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Spin: Drake – Take Care

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Reviewed that new Drizzy for Spin. He’s still a smarmy creepo but he totally makes it work here. There are some sequencing issues on this one (here is my redux version) but it’s nearly 80 minutes and doesn’t really feel like it, which is impressive. Because I didn’t get to fit it in the review: The title track! “Take Care” is like a B-Side to Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” like the e-pill comedown after that song kicked you all around. Jamie xx’s late-song breakdown of Heron’s vocals from We’re New Here’s “I’ll Take Care Of You,” in this context, sound like some depressed version of “The Ha Dance” or something. Then again, everything on this record sounds like a depressed version of something else, doesn’t it?

Perhaps “Headlines” had you thinking Take Care would be Drake’s humble moment. On that relatively upbeat single, he raps, “I might be too strung out on compliments, overdosed on confidence,” and, later, expresses appreciation for the fans who told him he “fell off” between his hit 2009 mixtape So Far Gone and his star-packed 2010 debut Thank Me Later. And even though “Headlines” is pretty much a rewrite of a previous hit — the “6 Foot 7 Foot” to “Over” ’s “A Milli” — that hardly matters because Drake is consciously lapping himself, returning to the same topic and style with another year of experience, making his conflicted approach to being richer than you just a little more lived-in.

An appropriately absurd cover depicting a despondent Drizzy, five o’clock shadow-sad, looking like a decadent Baba Booey, also foreshadowed a hard, if melodramatic, look in the mirror. Plus, he titled this new one Take Care — so much sweeter than Thank Me Later, right? But on “Over My Dead Body,” Take Care’s first track, our favorite confused Canadian calculates last year’s earnings plus how much he paid in taxes, and chalks the latter up to “you lose some, you win some.” All right, look, man, the cash lopped off the end of my paycheck blows too, but the whole idea behind taxes is that by paying them, we all, in the long run, “win some”!

Written by Brandon

November 11th, 2011 at 12:14 am

Posted in Drake, Spin

Spin: Drake, Hip-Hop’s Unlikely New Conscience

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In which I begin wrestling with the fact that Drake’s been making some incredible shit lately. Probably too harsh to Future in this one, but “Tony Montana” is retarded and the Lex Luger sound really needs to end.

“Tony Montana” seemed even goofier after Drake deigned to make an appearance on the remix. In his characteristic nasally flow, Drake weaved around Lex Luger’s sonic histrionics, asserting his Tony Montana-ness while avoiding big, dumb proclamations about impossible success. He simply claims that he has indeed made it, observing that “young women are lost these days,” like a bored, aged lothario even though he’s only in his twenties. Drake’s verse isn’t brilliant or anything, but it feels so much more lived-in than Future’s, which is full of artifice and exaggeration, tools that were once effective and maybe even necessary for rappers, but now just feel pathetically delusional and out of touch.

There’s even a strange, very unofficial-looking video for the “Tony Montana” remix, furthering the sense that Future, a clueless guy chasing an earlier era of funny-money rap, is ironically named. Jammed between cheapo shots of Future partying like he wants you to buy into his hype, there are shots of Drake in a blunted, Weeknd-esque scene, wandering, dream-like, around the club. The sequence is lifted from the video for his own single, “Marvin’s Room,” and it’s quite telling that this dejected version of clubbing is so closely associated with Drake. Dropped into the middle of this middling song that’s so desperate to be a hit, with a video intent to convince viewers of Future’s importance and street-level success, there’s Drake wandering right through that desired success like a ghost…

Written by Brandon

September 16th, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Drake, Spin, Spin column

Pitchfork: Top 100 Tracks Of 2010

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Pitchfork’s always fascinating list of the top 100 songs of the year is up. I wrote the ones for “Blessa” by Toro Y Moi, “Over” by Drake, and “Exhibit C” by Jay Electronica.

Written by Brandon

December 14th, 2010 at 7:34 am

UNFUCKINBELIEVABLE: Lil Wayne in Raleigh, NC 08/08/09

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So, I was asked by a paper to attend the ‘America’s Most Wanted’ tour and review it, but then the piece never ran and no one will tell me why, so here it is. It’s a good reminder of why, despite rawk-star trappings right now, Wayne’s still wonderfully weird and the only guy to pull something like this off.-b

Following a fun, but perfunctory performance from Soulja Boy, and a head-down, straight rapping set from Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne, the star of the “America’s Most Wanted Tour”, which came to Raleigh’s Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion a couple Saturdays ago, took the stage amidst a flurry of samples from Scarface and a screen projecting a psychedelic collage of eyeballs. The self-declared “best rapper alive” immediately let-out an unhinged freestyle (“Cannon”) before segueing into mega-hit, “A Milli…which is also an unhinged freestyle.

See, that’s the thing about Lil Wayne: There’s no difference between the rote (samples from a tough-guy rapper-approved classic, playing the hits) and the rarefied (a trippy eyeball video, endlessly thrilling nonsense raps)–it’s all awesomely muddled. This was a big, outdoor show where it often felt like the audience indulged the performer.

