Conspicuous Consumption, #6
Drake - Take Care
Note: In 2017 I tried doing autobiographical album reviews to document my favorite albums in my physical record collection that I am reposting here.
Drake is fucking trash now. I've been thinking it for awhile, but 2018 is when I finally take the off ramp.
It started with Views. Views was supposed to be the chosen one! A victory lap after three back to back bangers! Views promised to blow out Drake's "started from the bottom" mythos into an album-long autobiography about his upbringing and city that raised him. In my own head canon of Views, Drake was going to get even more hyper-focused on his relationship with his parents, meeting Lil Wayne, breaking up Nebby and whatever nectar mined from that hive of delicious internal Drake strife that I want to morphine drip right into my spine.
Instead, he drops this frigid detached mess that gives me no sense of Toronto or Drake at all. Even Drake seems confused about his own identity. This man just starts dropping "tings" like a Jamaican badman as if he doesn't have a seven album deep catalog, all so he can backdoor himself into a new genre whose audience he can exploit.
It wasn't until More Life and Scorpion when Drake learned how to game the Spotify algorithm and went completely off the rails. Sure, "Passionfruit" and "Nice for What" slapped hard, but any new Drake album after 2016 is 80% filler that any objective executive producer should have put into hospice care for all of our sake. Drake is the bitcoin miner of streaming platforms: dropping overly long and anemic albums, boring his fans to sleep with the album stuck on repeat on so he can passively farm listens for cash.
If I sound hyper-cynical about a pop-star that I shouldn't have fanboyed for in the first place: I am! And wow did I fanboy him. After he hopped on that The Weeknd track, when Drake dropped Take Care in 2011 I was proselytizing this man to anyone that would listen. As shameful as it is to admit, a 23 year old Jake even had a poster of the Take Care cover hung on my wall above my bed. Was a small part of me was leaning into Drake fandom for laughs? Sure. But as much as I can claim I was doing this shit ironically, I was still doing it.
So what changed? What is it about about 2018 Drake that 2018 Jake just cannot reconcile with? How could I abandon the guy who I trusted to watch me sleep every night as the weight of the world was bore by his velvet-studded shoulders? It causes me to interrogate why I loved Drake and Take Care so much in the first place.
The singles for Take Care, Drake's crowning achievement, started trickling out the summer of 2011. Leading the charge was "Marvin's Room", a quintessential Drake song and a perfect lead single that early on, showed his shrewdness as an Top 40 entertainer.
On one hand, it's a song where Drake shows a painful lack of self-awareness by revealing way-too much about himself via an anthem to a pathetic drunk dial, with self-immolating and too-on-the-nose lyrics like "I've had sex four times this week let me explain//having a hard time adjusting to fame". The song, like many songs off of Take Care, has a decidedly nocturnal quality to it with an ethereal, barely-there beat.
On the other hand, Drake leading with the chin on his presumed "lack of self awareness" reveals on how much awareness he actually had. "Marvin's Room" invited scorn, mockery and above all else: attention. And it works.
My onboarding onto Take Care is a perfect example of this phenomenon at work. Before I listened to Drake, I heard a "Marvin's Room" parody song called "Locker Room". a barely-clever ditty about cock envy and suffering from shrinkage. (Actual line: "mine is small because of the cold water"). It was.....woof.
Point being: whether people liked Drake or not, they were talking about him, and this dude has a Caesarian ability to conquer and dominate mindshare. Inviting obvious cheap shots is a sleight of hand Drake has used ever since to great success, be it his dad-tier dance moves in Hotline Bling, his easily memeable "Drake sitting on things" cover of Views, or cashing out on Degrassi nostalgia on his most boring single ever.
