Drake DrakeThank Me Later
An X-ray of an artist who is already a star, even before debuting: obsessed with his own status, almost paranoid about the siege of haters and critics, stuck in a repetitive, tiring lyrical formula of exaltation and reflection on success, fame, and joie de vivre, unable to surpass the expectations raised by a mixtape of international impact and relevance, “So Far So Gone”, and disoriented by the eternal divide between personality and popularity. This record confirms a historical suspicion, for neither the first nor the last time: for his official coming-out, the Canadian rapper, singer, and actor Drake has lost projection, power, and the ability to surprise, and as benefits a more conservative, conciliatory course, aspires only to position himself correctly, intelligently, diplomatically, with commercial vision, on the current urban market. Said less politely: “Thank Me Later” is written, designed, and programmed for the female public who will buy his record.
It is an old tactic that is very common in the industry: women are the ones who buy albums, go to concerts, and generate idolatries and movements; and men, the long-suffering boyfriends or aspiring boyfriends, are the ones who pay for almost all of it, without complaining. It doesn’t seem negative to me per se, everyone chooses their clientele however they like, but it undoubtedly contradicts part of what was said in “So Far So Gone”, a notoriously more sombre, surprising, and ambitious recording than the one at hand, and which invited us to imagine a different sort of operation in our mind’s eye. Here he’s gone off on a tangent with a more phlegmatic, sugary proposal that goes in a different direction than the one visualised by the critics and a part of his group of followers. Does this mean that the result is deficient or worrisome? Not exactly.
The way I see it, the main problem with “Thank Me Later” is its conformism, its lack of impulsiveness and daring; the absolute normalcy of its proposal. Drake wanted to play it safe, that is, to design a musical formula that would guarantee him the female target audience, convince the more benevolent headz, and partially avoid hassles with the specialised press, forgetting about the promises of rupture and reform that we had associated with his character. Neither hot nor cold. Neither pop nor hip hop. Neither vanguard nor emo. Neither Kid Cudi nor “808s & Heartbreak”. Maybe it’s just me, but I always mistrust consensus albums that show their cards right off the bat and tell you, from the first minute, that their main goal is to please everybody and to displease the public as little as possible. Drake does this openly, he wants to be liked by every Tom, Dick and Harry, and even though it doesn’t entirely backfire—along the way there are some songs with impact, excitement, and shine—the overall result doesn’t live up to the high level of expectation generated by his famed mixtape, and it gives the feeling that the MC has put commercial criteria ahead of artistic ones.
To start with, the lyrical baggage of the trip leaves much to be desired— personally it leaves me indifferent, a little cold even. The rapper not only loses in his skirmishes with Jay-Z, T.I. and Lil Wayne, three of the many luxury guests who appear on the album —who knows whether they are especially motivated for their cameos to counter the effects of the hype around the figure of the host?– but also insists to the point of boredom on a plot line that only the great chosen ones can turn around year after year: the virtues and vices of fame and celebrity. By the third song, the listener is already uncomfortable and lethargic from the repetition of designs and ideas, and the thematic redundancy of the narrator. In the end, it is his sentimental and emotional confessions, more sensationalistic than profound, that are more interesting than his chronicles from the heights of fame, and that end up improving his possibilities for triumph with his female fans.
All of this, it must be said, is without renouncing the inherent talent that has helped him to reach a notable peak, before he even officially debuted. Because in spite of everything, Drake easily handles his two expressive registers, singing and rapping, with the same skill and efficiency; he reconciles talent and emotion in his best rhymes, and he provides added quality to the soft and light side of hip hop, which has its place and importance, of course. He also has good stage presence and a knack for good manners when he wants to get women’s attention. He masters and controls all of these things with a steady pulse—they are the keys to his status and his success. But it is not in this part, in the obvious surrender to a more R&B pattern, that Drake gets the most mileage out of the album, and out of his own talent. Precisely the most solid and fascinating moments of “Thank Me Later” are when the Canadian leaves the commercial formalisms to one side and lets himself get carried away by a more personal, convincing and dynamic beat. “Over” (the best of the lot), “Light Up” and “Fancy” themselves justify purchasing the album, and are, in turn, good reasons to think that our man might one day offer us the album that many of us are convinced that he’s capable of making. “Show Me a Good Time” and “Find Your Love” are in a league of their own. Both were produced by Kanye West, who is already preparing us for a return that we can guess will be epic (he should act as a compass for the rapper when he wants to exploit his more pop side without lowering himself to the clichés and stereotypes of shopping centre black music). Who needs AOR choruses from Alicia Keys ( “Fireworks”), or kitsch imitations of Sade, in the case of “Karaoke”, when simple, effective production could fulfil these intentions perfectly well? With the exam corrected, the evaluation is clear: needs improvement.