Because he’s at his best when he’s impulsive and scatter-brained, indulgence is less of a problem than it might seem. Remember, Wayne is a guy who–though he’s been rapping and making hits since the late 90s—carved out his one-of-a-kind path to pop stardom via quasi-official “mixtape” tracks that more often than not, consisted of hook-less, structure-less, oddball rapping. Part of the enjoyment of listening or seeing Wayne is the experience: the high-highs as well as the distracted asides.

Even though the performance was anchored in mixtape songs and hits from last year’s Tha Carter III, it was also mired in Wayne’s most recent whims, namely his underwhelming Young Money Crew—made more underwhelming here by the absence of breakout star Drake—and an interest in middling alt-rock, the apparent sound of Wayne’s upcoming album this fall, The Rebirth.

The Young Money Crew was easy to ignore, dropping in for a verse and rolling out, but nearly every song was revamped to fit Wayne’s newfound embrace of rawk. The transformation of well-known skittering beats to recycled butt-rock riffs isn’t as jarring or awful as it sounds, but it wasn’t great either and it didn’t help that right before, Young Jeezy expertly performed a set informed, but not reconfigured, by a live rock band.

Jeezy didn’t throw out the end-of-the-world stomping synths of his albums, he just had a band that tossed-in skronks of horns and slabs of guitar shredding overtop of them. Whammy-bar dangling, Jeezy’s guitarist punctuated “Who Dat”, a snarling beat from last year’s The Recession, with a chunk of strangled guitar, bringing a palpable sense of chaos to a purposefully no-frills, worker-bee rap performance.

And when the live instruments fully took over Jeezy’s set, it was at the end–a kind of coda to the Atlanta rapper’s show. Jeezy’s guitarist stepped forward and approximated Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” which shifted into Jeezy’s Obama-inspired, “My President”. There wasn’t any rapping though, Jeezy thanked the crowd and walked away, letting an instrumental play out, back-up singers howling out the defiant, conflicted chorus: “My president is black/My lambo is blue/And I’ll be godammned if my rims ain’t too”. It was absurd and arrogant and moving all at the same time.

Wayne’s performance was entirely made-up of confusingly awesome stuff like that, bouncing between sensational and stupid and then blurring the line between the two. There were a few moments of stirring clarity, particularly an almost spoken-word (read: respectable) performance of “Let the Beat Build” that seemed to suggest the ease in which Wayne could put on a “good” show, but moments like that gained power precisely because other moments were so transcendently nutty.

He performed “I’m Me” with the word UNFUCKINBELIEVABLE flashing behind him, indulged in an especially raucous mini-suite of mindless raps (“I Run This”, “Always Strapped”) with Cash-Money mentor Birdman, and endlessly two-stepped around the stage, getting the crowd to shout back his nonsense couplets (“I’m a great dane, I wear eight chains!”). The show didn’t make a lot of sense but that hardly matters—Wayne’s adept at making something monumental from a mess.

Written by Brandon

August 22nd, 2009 at 3:55 am

Drake: First You Get the Hype, Then You Make the Controversy, Then You Get the Women…

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Upon hearing of Drake’s tumble, flashes of a kind of Putney Swope absurd, Wag the Dog cynical set-up rushed through my head: Drake never gets up from his fall, becomes a wheelchair-bound rapper, and the divide between actor Aubrey Graham, his character Jimmy Brooks, and his rap persona Drake completely melt away and he becomes an even bigger star. And really, a few days later, that sequence of events doesn’t even seem that far-fetched. The problem with Drake’s not that he isn’t very good, but that his every career move seems wrapped in the quietest of controversies and hype-building–never enough to alienate, just enough to maintain that crucial “buzz”.

This isn’t a surprise or anything, given the weird, new-ish media machine rolling through the radio and internets, but when Drake took that spill on-stage earlier in the week and it immediately became not only gossip/rap blog fodder, but a series of comments on just how Drake “took a chance” performing with a bad knee–as it it were all for his fans, and not the damage dropping-out of a tour just as he’s on the cusp would’ve done–we’re entering like, Entertainment Tonight style “reporting”–chunks of P.R thrown out there like they constitute an actual “story”.

A key to Drake’s success is the ability to consistently court mini-controversy and maintain a level of interest/hype almost completely separate from the music. And his injured leg is embodies this quite well. Though a deeply cynical/paranoid part of me could get into accusing it all to be faked, it certainly wasn’t. But what was at least, rather contrived is the contextualizing the fall as Drake’s devotion to his fans and whether intentional or not, the knowledge that anything sorta weird like dude collapsing is gonna have the internet going nuts.

So, Drake falling creates content for blogs, the possibility for exclusivity (who posts/gets the first picture or video of the collapse), and allows Drake to then talk/blog about the fall for the next few days, continually mentioning the tour, pushing his singles/album, and looking like a real trooper. Where, at one point, this sort of thing was an embarrassment or something to quiet down, it’s now an opportunity for some extra press. Not totally convinced this is even a bad thing, it’s certainly more honest (in a way), but this awkward embrace of “all press is good press” is strange nonetheless and something Drake’s an expert at using.

