Drake‘s “Take Care,” out today, gives us one of the rarer moments in contemporary entertainment — a landmark album release.
In today’s music industry, critical enthusiasm and commercial viability only coalesce into fever about five times a year.
So far in 2011, Adele, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Jay-Z/Kanye West and Lil Wayne have hit this sweet spot, with Coldplay getting the numbers without the same breadth of acclaim.
But Drake’s sophomore album needs to be counted among these, particularly because many, including us, are calling it the best major-label album of the year.
Though it doesn’t match the staggering complexity and effect of West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” in 2010 — a record that should be considered among the best ever made — “Take Care” shows impressive technical skill and a writer’s nuanced honesty, coming as the major step in an already remarkable career.
Prior to the album’s release, Drake has sold 14.3 million song downloads and 1.5 million copies of his debut LP, “Thank Me Later.” He’s also been a touring force and created his own festival. That’s all in two years.
Such numbers put him in rarefied company. “Thank Me Later” debuted to a remarkable 447,000-copy first week in July 2010, which would only be topped three times in 2011. For some perspective, “Watch the Throne,” the collaborative album between West and Jay-Z — arguably the two most accomplished artists in hip-hop — only moved 436,000 units.
With such huge levels of success come heightened expectations. Drake said he’d love to sell a million first-week, though he doubts it’ll happen. Early speculative projections range from 350k to well over 500k.
It’s a tricky stat to forecast in the age of digital downloads, when the number of physical CDs Univeral puts in stores has little relationship to the actual numbers. Also, “Take Care” leaked last week, and despite the lack of understanding around how a leak affects sales, it’s seen as both a badge of honour and a commercial liability.
That being said, Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter IV” leaked early and faced questions as to whether it would even beat “Watch the Throne.” It sold double Kanye and Jay-Z’s numbers, nearly breaking a million.
We see “Take Care” as being more similar to Wayne’s record, which featured Drake on hit single “She Will,” than the more esoteric “Watch the Throne.” Lacking a true radio hit, “WTT” slid in a little under-the-radar, as bizarre as that might sound; the album didn’t really pick up steam until the post-release success of bombastic manifesto “N***** in Paris.”
“Take Care” and “Tha Carter IV” also share a label: Young Money Entertainment/Cash Money Records.
Most significantly, “Take Care” is a vastly better album than both the limp and overlong “Carter IV” and “Watch the Throne,” which was more the skeleton of a proper record than an actual, full-bodied effort.
Fusing the confessional woundedness of R&B with hip-hop’s bildungsroman narrative, Drake has made a statement that, while not exactly revolutionizing pop music, definitely pushes it in a more emotional direction.
Doing this could have come at the expense of the sound, but “Take Care” remains a blistering, technically accomplished effort. Drake is improving as both a rapper and a singer — check out the first verse of “HYFR” and his crooning on “Shot for Me” for examples — and he has impeccable taste in both beats and guest features. (Add Kendrick Lamar‘s dystopian turn on “Buried Alive” to that roster.)
Crafted largely by lieutenant Noah “40” Shebib, with major contributions from veteran Just Blaze and rising beatmakers Jamie XX and Boi-1da, production on “Take Care” skate from the go-to-war choruses of “Lord Knows” to the stuttering, spacious “Crew Love” to the calloused build-up of “Headlines.” Nearly every song plays with conventional notions of when the beat should drop, suturing the tracks together into a thrilling whirlwind of escalation.
As a lyricist, Drake’s developed a knack for skewering notions of masculinity — “Take Care” provides the intoxicating chance to empathise with a rapper who has, essentially, buried his head in his hands — and his wordplay is impressive, though not dazzling.
Drake understands his limitations, and he rarely pushes himself beyond what he’s capable of — a crucial realisation for a young artist.
In spite of the crazy acclaim for “Take Care” so far, we’re not predicting a million. We’ll go with 650-750k, taking into account Drake’s increased popularity since “Thank Me Later” and the all-systems-go cohesion of its release, which comes with a lengthy press push and availability through all major vendors.
But even if sales are flatter than expected, “Take Care” can’t be considered anything less than an achievement.
Drake opens the record with a stunning boast: “I think I killed everybody in the game last year.” That’s not quite right, though.
Drake’s reign actually starts now.
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