Thank Me Later

It's a shock to hear how softly — sluggishly, even — Drake announces himself on his official debut. The tempos are slow, the beats are awash in gauzy atmospherics, and Drake raps (and, surprisingly often, sings) in the voice of a guy who's half-awake. "This is really one of my dumbest flows ever/I haven't slept in days," he says in "Unforgettable."

Drake is in total command of a style that would have been hard to imagine dominating hip-hop a few years ago: He's subtle and rueful rather than loud and lively; emotionally transparent rather than thuggy. He isn't the most naturally charismatic MC, but he is one of the wittiest, packing his songs with clever images ("I'm 23/With a money tree") and punch lines that land with a snap ("I live for the nights that I can't remember/With the people I won't forget"), even next to guests like Jay-Z, Young Jeezy, T.I. and Lil Wayne.

Thank Me Later's downtempo beats, many by Canadian producer 40, call to mind Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak and Kid Cudi's Man on the Moon. It's easy to read it as a sign of the times: Is this boom in bummer rap a reaction to the recession, or the sound of hip-hop shuffling into middle age? But more than anything, the sultry production gives Later a coherent vibe — it's an album meant to be listened to from start to finish. And judging by the anticipation around its release, it will be, many times over.