Taking "Marvin's Song" out of the context of Drake's career trajectory though, the song is ultimately not about Drake's self-awareness (or lack thereof) and also not even really about a particular relationship that deteriorated in his life. It's a song about frustration. It's a song about weathering the choppy, transitional waters of "the come up" and simultaneously yearning for a more halcyon time when things were more comfortable and familiar. "Marvin's Song" is a desperate, drunken reply to the siren's song of a lifetime lived before complication set in, and after I got past the insipid small-dick parody track, I discovered an artist I felt eerily in sync with.
As Drake crooned for simpler times on "Marvin's Room", 2011 was a difficult, transitional year for me as well. I recently graduated college and was working at an internship before my full-time job at a big federal consulting firm began. It was a very romantic position for someone with historically low-self esteem to be in: I metroed into Washington D.C. every day and walked between the shadows cast by tall buildings to a corporate job where I wore a tie and slacks. I ate lunches on the rooftop of a tall granite monolith a block away from The Washington Post, overlooking the D.C. skyline with young, attractive people that were equally hungry for success. I had a sense I was I poised to control my destiny.
That is, until I didn't. Two unforeseen events hit me at once that summer:
First, I quickly learned after graduation that my parent's were unable to pay for my student loans, and that I'd be expected to assume eighty thousand dollars in debt, to be repaid at a rate of approximately 800 dollars a month, effective immediately.
Theoretically, I had no problem paying my student debt since after all, it was an investment in me, however the circumstances in which the responsibility was thrust upon me which was dubious. Since I was kept in the dark about the expectations, I lived without concerns regarding any type of budget, or having to take on a part time job during the school year. Additionally, I believed my parents possibly leveraged my student debt to allay some of their own privates debts, which led me to distrust how much of the the eighty thousand dollars debt was really incurred by me at all.
Secondly, about a month or two into my internship, I found out my federal clearance that was a prerequisite for my first job out of school didn't come through, and my conditional job offer from the federal contractor was rescinded. This meant that after the runway of the internship ran out, I had no steady income to depend on.
When this news hit me, the gravity of the loan situation felt devastating and on my metro ride home I was on the precipice of a breakdown. I remembering angrily calling my mom and dad from the Orange Line train bound for West Falls Church demanding them to be at the house when I arrived home. As soon as I reached the front door, I spiraled into a rage blackout, lashing out about how they kept me in the dark about what was expected of me. I openly questioned their motives in taking out all of this debt on my behalf without encouraging me to have insight into where the money was going.
To date, it's the most contentious fight I ever had with my parents and I barely remember it: I just remember blind rage, tears and self-loathing over my circumstances. Mostly, I felt fearful of my ability to clear the bar now expected of me and felt destined to fail.
Take Care is undoubtedly a bloated album that thematically covers a wild gamut, but it's strongest are moments are Drake's delivering a massive fuck you to everyone who ever doubted him and whatever circumstances he felt were holding him back.
The most delicious example of this is "Shot For Me". It's a no-holds barred cheap shot to all of Drake's exes, triggered by nothing but his own ego, that has all the grace of someone leaping into a ring and delivering a chair shot to a wrestler that wasn't looking. In Drake's world, revenge is dish best served via his omniscience, where he has reached such a level of fame that everyone that ever wronged him is duty-bound to respect him. The production is that of a warm, end-of-night lounge jam but his singing is a Venus flytrap: sweetly sung with a venomous bite, demanding everyone who ever doubted him to drink to his success. It's a hilarious song that is oddly empowering, and always has made me wish that Korean Karaoke places carried Drake deep cuts.
Dunking on exes is very in line with many other tracks off of Take Care, where Drake shows a disdain for any nostalgia that conflicts with his own growth. On "We'll Be Fine" Drake declares he's "tryin' to let go of the past" while drinking to the present over a luxury beat that demands you crank the bass and make your entire car wiggle. Drake's bravado was on peak display on "Headlines" when he effortlessly drops bar after bar toasting to his inevitable greatest. It isn't until Drake says "they say they miss the old Drake, girl don't tempt me" where he stumbles in sounding entirely in control of his own destiny. The only thing Drake seems afraid of is looking backwards, and a past where Drake is not an overnight success is not a past Drake is interested in dwelling on.
