Drake's 2010 debut Thank Me Later was one of the most striking hip-hop coming-out parties in recent memory. The Canadian rapper's tales of the high life were tinged with a sense of regret that perfectly fit the spare, somber tone in his music. The much-anticipated follow-up is more expansive, with producers from Just Blaze to the Neptunes to Lex Luger creating tracks that range from piano-laden R&B to Southern hip-hop, and guests like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, The Weeknd and Lil Wayne rolling through to liven things up. Drake is still the same lovably conflicted dude, and that's part of what makes Take Care – which leaked over the weekend – compelling.
1. "Over My Dead Body"
"Shout out to Asian girls / Let the lights dim sum." Take Care opens with a grandiose ode to fame, power and money, complete with the kind of poignant pianos and synth streaks that undercut his brags with a tinge of sadness: "I was drinking at the Palms last night / And ended up losing everything I came with," he raps. New record, same old miserably kick-ass life.
2. "Shot For Me"
A bass drum like a heartbeat leads into a ballad complete with Eighties synths Phil Collins might croon over, as Drake pours over the wreckage of an old love: "May angels protect and heaven accept you." When you break up with Drake, you don't just get an ex-boyfriend – you get a benediction.
In the context of this dark-tinted album, the straightforwardly flashy "Headlines" sounds practically joyful, even as Drake apologizes for his fame. The song's martial beat and strobe-flash strings suggest the superstar entrance of a champion prizefighter. Of course, with Drake you worry he just might get in the ring, and sit down in the middle and cry.
4. "Crew Love"
Featuring Toronto singer The Weeknd, it's some avant-R&B lushness: echoing snare shots, finger snaps that sound like they were recorded in a cathedral and crooned background vocals that go "take your nose off my keyboard / What you bothering me for." It's a tender ode to metaphorical family in the face of a world where everybody wants a little Drake.
5. "Take Care"
The Drake and Rihanna duet moment does not disappoint. Guitars scrape across the sky like fighter jets and tom-toms roll over sad house music pianos. It's crushed out R&B heaven: "I've loved and I've lost," she sings, and they spend the song reassuring each other that they're worth trusting. Very sweet.
6. "Marvin's Room"
Only Drake could take a song this dark and sleepy and make it resonate the way it has. Here, at eight epic minutes, it enters the canon of greatest drunk-dial songs of all time (up there with the Replacements' "Answering Machine"). But even in abjection, Drake comes through with his own special savoir faire: Who else calls his ex and complains he's been having too much empty sex this week and probably gets her sympathy?
7. "Underground Kings"
Opening with a gangsta Simon and Garfunkel reference, this pumped up track has a Lil Wayne-like flow and a liquid diamond-spoked Southern rap track from 9th Wonder; Drake tells his Horario Alger-like story of going from underground to superstar, from riches to more riches: "It's been two years since someone asked me who I was."
8. "We'll Be Fine"
A relatively thugged-up track for Drake; his voice distorts as he sings about how down he is and a Canadian buddy comes in to big-up "that Uptown shit," as in uptown Toronto. So, if you're ever in Toronto and you're looking for where the gangstas are, just tell your cabdriver, "Uptown, you Hoser!"
9. "Make Me Proud"
All of Drake's alleged girlfriends are in the house. Now, it’s Nicki's turn. Over taut hi-hat clicks and synthed-up guitar flares that sound like you're hearing them through a wall of cotton candy, Drizzy celebrates a the kind of girl who's fine with a complex mind, as Nicki Minaj comes in for a characteristically hot verse ("double-d up hos, dolly partin!") and a searing vocal hook on the chorus.
10. "Lord Knows"
Just Blaze gives Drake a track with a sky-kissing mix of gospel choir, gauzy R&B sample and stomping beat: it’s busy and overheated and a nice break from the usual sparse, slow Drake production style. Drake rarely sounds this hyped up and Rick Ross comes in for a hilarious verse: "Villa on the water with the wonderful view / Only fat nigga in the sauna with Jews."
11. "Cameras/Good Ones Go"
Over a minimal Lex Luger beat that's all snakey hi hat clicks and dark low-end vroom, Drake does his best to disabuse a woman of the misconception that he's cheating on her after she sees images of him with another woman in a magazine: "Look like we in love, but only on camera." Some girls just can't make the subtle distinction between image and reality like Drake can. The track fades into "Good Ones Go," a cavernous R&B lament for the girls we lose – so it looks like the girl from "Cameras" was unconvinced by Drake's semiotic argument.
12. "Doing It Wrong"
The much-anticipated Stevie Wonder joint. The song is a brooding track with Seventies synth hits and summery harmonica solo courtesy of the R&B legend, now in his amazing sixth decade of legend-hood, that's a striking counterpoint to the emotional frozen-world of the song ("we live in a generation of not being in love"). Stevie doesn't seem to sing though, so this generational meeting is a bit like two star cruisers passing in the night.
13. "The Real Her"
The track is your usual dark, distracted missive on the eternal recurrence loop of Drake's life: another night, another limo drive around town with a beautiful girl who exclusively dates famous rappers – such as Weezy and Andre, who add freestyle color. Weezy: "I don't want be in the blind but sometimes I Stevie Wonder about her." Um, Weez, psst: Stevie Wonder is on the album, so maybe not so much with the blind Stevie Wonder jokes. Andre is arresting, wrapping his molasses flow around the thick groove as he finds his girl, "sad as hell listening to Adele" and totally empathizes.
14. "Look What You've Done"
Drake hits the piano bar for a little nostalgic soul balladry that pours out thanks for the support for his mom, his aunt and even his estranged dad. He looks back at his pre-fame days when he "was just another kid in a drop top Lexus hopin' that I don't get arrested." It’s a very nice song in the fine tradition of Pete Rock and CL Smooth's "T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)." At the end his grandma comes on to thank him for keeping her living well in old age. Ah, Drake, sometimes it isn't all about you, and we love you for it.
15. HYFR (Hell Yeah Fuckin Right)
Drake opens the track with a whiplash verse or two before passing the mic for a Weezy showcase: he rhymes "hold her" and "closure" and raps "a met a female dragon had a fire conversation." Apparently, the phrase "hell yeah fuckin' right" is something they yell at journalists who ask questions like "how high they are?" and "do you they think the people around you are really your friend." In their defense, those are terrible questions. I would ask Weezy about the NBA lockout and ask Drake where the best place is to buy an obscenely overpriced candelabra.
A relatively thugged up track for Drake; his voice distorts as he sings about how down he is. The song is also a tribute to New Orleans hip-hop, with a reference to "Back That Azz Up." "Let me put something in your life," he quietly offers. It's one of the album's most tender romantic moments, recalling the openhearted smuttiness of his 2010 The-Dream collabo, "Shut It Down."
17. "The Ride"
The Weeknd are back for another luxurious, mysterious gripe about what the terrifying awesomeness of fame: from knowing strippers by their first names to fucking up the double cheek kiss at Fashion Week to having an unmanageably large entourage of Canadian hip-hop buddies. On the chorus, Drake tries to rationalize these complaints and after 17 tracks of twisting himself in pretzels of self-examination you kind of wish he'd just lighten up and light one up and enjoy the ride.