There's a really telling and earnest interview with Drake at GQ where he discloses, amongst many other things, that favorite record of his is his new one, Take Care, and that his second favorite record is soldout 2009 favorite So Far Gone, which, it could be argued, is a "mix tape"--if, by "mix tape" we mean that a couple of songs are Drake rapping over beats that weren't created for him and that he didn't pay for them. Otherwise, though, give it to him: So Far Gone counts as an album, 100%, even breeding two now-classic Drake hits, "Successful" (my personal favorite Drake cut ever) and "Best I Ever Had". So let's give it to him: his best (of 3) mixtapes also counts as one of his most successful albums, infinitely better than his technical "debut", Thank Me Later.
Take Care is as successful as So Far Gone (and thus way better than Thank Me Later), but less scared. Obviously, right, the latter was Drake spending money he hadn't made yet and planning on collecting bets no one had yet made, whereas the former is what could've very easily been a victory lap. It isn't, though; it's honest and painful and, possibly most importantly, weird. Weird in the same way that So Far Gone had featherweight, submerged snares and confessional lyrics that fit perfectly against raunchy come-ons like putting
Sweat pants, hair tied, chillin' with no make-up on That's when you're the prettiest, I hope that you don't take it wrong
My shirt ain't got no stripes but I can make your pussy whistle Like the Andy Griffith theme song And who told you to put them jeans on
Take Care puts the amazing single "Marvin's Room", a song that's been explored to death, with the outro "Buried Alive" featuring the chorus
If you was in a pine box
I would surely break the lock
I’d jump right in and fall asleep
Cause you are the death of me
Which, um, is not...shall we say, typical.
The best reference point to bridge Take Care with Thank Me Later (other than those pillow-hit snares) comes with comparing the two opening tracks, the former's "Over My Dead Body" with the latter's "Fireworks" (which I've stepped up to defend in the past). The piano's similar, and we've swapped Alicia Keys for Chantal Kreviazuk. Whereas "Fireworks" was essentially a missed connection for Rihanna, "Over My Dead Body" begins with Drake laying waste, in his mind, to any/everyone: "I think I killed e'erbody in the game last year, man".
For the first time in a way that isn't silly (read as: so not "Fancy"), there are some HUGE moments on a Drake record, specifically the Rick Ross-featuring "Lord Knows", and Rihanna (see? Drake always wins) cameoing on the album's title track, which is probably the closest thing to a dance track we'll ever see Drake fit comfortably on.
On the whole, Take Care is brutal: brutal as in sad, brutal as in honest. "Headlines" is a definite contender for song of the year, as well as for 'song I'm probably going to get lyrics from as a tattoo". There are some off moments, The Weeknd's cameo on "Crew Love" is actually pretty stupid and the song's only saving grace is the explosive way the beat drops on the lyric about C4. What makes Take Care so vital is the oddness, the way that it's pushing popular rap production in a way that's subtle, compelling and evocative. It'll be interesting to see how this record, meant to be a commercial blockbuster, actually does.