“No filler, you’ll feel it now if you ain’t feel it before...”
Within a day of my visit to California to see my long-distance girlfriend, who lives in Los Angeles, we were not speaking. My response to the silent treatment was, “Are you doing this to put me in the mood for this Drake album leak?” No laughs.
But of course, I couldn’t have chosen more perfect circumstances. I curled up on the couch and I watched my Twitter timeline devolve into a mixture of immediate praise, lyric regurgitations, and recommendations for various preparatory measures: "box of tissues," "text messages for exes," "bottle of white wine," "other Drake albums..." (Come to think of it, I should consider following some people outside of rap Twitter. Eh, I wouldn’t know where to start.) Anyway, phone in hand, earbuds in, silent girlfriend out of sight, I was ready to press play.
The way to listen to Drake’s album is to fight with your significant other, who you just flew a couple thousand miles and some change to go see, then wait until she’s asleep, and then probe Twitter looking for people who might be feeling something similar while the music's playing.
It is a weird thing to try to gauge your first impression of a "new" album when you’ve heard (and enjoyed) exactly 4/15 of it already. You want to give the thing a chance at cohesion. You want the whole thing to be fluid, you want the the full experience to be "organic," but you’ve already exhausted the anywhere-near-reasonable number of listens for the songs that have leaked, and so you kind of just want to skip over them. So I tried to pretend as though I hadn’t heard the four pre-released songs, and attempted to re-imagine them in the context of the album as a frame. But of course, those songs remain forever associated with the ways I listened to them before the album came out. In this case, "Started From the Bottom," "Hold On, We're Going Home," "Wu-Tang Forever" and "Too Much" will always feel like "the giddy anticipation of Drake’s third album." A few things were the same.
I got through “Connect” before I went back over to my girlfriend’s room, ready to reconcile. I was prepared to act like I cared about what had made us argue in the first place, rather than admitting that I had completely forgotten about it while listening to the new Drake album. Fatefully, she was asleep, and I didn’t have a chance to do either.
I stumbled back to the couch, turned NWTS back on, resuming with “Language.” The song was cool, but more compelling than the song, and the fact that Drake was borrowing the Migos flow, was the fact that the Migos were on Twitter re-tweeting a bunch of people who were talking about the fact that Drake had borrowed their flow. The Internet, man.
On “305 To My City,” Drake concludes with “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” If you had any doubts as to whether or not this guy was the world’s biggest troll before, this might have been a revelatory moment. Making himself the “Dorothy” of rap was his plan all along. (Who is "The Wicked Witch of the West"? Who is "The Great Oz" who will be exposed as a scared little man hiding behind studio affects?) At this point, you had already listened to the majority of the album. You were in too deep to say, “Nah, I just can’t do this.” Drake had you locked in, the end of his Yellow Brick Road was the only way out.
The last few songs were where it really came together for me. He was right. He's won me over. I like Drake now. For years, I’d hated him, but I suppose I’ve just never heard his music in the right conditions. The way to listen to Drake’s album is to fight with your significant other, who you just flew a couple thousand miles and change to visit, then wait until she’s asleep, and then probe Twitter looking for people who might be feeling something similar while the music's playing. But that’s just me.
As to the music itself, the rhymes are strong throughout—and they're Drake rhymes: self-centered, self-congratulatory, self-pitying, but strikingly insightful and clever and memorable. “Too Much” is a standout on first listen. The Jay Z verse on “Pound Cake” was more of a flex on Drake’s part than a musical necessity. “All Me” is his victory lap, like Kanye’s “See Me Now” at the end of MBDTF or Kendrick’s couple of songs with Dr. Dre on GKMC.
In the end, “Come Thru” made me wish I had worked everything out with my girl instead of going off by myself to listen to this Drake album. Such is the double-edged sword of NWTS. The takeaway here is that music like this is made to be experienced in some personal context. Like he says: “Know that I don’t make music for niggas that don’t get pussy/So those are the ones I count on to diss me or overlook me.”
If you fall under the unfortunate category so well-articulated by that double-negative, go ahead and enjoy your real hip-hop.
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