Words by: Ernest Baker
This is more difficult for me to admit than anyone. When it comes to Drake’s catalog, I’ve always maintained that Take Care is his best. It’s the album that established him as a force to be reckoned with rather than a fly-by-night sensation. Records that avoid the sophomore jinx have a unique charm to them. It’s difficult to beat the sentiment associated with an artist coming into their own. Anything after that moment lacks the same surprise. There was an expectation that Nothing Was The Same be great, so its impact feels diminished, but after a year and some serious contemplation, I can finally admit: it’s better than Take Care.
Take Care ends with Drake promising this. “My junior and senior will only get meaner,” he raps on the album’s outro, “The Ride.” Those statements have a tendency to ring hollow as every artist claims, and would like to believe, that their most recent work is their greatest. I usually disagree. I’m partial to second albums. There’s a naiveté that gives them an edge over the self-aware introspection of third albums. For that reason, Marshall Mathers LP is better than The Eminem Show, and Man On The Moon II is better than Indicud. There’s more excitement in an artist coming to terms with their status than basking in it.
Drake bucks this trend. Nothing Was The Same is more focused, it’s more refined, and it has no filler. Drake acknowledges this. When asked to compare the albums in an interview with XXL, he said, “I found a way to get all my thoughts across within 15 songs. Take Care was, look, here is everything I have. I don’t think I had the time towards the end to be like, ‘Let me get rid of this but add this piece to this so you can still get a piece of this. I didn’t have enough time to sort of shave it down and make it concise. Some of the best rap albums, and albums period, are those albums with 12, 13 songs. Tha Carter III, Graduation, The Black Album. There are those records that are straight and to the point and once you hit the end of the record, you have to bring it back. It’s that weird sensation where you feel gratification from the music, but it’s almost over before you know it, and it forces you to listen again.”
That incisiveness makes Nothing Was The Same a sharper project. On Take Care, Drake is overwhelmed with his new life. Nothing Was The Same finds him in control of it. The emotion is more affecting because it’s contained. While Take Care has brilliant moments of sequencing like the transition from “Buried Alive” to “Under Ground Kings,” the switch from “Wu-Tang Forever” to “Own It” trumps that. There’s a stronger sense of cohesion. There are less moments to gawk at, but the succinctness makes them more meaningful.
In that same interview with XXL, Drake further examines the contrast between the albums. “Take Care was about connecting with my city and connecting with my past and sort of still feeling guilty that I’m not in love with one of these girls that cared about me from back in the day. Now, I’m 26, I’m with my friends, I’m making jobs for people, I’m making memories for people that will last a lifetime. I don’t need to be in love right now. I don’t need these things that I maybe once thought that I needed to feel normal and feel righteous about myself. I think for the first time in an album I’m content, not satisfied, but proud of where I’m at as a person.”
That’s evident when you hear lyrics like, “Y’all niggas party too much, I just chill and record.” Drake was still caught up in the party on Take Care. He evolved on Nothing Was The Same. He worked so hard on it that he missed the whole summer. That maturity and resolve manifested itself in the music. “Started From The Bottom” and “Hold On, We’re Going Home” will outlive “Headlines” and “Marvin’s Room.” The legacy of “Worst Behavior” surpasses that of “The Motto.” On Take Care, Drake is still the guy “who used to take the Acura at 5 a.m. to go and shoot Degrassi up on Morningside.” On Nothing Was The Same, he isn’t.
I saw a stadium explode when Drake opened his Would You Like A Tour? concert with “Tuscan Leather.” Take Care’s intro, “Over My Dead Body,” can’t do that. “Connect” covers the same nostalgic territory as “Shot For Me” with far more confidence. He’s no longer confused. He’s not distraught, and he’s not pleading. Nothing Was The Same is the story of a man who understands the chaos of his life. He’s comfortable with a woman who runs over his feelings “like she’s drinking and driving in an 18-wheeler.” That growth is enticing.
None of these observations are meant to disparage Take Care. That album is still incredible. It’s just that Nothing Was The Same does everything that Take Care did, but better. Drake’s analysis of his relationship with his family on “Too Much” is more interesting than the one on “Look What You’ve Done.” Birdman’s rant on “The Language” is more entertaining than the one on “We’ll Be Fine.” The ethos of Nothing Was The Same is we are fine. He didn’t need the crutch of guest appearances from Lil' Wayne, Nicki Minaj, or anyone else. The sole rap feature is Jay Z on “Pound Cake,” whom Drake outshines, which is a statement in itself. The raps became more compelling. There’s nothing on Take Care that compares to this:
I don't know what's getting in to me/
I just like the rush when you see your enemy/
Somewhere in the club and you realize he’s just not in a position to reciprocate your energy/
You ain't ever worried ‘cause he's not who he pretends to be/
People like Mazin who was a best friend to me/
Start to become a distant memory/
Things change in that life and this life started lacking synergy/
And fucking with me mentally, I think it's meant to be/
In retrospect, even the triumphs of records like Take Care’s “Lord Knows” feel lessened once you’ve heard Nothing Was The Same. Drake’s not looking through girls’ phones anymore. He’s plotting on showing up at his high school reunion just to make everyone go through security. Nothing Was The Same isn’t so plagued by sadness like its predecessor. It’s an album marked by tenacity rather than insecurity.
The baby picture on Nothing Was The Same’s cover is a not-so-subtle attempt to insert the album into a lineage that includes masterpieces like Illmatic and Ready To Die. That association may not be as far-fetched as it seems. Nothing Was The Same is Drake’s true classic. It’s the work of an artist who’s lived more life. One year later, it’s clear that this is the album that solidified him as one of the greatest rappers of all-time.
I hear Take Care and I still love it, but sometimes I realize that I’m looking at it through rose-tinted glasses. Nothing Was The Same exceeds as a better executed album because it’s more pragmatic than conceptual. Drake said that he wanted it to be “something that is shocking, refreshing, and takes a little bit of time to digest. I don’t want you to be able to put it in and understand it right away.” Mission accomplished.