Two years on from his last album, Drake returns with ‘Nothing Was The Same‘. Having just passed 1 Million in sales, could this be his greatest work yet?

Drake’s third studio album is yet another addition to Drake’s remarkably consistently output since he signed to Lil Wayne’s Young Money imprint just five years ago. Nothing Was The Same weans out almost all fillers, making it much more succinct than 2011’s ‘Take Care‘. It also tries less hard in its pop aspirations than his 2010 major label debut ‘Thank Me Later‘. While Drake’s best work may still be his breakout 2009 mixtape ‘So Far Gone‘, Nothing Was The Same is easily one of the best rap albums of 2013, and further solidifies the Toronto rapper’s position as the current king of the genre.

Nothing Was The Same sees Drake’s knack for anthemic songs in full effect. Yet, single ‘Started From The Bottom‘ and album cut ‘Worst Behaviour‘ are also unlike anything he has ever done, drawing heavily on his father’s Memphis roots, where Drake spent many of his teen summers. The rapper’s southern cadence and almost lazy flow on these tracks is immediately jarring, but their stellar hooks and basslines mean these tracks are those that get the most replays. Drake also takes it back to the old school with this album with numerous soul samples and several references to the Wu Tang Clan. On these tracks, Drake continues to prove himself lyrically; the verses on epic intro ‘Tuscan Leather’, ‘Wu Tang Forever‘ and ‘Pound Cake’ are of the highest calibre. There is a hunger in his rhymes, whether that be due to his bubbling rivalry with Kendrick Lamar, or fear of becoming the next Ja Rule or Nelly, who both at one point seemed destined to be rap’s new king. Drake’s level of consistency seems to indicate he won’t similarly fade away, from his presence on the mic to the quality of guest verses.

Production is also noticeably less ambient on Nothing Was The Same than on any of Drake’s previous work. The emcee’s musical partner, Noah ’40’ Shebib flips the same soul sample three times on ‘Tuscan Leather’, while Boi-1da provides the dancehall infused ‘The Language‘ and the incredibly atmospheric ‘Pound Cake‘. ‘Overly focused it’s far from the time to rest now’ Drake says on Pound Cake and the music reflects a focus on finding a direction for his future sound, with Nothing Was The Same more varied than cohesive. However, production highlight comes from Hudson Mohawke. Fresh from producing the standout tracks on both Kanye West and Pusha T’s latest albums, the Scottish producer strikes again with the wonderfully murky Connect.

While ‘Take Care’ fused hip hop and R&B virtually seamlessly, Nothing Was The Same seems to purposely separate them, with two sounds doing battle within the album. One is very much the indie inspired R&B that Drake flirts with on every project. Tracks like smash single ‘Hold On We’re Going Home‘, ‘Come Thru‘, ‘Too Much‘ and ‘Furthest Thing‘, all take influence from the likes of James Blake, Sampha and latest signees to Drake’s OVO label, Majid Jordan and Partynextdoor. The other is a more rap oriented sound, all pitched samples and hard rhymes suggesting Drake isn’t quite as unaffected by those who call him soft as he may seem.

Album closer ‘Pound Cake‘ sees Drake trade verses with a tired Jay Z and one can’t help but think that this is a cunning plan to put rap’s old king, and new king side by side, and for Drake to once again stake his claim to the throne. But in all honesty, it is no longer a claim but a reality. Drake is unquestionably rap’s biggest and best. Having surpassed his mentor, Lil Wayne and with Kanye more or less forsaking the genre to push other musical boundaries, Drake is peerless at top of the game. His only challenge seems to be the rise of Kendrick Lamar, and the subliminals between the two will be watched with great interest as 2013 comes to a close.

Nothing Was The Same is an excellent piece of work but it seems too early to label it Drake’s best. 2011’s Take Care is still played today and it’s hard to believe it was released almost two years ago. Nothing Was The Same stands to fare exactly the same. Yet it is very hard to shake the feeling that Drake’s classic album is still to come. In one of the finest feature verses of the year, on Migos Versace, Drake said ‘I think I’m selling a million first week, man I guess I’m an optimist’. While Nothing Was The Same didn’t quite achieve it, it’s a virtual certainty that Drake’s fourth album will do just that.

Written by Jack O’Neill

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