Panelist: Noah Callahan-Bever, Complex
This is a case of the micro versus the macro, and at times vice-versa.
Drake’s sophomore effort, Take Care, with all its fraught introspection, will stand as one of rap’s great works of self-analysis, along with The Marshall Mathers LP and The Blueprint. Over the course of the LP’s many, many, many songs (more on that in a bit) Drake oscillates lyrically between macho chest-beating, boasting of his accomplishments, and emotional cutting—reveling in masochistic self-flagellation for his shortcomings. Songs like “HYFR” and “Over My Dead Body” perfectly balance the two. Whether you find him, as an artist, to be authentic or hollow, it’s undeniable that Drake makes a valiant effort throughout Take Care to find understanding and emotional resonance with the listener. And he’s largely successful—one cannot listen to songs like "Marvins Room" or "Take Care" without being left with a very specific feeling of knowing who Drake is in his heart. The album’s only shortcomings are its sprawling length (some songs overlap, topically) and the very occasionally cringe-worthy line (“It’s my birthday, I’ll get high if I want to...”).
On the flipside, Jay-Z and Kanye West approach Watch the Throne from a broader perspective, taking their well-known personal narratives and juxtaposing them with each other, and then—more than either ever has in their solo works—placing them in the context of race and class in America. For an album with the potential to be so fragmented, WTT is a triumph of focus. Every single song, from “No Church In the Wild” to “Who Gon’ Stop Me” to “New Day” to “N****s In Paris” (just think about the title!), is forged, sometimes subtly and sometimes explicitly, around the theme of what it means—both for them personally, and for their community—to be successful Black men in America. This thematic unity is only highlighted by the ruthless editing exercised by the musically mature duo, who kept the album to a trump-tight 12 tracks.
Both are great records, meant to be enjoyed in different ways and at different times, and we, the audience, win for having the two options. Having said that, in terms of ambition, while Drake certainly dug deep and made the best album of his career (yet), neither his efforts nor his findings are wholly unique. What Kanye and Jay have done has never been attempted before, nor has it ever been executed so exquisitely. To me, at least.
Advantage: Watch The Throne
Watch The Throne: 6 | Take Care: 3
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