little girls in Japanese horror movies, standing with their hair in their face watching the proceedings.  He pleads for them to freeze in place, not to move on with their lives.  His mistake, and he knows this, is thinking that he can back pocket them, keep them under glass he can break in case of emergency. Nowhere is laid out with startling clarity on the album’s most intense and divisive track, ‘Marvin’s Room.’

Starting with the tired, slurry phone call with the unnamed woman, to his admission that he knows the girl he wants is happy with “a good guy” but he’s too drunk to give a shit and calls her anyway, telling her to forget her man and come over to his apartment.  The coda suggests, against her better judgment, she does, only to end up vomiting in the bathroom as her friend drops an N-bomb in a room full of black dudes.

When have you heard anything like that before?!  I’ve seen some discussion online that the song is the “International Player Hater’s Anthem,” a song celebrating the bitter losers who try to get back with their exes once they’ve moved on.  Anyone who comes to that conclusion is missing the point. ‘Marvin’s Room’ is so compelling because even as he’s singing it, Drake knows he’s full of shit, and he’s not afraid to put that on record for the world to hear.  He’s just saying she could do better, but he doesn’t really believe it: “I think I’m addicted to naked pictures and thinking talking ’bout bitches that we almost had….but shit it’s all good.”  No, it ain’t. And he knows it.

To anyone who wants to sneer at Drake’s ‘softness’ on that song, or throughout Take Care, I would reply that if hip-hop values the real as its primary currency:  when’s it been realer than that, motherfuckers?

It’s not a perfect album, by any means.  The preponderance of the word ‘bitches’ all over the place is troubling from someone who’s supposed to love women as much as Drake does [the title of this post is an actual lyric]. There are fluffy throwaway songs I skip through just as there are on any rap album [BIRDMAN. STOP RAPPING], but the ones that stand out stand out as some of the more fascinating music I’ve heard this year.

Download These: ‘Over My Dead Body’, ‘Marvin’s Room’, ‘Underground Kings’, ‘Lord Knows’,’The Real Her’, ‘Look What You’ve Done’.

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