This kind of sub-controversy courting started at the BET Awards, where he performed “Every Girl”, along with the rest of the Young Money Crew, sitting on a stool for much of it, and towards the end, surrounded by pre-teen girls. The stool-sitting, presumably the first rumblings of his injured leg, but it had the odd effect of hinting–whether intentional or not–to his crippled character from Degrassi and also, both put him on the stage with the rest of the more swarthy Young Money and separated him just a little bit. It seemed to be saying, “Hey this is rap but it’s not rap either”.

The end of the performance too, surrounded by pre-teen girls, while ill-advised given the “I wish I could fuck every girl in the world” hook of the song, seemed to be again indicating Drake’s safe-ness (something he’s awesomely confident in). There are already plenty of Dads I’ve talked to that end up spending part of their night watching Degrassi re-runs with their ten year-old, pop-rap radio obsessed daughters precisely because Drake’s on the show. This is clever. While a sitcom in the vein of Hannah Montana starring Drake would never really work-out, with Drake, there’s already one, getting constant plays on paid cable.

The pre-teens surrounding him, was less a sexualization of pre-teens–though it most assuredly was that too–than a quick way of catering to a demographic hip-hop can rarely court so explicitly. That said, once the controversy started about the unfortunate combo of the pre-teens and “Every Girl”s chorus, a mini-controversy developed and that’s good for Drake too.

This after-the-fact, after-the-blog-hits apology is what Asher Roth courted, though in a more obnoxious way. When you have a label or even just a powerful A & R behind you, ill-advised Imus references on Twitter, critiques of “Black–African rappers”, or rocking a Larry Bird jersey, don’t become problems because nine minutes later, there’ll be something else to posted on all the blogs…and there’s no big-time media covering this shit anyway, so it hardly matters.

The next example, the video for “Best I Ever Had”, which while really brilliant–it looks great and continues director Kanye West’s interest in varied female body image–was clearly developed to confuse and bother a whole bunch of people. Again, not enough that anybody would come out poorly–this is Drake, etc. exploiting music fans’ and writers’ apathy and aversion to anything politically engaged–but just enough that it’d get some debates on Twitter or Facebook. With the setting of a high-school gym, there’s also again, bizarre, sideways hints at Drake’s come-up: Cornball Canadian soap Degrassi.

Drake though, is also sorta separate from the internet/blogosphere hype monster. Unlike Asher Roth or Wale or Kid Cudi, Drake’s struck a nerve with people; real actual people, some without wireless routers. He’s on the radio. Notice how even Cudi, who had a bonafide hit, weird enough to be cool but oddly catchy too, didn’t become ubiquitous or talked-about through “Day N Nite”–DJs didn’t even get his name right, they kept calling him “Kid Cooty”.

Being a child TV star presumably gave Drake some connections and being a Canadian child TV star helped him not become totally suspect, but he got some quick co-signs by rappers like Wayne and Kanye–and by co-signs, not in-your-face, on-the-spot video camera “Yeah he’s dope” asides like Asher Roth–and he knows when to shut the hell up. Probably because he began as an actor, we’ve not seen a lot of Drake Twitter or MySpace blog freak-outs, and probably because he has hits and isn’t quite as desperate for promotion of this kind.

And his songs are just better. Contrast “Best I Ever Had” or “Every Girl” with Kid Cudi’s “Day N Nite”–the sole blog-rap hit. “Day N Nite” is an excellent song and one that secretly creeps up on your ears months later, but it’s a weirdo one-shot that’ll never happen again. The 2009 rap equivalent to Flaming Lips’ “She Don’t Use Jelly”. The only difference being, in 2009, kids won’t be exposed to Cudi’s contrived but mind-blowing enough for twelve year old wandering sing-raps, they’ll grab the single off iTunes and never pick-up Man on the Moon (not that they could, it keeps getting delayed).

“Best I Ever Had”, a kinda cornball love-rap, Slum Village’s “Selfish” sucked of its weary experience, is still catchy and fun enough and “Every Girl”, wisely aligns Drake with a Lil Wayne and a crappy crew–but a crew nonetheless–providing the illusion that Drake’s not as ubiquitous as he really is–this song’s not Drake, it’s the Young Money Crew! None of these are masterpieces, but they aren’t trying to be either.

Drake though, besides having those hits–and a kiddie version of street buzz–has found a way to more casually keep people talking. He stumbles into controversies, he explicitly hints at his very uncool past, making him critic proof. It’s like, rather than not acknowledge the loathsome qualities of one’s personality, you might as well just sorta quietly flaunt it, and hopefully get some blogs blabbing on and on about it. Awesomely 2009 it seems.

Written by Brandon

August 5th, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Drake, Lil Wayne