Monday, January 27, 2014

"Nothing Was the Same," by Drake (HHES Review)

Here's my review of the Drake album "Nothing Was the Same," using the Hip Hop Evaluation System (HHES).

"Tuscan Leather" has great production and some of the lyrics are pretty tight, but I don't love Drake's flow. He's better here than on some of the other stuff I've heard.

"Furthest Thing" might have my favorite lyrics of the album, particularly the parts of the song that have poetic structures. The beat is kind of mild, but not bad, but the negative, as usual is that Drake is kind of monotone and his flow is largely pedestrian.

"Started from the Bottom" is a song that has so few distinct lyrics it annoys me. It doesn't sound terrible, and he does some interesting vocal things during the song, but it only has like 22-23 distinct lines, with its 8 bar verses and ridiculously repetitive hook. The beat is kinda catchy and I would probably like this song if Drake had actually written some more words for it.

"Wu-Tang Forever" has a misleading title, since other than a couple of references, it doesn't have a lot to do with Wu-Tang, stylistically or lyrically. Drake mixes up his flow here more than on other songs, but his sing-rapping isn't as good as his straight-up rapping, so it's a mixed bag. The beat is, again, so mild as to almost not exist.

"Own It" is kind of embarrassingly bad, lyrically speaking. It doesn't sound much better. If I could forget how dull this song is, and its contradictory pointlessness, I would.

"Worst Behavior" has a bit more upbeat backing track than previous songs, but that isn't particularly a good thing since it's way too trap for my tastes. There are some very interesting lyrical things going on here, though, particularly the Mase shout-out.

"From Time" is mildly pleasant. The beat is solid, if understated, and Jhene Aiko has a beautiful voice. Drake does some of his better rapping on this song.

"Hold On, We're Going Home" is probably the catchiest song on the album, with it's direct attempt to sound like a Michael Jackson song. The beat is maybe the best on the album, but, once again, it's one the laziest songs, lyrically, on an album that is pretty lazy from an artist who is pretty lazy (as a writer).

"Connect" shows some of the contradictions running through this album very clearly. Drake is doing a good thing in singing about topics that are atypical among rappers, but he's throwing around hardcore words that undercut how he's more respectful and sophisticated than other rappers. That, and the song itself, is understanded and monotonous.

"The Language" is a song about how awesome Drake is, using lyrics and beats (and Birdman) that are pretty much exactly like everything else on the radio, so it totally misses the mark.

"305 to My City." I get it, I get it, writing lyrics is hard. Not repeating yourself is hard. Strippers are nice. Next.

"Too Much" contains the best hook on the album, by Sampha. Drake's rapping is pretty solid, too, and for once he tells a story worth listening to.

"Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2" contains the best guest appearance on the album, with Jay-Z, and an entertaining sample from Wu-Tang scratched for the hook. Drake's initial verse on the song is significanly weaker than Jay-Z, but his Paris Morton verse is much better, and is one of his better moments on the album.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 4. I hate Drake's flow. I generally think it's lazy and his shift to sing/rapping hasn't improved that. I have heard him do worse than this album, though, so it could be worse.

Lyrics: 5. This is probably the strong point of the album, but only on certain songs. On others the lyrics are atrocious and lazy.

Message: 4. If there are messages on this album, they're hard to figure out. Not because the lyrics are complex, either, but because it's filled with mixed messages (and NOT in an interesting way) and light on lyrics.

Technical: 3. Drake uses very little technical skill on this album. His raps are easy. His singing isn't difficult.

Production: 4. The beats here aren't terrible, but most of them are so understated as to feel like incomplete ideas. A few of them are solid and almost none of it is horrible, but I won't remember more than 1-2 beats on here.

Versatility: 2. This album is so repetitive, sound-wise, it's hard to listen to for very long, since it sounds like one long song.

Collaborators: 5. Jay-Z, Sampha and Jhene Aiko add a lot to the songs they are on, but they all overshadow Drake, which kind of defeats the point of a guest appearance, right?

History: 4. Drake shows some knowledge of hip hop history on this album, but some of it is misguided and doesn't get the point of the originals, and isn't true to the spirit. I mean, how un-Wu-Tang is "Wu-Tang Forever"?

References: 5. Some songs have quite a few solid and entertaining references, but a number of them miss the point and some songs abandon them altogether.

Originality: 3. There's some credit here for a somewhat cohesive sound and a few nice song concepts, but the last song sounds like the first one and most of this sounds like stuff I've heard before.

Total Score: 39. I gave Drake a chance. I listened to the album with as little prejudice as I could muster. And I was mildly surprised to realize that Drake wasn't as horrible as I thought. He's still bad, but he's no Chief Keef.

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