Even Drake's crooner tracks off Take Care speak to the sad inevitability of severing his past in order to embrace his future. 40's minimalist production on the spacious break-up song "Doing it Wrong", hovers Drake in the atmosphere above a dead planet. While physically present for his girlfriends mourning period, Drake is already detached; emotionally a million miles away and looking forward. This song is preceded by an underrated interlude called "Good Ones Go", where in the Drakiest way possible, summarizes the challenge of bettering yourself to the detriment of others.
I'm gettin' money just taking care of me, girl
A lot of the tracks off of this album really spoke to me. Years prior to the current moment I found myself in, I already started surgically cutting people out of my life whose behavior and life trajectory I thought conflicted with my own success. When the blow up with my parents went down, I started thinking that they too were a liability to me, to the point where I finally felt obligated to move out of the house. In retrospect, there were a lot of relationships I intentionally let wither on the vine around this time because I felt they were the wrong people to have in my life in that time. Cold? Undoubtedly. But at the time it all felt justifiable while I was trying to get my money right.
It's probably a net-positive that the anxious "come up" energy that Drake and I were both vibing in 2011 feels so foreign to me now.
In the course of a couple months I got my job situation under control and over the course of the next few years I ended up paying off my debts. While I begrudged my parents for a year or so about the loan situation, I eventually let it go and felt reconciled with it. After all, they nurtured and supported me for 18 years, and I wouldn't be where I am in life without them. The further removed from the situation I am, the more I realize it was a minor hiccup in the trajectory of my life.
That's because upwardly-mobile middle class kids like Drake and I never had it as bad as we probably thought we did. While Drake claims to have "started from the bottom", he also claims to be the kid that took his mom's Acura or his uncle's Lexus to shoot Degrassi or tool around Toronto. While my parents absolutely had financial troubles of their own, I sure as hell got dropped off at one of the best public schools in the country in a Lexus myself. Point being, in the grand scheme of human society, Drake and I were better positioned for success then we gave ourselves credit for.
Drake has a level of self-awareness about this, too. "Look What You've Done" is the most earnest track off Take Care, and also one of my favorites in his catalog. Over a subdued, haunting piano riff, Drake delivers not a rap a diary-entry ode to his Mom and Uncle, the two people whose support he credits for his inevitable success. While the majority of Take Care is a testament to burning the past for a brighter future, on this track Drake delivers a knowing acknowledgement of who got him to this point before he ascends into stardom.
Everyone lionizes their own personal narrative to make themselves the hero of their own story though, and this gives Take Care it's universal and timeless appeal.
Hindsight doesn't detract from the nervous energy you feel in that period in your life when you aren't sure if you will capably stand on your two feet. Take Care triangulates the sacrifices you make and the tension and triumph you feel in the midst of trying to "make it". It is Drake's most successful and relatable work.
Although his Junior and Senior albums did in fact get meaner, everything past If You Are Reading This, It's Too Late has betrayed Drake's early career charm. On Take Care, Drake is constantly promising to people that he will go back to the way he was once he found success, but at this point he's been corrupted by it.
His persona now so fucking exhausting. Drake grew a beard and became Evil Drake: getting strategically molested by Madonna for Twitter heat, starting petty and ultimately boring rap beefs, and creepdogging on young women and getting memed for it. It's negatively impacted the music, too. The tenor of his music shifted from that of a hungry kid on the come up into an detached Don trying to maintain the family business at all costs. As someone who feels like he's "made it" in his own way, 2018 Drake feels tiresome to me in that he doesn't remember where he came from, or appreciate what he has.
I will always appreciate what Drake created with Take Care, though. Heading home after a night of blowing off steam, be it driving alone on a moonlight washed interstate or the last Orange line train home, it was always nice having Drake along for the ride.