Drake’s full-length debut has already been dismissed by occasional Popdose correspondent and full-time idiot Jeff Vrabel, on the grounds that Drake’s lyrical outlook — which more or less boils down to “I have achieved unexpected financial success, but I miss my ex-girlfriend and I’m kind of ambivalent about this whole ‘fame’ thing” — is unoriginal. But until every third MC stops busting out of the gate bragging about his bling and his six-foot bulletproof dick, albums like Thank Me Later represent a step away from the norm, and they’re cause for celebration.
Plus, it’s got some good beats, which you can dance to. And when you can’t dance to it, Thank Me Later is genuinely introspective, starting with its mesmerizing, Alicia Keys-assisted opening track, “Fireworks.” It’s one of several songs that find Drake using a sparse, slow beat as a backdrop, either for contemplative rapping or Auto-Tune-assisted vocals; the overall effect lies somewhere between Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak and Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon: The End of Day, only with sharper pop hooks. It is, to cop an old phrase, hip-hop smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it.
And that’s a good thing, in case you were wondering. Thank Me Later is kind of a weird listening experience — for the most part, neither Drake’s lines nor the songs’ melodies beat you over the head, and the catchiest songs tend to be the most irritating (especially the Swizz Beatz and T.I. collaboration “Fancy”) — but it’s a pleasurable one, the kind of record that’s enjoyable the first time you hear it, but continues seeping into your brain gradually the more you listen. Drake’s musical shtick isn’t as unique as it would have been a couple of years ago, and it’d be easy to dismiss him for loitering in a trail forged by artists like Kid Cudi (or, I guess, make fun of him for his stint on Degrassi: The Next Generation), but don’t be so quick — in the slow rehabilitation of mainstream hip-hop, Thank Me Later acts as one of a few critical bridges (along with, for example, K’naan’s Troubadour) between the easily accessible and the truly creative. For better or worse, it’s still refreshing to hear a major-label hip-hop record that doesn’t glorify fame and riches for their own sake, and deals with relationships and commitment on adult, honest terms — and works as a piece of radio-ready product in the bargain. A few more albums like this, and we could be looking at a new renaissance for the genre.