Ostensibly ‘on top’ if we’re to take the man at his own word, Drake opens Take Care curiously. The first half an hour is a succession of anodyne tracks, building from an effectively drumless swooning opener until Marvin’s Room, a six minute post-Kanye autotuned meander with the conceit of a drunken phone call to an ex-girlfriend. It sets a strange tone. Rappers get contemplative on Side B sometimes, but this feels like Drake’s artistic statement. It’s an uneasy atmosphere and it comes off as a little toothless.
Drake can rap well. He’s done it before, occasionally, and he hints at doing it a few times here. Once the first half finishes its mollifying mission and tracks with actual drums begin to drop, he starts to open the throttle a little. We’ll Be Fine has trunk-bumping sub bass and a relatively believable lyrical swagger before it devolves not unexpectedly into another Drake-butters-up-a-girl track. Over a Just Blaze track in the mould of Jay Electronica’s Exhibit C, he actually sounds like the top-of-the-pile rapper he seems so conflicted about being. Cinematic is getting pretty tired as a trope in rap at this point but when it’s done right (and it is here, even if he compares himself rather ostentatiously to the dead greats at one point) it’s still effective.
The problem, really, is a lack of charisma. You could easily point to Kanye as an example of a rapper who’s got similar exposure, arrogance and questionably justifiable self-pity, but Kanye has charisma in buckets. Drake seems content to croon-rap directly at unseen girls about “the times we had” on 80% of his tracks. To a certain extent, what he does is a mutation of R’n’B, and if that’s all Take Care tried to be it wouldn’t be a bad record. It’s the attempted proliferation of the idea that his success – croon-rapping directly at unseen girls about the times they had – makes him the best rapper alive that makes him so hard to swallow. Pause.