Drake's looming third LP could not be more aptly titled. Taking to Twitter Saturday to announce a September 17 release date for Nothing Was the Same, the Toronto emcee's ever-shifting style ensures that this new album will be a discernible departure from the rest of his catalogue. And despite a sizable bankroll, Grammy nominations, and a few more plaques on the wall, change certainly isn't bad.
Before you can really anticipate Nothing Was the Same and before you post another status with lyrics from "Started From the Bottom," you have to know just where Drizzy started from. After a stint on Canadian teen drama Degrassi (one which won't be forgotten anytime soon), Drake emerged in 2006 with Room for Improvement, an introspective mixtape with viable influence from Slum Village, Aaliyah, and everyone in between. On "Video Girl," he cleverly critiques the culture of sexism and prominence of video vixens in hip-hop; on "Come Winter," he cogitates about ambition, old friends, and love interests over a soulful Roberta Flack sample. Even on the more surface-level tracks, like his collaboration with rapper Nickelus F on "Money," Drake's propitious combination of wit, flow, and lyrical dexterity make it hard to believe that this is his first project.
Drizzy followed a year later with Comeback Season, another strong effort that featured some of the genre's most beloved underdogs, including Little Brother, Dwele, Elzhi, and Malice from Clipse. Catching the attention of Lil Wayne, Drake released So Far Gone in 09. With a melange of different genres, the rapper showcased his singing voice on a handful of spacey R&B tracks while maintaining his penchant for storytelling and honesty. "Inside I'm treading water, steady trying to swim to shore," he raps on "Successful." So Far Gone predictably blew up, propelling past the parameters of a normal free mixtape. Landing Drake a smash single with three of the biggest names in music and a Grammy nomination, the stage was set for stardom.
Thank Me Later, Drake's major-label debut, was released in June of 2010 to radio airplay, healthy chart sales and critical approval. The transparency that lassoed in fans was still there on songs like "The Resistance" and "Thank Me Now." Since then, well, nothing's really been the same.
Sophomore LP Take Care was spearheaded by two uninspired club songs and a hackneyed duet with Rihanna. His lyrical prowess is nowhere to be found on guest verses with Rick Ross and Future; his humility traded in favor of making money and shooing off the haters. Chants like "no new friends, no no new" lack substance, and what was once such original music is now being lumped in with NBA pregame shootaround playlists.
Now, with the first notch in the countdown to September 17, what can we expect to hear? The two singles released shows an uncharacteristically aggressive Drizzy on the defensive, wearing chains in the house for reassurance on "Started From the Bottom" and boasting "that's why every song sound like Drake featuring Drake" on "5 A.M. in Toronto." The latter is ironic, seeing as the related 2010 freestyle "9 A.M. in Dallas" features the line "people say that old Drake, they startin' to miss it," and it's chillingly accurate. Drake's fusion of croons and callouts is everywhere today, with that 140-character punchline style of "The Motto" being emulated across the radio.
But with the release date announcement came four new songs as well. "Jodeci Freestyle" finds Drake linking up with J. Cole, rhyming sharp and claiming that "Drizzy still has some 06 in him." "The Motion" is a song full of confessions and regrets, and "Over Here" is a refreshingly tight guest verse with a relatively-unknown artist. It's hard to say that he's returning to his roots, but this is certainly a start.
Drake was never going to stay unsigned and 22 forever. With exposure to fame, touring and new relationships, his approach to music naturally changes. Kanye's no longer rapping about being slighted in a Polo and backpack because it's not happening anymore; Jay-Z won't talk about selling coke on Magna Carta Holy Grail because it's not who he is anymore. To expect Drake to keep making the same music from So Far Gone is unfair. However, experience shouldn't mean a lack of substance or skill. So to expect something a little more than "YOLO" or even "f*ck a fake friend" isn't out of the question.