Why Take Care is arguably Drake’s best album
Reexamining Drake’s Take Care 7 years later
I am an unabashed Drake fan. So much so that before Nothing Was The Same dropped, I put a classified ad online looking for someone to break my heart a few days before the album came out. I didn’t find any takers. But I also consider myself to be somewhat of a Drake purist. I’ve never really argued with Take Care, his sophomore album, being held up as his magnum opus; after all, the best Drake song of all time —and the one that best typifies the artist—, “Marvin’s Room”, is on Take Care.
A few weeks ago I found myself giving it another listen and the question dawned on me: how does Take Care stack up seven (!!!) years later now that Drake is one of the biggest names in pop culture?
Really, just give the first track, “Over My Dead Body” a listen and you’ll shudder a bit. It’s like looking back on awkward pictures of yourself from high school. If “Marvin’s Room” is the best Drake track, then “Tuscan Leather”, the intro to the aforementioned Nothing Was The Same, is the best first song in contemporary hip-hop. The bar for intro tracks is high for Drake, so “Over My Dead Body” is set up to fail as far as revisionist history is concerned.
The most immediately obvious difference between Drake of today and Drake of yore is that 2011 Drake sounds decidedly uncomfortable. His forced Southern drawl is palpable on “Over My Dead Body” and he didn’t exude the same easy confidence in 2011 as he does today, on tracks like “Diplomatic Immunity”. It’s a sentiment that is echoed on later tracks on Take Care, notably “Underground Kings” and “HYFR”. While both of those tracks are excellent (“Underground Kinds is the albums most underrated track), they also show a much more self-conscious side of Drake.
While Toronto rappers—and Canadian musicians writ large—are making more common appearances in the American and global mainstream, that wasn’t the case a mere seven years ago. While seeking acceptance stateside, Drake had a complicated relationship with Toronto. Today, he’s the city’s go-to ambassador (you can also find him courtside at NBA games as the Raptors official “global ambassador), but, in 2011, you can hear him trying to sound like rappers from the Southern U.S.
Perhaps that owes to his ties to Memphis, where his dad and cousins lived. You’ll remember that Drake rapped about rapping to his dad’s cellmate in a Memphis jail—he credits that as an experience that helped him become the rapper he is today. Today, Drake is filming music videos in Memphis and recording tracks with the city’s hottest rapper BlocBoy JB. On Take Care, it sounds like he was still trying to be accepted in the market.
Despite still growing into his sound, it was a dramatic improvement from his sound on his debut Thank Me Later, where he struggled to create a sound that was in any way different from the rest of hip-hop’s acts du jour. So maybe that explains the ebbing and flowing throughout the album—growing pains as he settled into the Drake we know today.
"Take Care is Drake’s most impressive album, despite its shortcomings, because it set the stage for who he would later become."
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Drake was still in the early days of his career; trying to build his brand and discover his sound. It’s why so many of the tracks on Take Care feature the future hit-making king “singing”/autotuned whispering. Today we accept Drake’s gravelly singing (as heard on “Signs”) but it’s more confident and refined than what we heard on Take Care songs like “Shot For Me” and “The Real Her”.
Ultimately, Drake sounds just a touch uncomfortable in the pocket throughout the entire album. It’s understandable. He was barely 25 years old when Take Care came out, and the album was recorded when he was still only 24. Regardless, the album is chock full of hits.
“Headlines” still sounds good and “Crew Love”, featuring The Weeknd, would have been even more of a hit today given both artists’ rise in popularity. “Take Care”, too, would have aged better and become a veritable classic of contemporary music if Drake and Rihanna had stayed together, giving the internet the celebrity relationship it needs. It would have been the equivalent of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Crazy in Love”, but the world is a cruel place and we’re not worthy… yet. “Take Care” is still a stellar track, though.
No track on Take Care stands out more than “Marvin’s Room” and it still serves as the quintessential Drake track. He’s both emotional and arrogant on it. He sings, but in a way that sounds natural, and switches seamlessly to a staccato rap three minutes in. More importantly, he sounds comfortable on it in a way that he doesn’t on many of the album’s other tracks.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare 2011 Drizzy to 2018 Drake. After all, on Take Care, Drake was cutting cheques to Rick Ross for verses that supposedly augmented his legitimacy. In 2018, who do you think is getting paid to hop on tracks? Drake. He is the king of hip-hop now and he has embraced everything that he seemed hesitant to in 2011.
So, we’re back at the root question: how does Take Care stack up against the seven years of Drake since it came out? You could argue that his most recent album, More Life is simply the more comfortable take on Take Care. Going for the grime sound replaced going for the Memphis sound, but he undoubtedly sounds more comfortable on More Life than Take Care. Drake might sound better on More Life, but Take Care is a better album.
Nothing Was The Same, though, is the best album. He’s more comfortable on it, sure, but the track sequencing is flawless and it has some of the best Drake songs after “Marvin’s Room”, namely “Started From The Bottom”, “Worst Behaviour”, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” (I can’t believe I didn’t like that track at first…), “Connect”, “The Language” and the aforementioned unrivalled opening salvo “Tuscan Leather”.
That being said, Take Care is Drake’s most impressive album, despite its shortcomings, because it set the stage for who he would later become at a relatively young age. Any awkwardness in giving it another listen is attributed to Drake struggling to establish himself as the perennial powerhouse we know today (he's already established one of the songs of the summer in April with "Nice For What". But put yourself back in 2011 and you can understand why purists consider it his best work: it was unlike anything we had heard.