As one of the brightest, most talked-about young stars in the new-look hip-hop galaxy, Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham knows that his newfound success also comes with myriad obstacles and vast expectations riding on his shoulders. Anticipation for his debut solo outing, Thank Me Later (Cash Money Records), reached fever pitch last week, culminating in its official arrival on Tuesday (it was leaked online a week ago). But is the album worthy of the deafening buzz that preceded its release? Does it live up to the hype? Absolutely. In short, Thank Me Later is a delightfully entertaining and emotionally transparent release, a welcome debut from one of music’s reigning young luminaries.
When was the last time in recent history that an album from a music debutante generated this sort of heightened interest among both male and female listeners from such a wide demographic? Can hardly recall. Drake’s music is ridiculously enjoyable, all the while highlighting his skills with the pen and the brain power he consistently pours into his craft. As a hip-hop artiste, the rapper-singer delivers a curious amalgam of Jay Z’s uncanny attention to detail, Kanye West’s affinity for beautiful, unexpected melodies and mentor Lil Wayne’s fluid flow and clever, effortless rhyming.
The adulation has been incessant, and Drake (a former Canadian TV actor-turned-rapper) seems to be handling the spotlight with remarkable grace, despite the few forgivable and forgettable slip-ups. He has largely remained humble amid the excitement his indisputable talent has generated. His 2009 Billboard smash hit “Best I Ever Had” was one of the play-it-to-death records of the past year, and the highly acclaimed mixtape (So Far Gone) which spawned the single sold nearly 500,000 copies and earned a pair of Grammy nominations – a feat in music previously unheard of for an artiste without an album to his credit.
But now he does. Boasting 14 largely confessional-style tracks, Drake’s Thank Me Later is a stellar, appealing debut, featuring guest spots from such A-listers as Jay-Z (the hypnotic, dreamy “Light Up”); Alicia Keys (the achy, spellbinding “Fireworks”) and Lil Wayne (the swagger-drenched “Miss Me”). Self-proclaimed King of the Rap South, T.I. shows up for the Swizz Beatz-produced “Fancy,” while reigning rap queenpin Nicki Minaj adds a spicy jolt of flavour to “Up All Night.”
As if to prove a point, Drake shines most on solo tracks like the pulsating leadoff single “Find Your Love,” which finds the rapper musing on the trickiness of love and relationships, over a mesmerizing, kinetic beat supplied by West. The moody, reflective “Over” is another proper standout, proving that Drake is nothing short of a skillful lyricist. What appeals most about Drake’s music, however, is how he is able to intermittently glide between singing polite, infectious hooks and rapping silken verses without disrupting the flow of the record.
Drake represents a rare phenomenon in hop-hop. Women love him for his boyish good looks while men admire his lyrical skills and great vocals. But, evidently, his drive, pleasant attitude and thoughtfulness have also contributed immensely to his incredible early success. And as his first proper studio release, Thank Me Later is an impressive, introspective compendium of his flair, wit and talent.
BEST TRACKS: “Light Up,” “Over” and “Find Your Love”