Available on: Young Money Entertainment / Universal CD

“The game needs change and I’m the motherfucking cashier,” Drake (born Aubrey Graham) exclaimed on last year’s breakthrough mixtape So Far Gone.

The Canadian actor-cum-rapper was right too, partly; the rap game did indeed need change, but rather than providing its focus, Drizzy came up mid-shift and acted as a weighty re-enforcement. You see, without the crucial groundwork of Kanye West and his truly game-changing 808s & Heartbreak, this record and its predecessor would have never been possible. That’s not to say that Drake the rapper never would have happened, but would rap fans have been ready for something so damned introspective?

Hip hop has never been the most pensive of genres, with its stars usually trapped in a spiral of self-aggrandizing and bravado, so when West revealed an aching heart on his art-pop masterpiece, it broke the shackles of generations of one-upmanship. To its detractors, 808s & Heartbreak was a novelty record which overused a tired modern rap cliché, but to the hip hop community, fresh life had been piped into an ailing scene.

Thank Me Later, (along with Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon and to a lesser extent The-Dream’s Love vs. Money) is certainly a part of the post-808s fallout, but also among one of the first examples of what may as well be seen as a new genre altogether. It is still hip hop, just – but introspective, personal, sometimes experimental and only occasionally radio-friendly. The move to Universal had naysayers speculating that Drake’s genre-bending style would be diluted, and they were right to be worried. To be honest we didn’t have a lot to go on: the Drake-affiliated Young Money full-length We Are Young Money was patchy and failed to ignite much hope. Within minutes of album opener ‘Fireworks’, though, it is hard to think Drizzy would ever have allowed his unique vision to be compromised. Thank Me Later isn’t a perfect album (it’s too long by a song or two for sure) but it is unerringly unique, and refuses to pull any punches.

Drake’s singular rap style, which was described by a friend as “almost resulting in failure, but pulling it back at the very last second” is backed more than ably by his in-house production team of Boi-1Da and 40. The promise we heard on early stand-out tracks like ‘Successful’ and ‘Best I Ever Had’ is matched and occasionally bettered with alien love ballads like ‘Karaoke’ and ‘The Resistance’ as well as club-stoppers like ‘Over’ and ‘Fancy’. ‘Fancy’ might even be the best representation of the album as a whole, opening with the ‘ignorant’ chant of “Nails done, hair done, everything did” the track dissolves at the three minute mark into a near-euphoric synth-laden paean to girls with that little more to them.

Much has been made of Drake’s willingness to collaborate, and it’s true the album reads like a “who’s who” of rap in 2010. Even elder statesman Jay-Z makes an appearance (with what is, incidentally, his best verse in at least five years) but Drake’s genius lies in his ability to make these hook-ups so definitely his own. Sure, Nicki Minaj, Alicia Keys and Lil Wayne perform admirably, but they’re subsumed into the gaseous atmosphere of Thank Me Later. We are never removed from the action, and in a time when consistent albums of any kind are a rarity, to find one this solid in hip hop is something to be treasured.

How Aubrey Graham, the Middle class Jewish mixed race child star from Toronto managed to stick to his guns on a major label to produce an album this strong, with this content, is beyond me. Thank Me Later is as strong a debut as the rap genre has had for years now, and with it Drake deserves to be popular and acclaimed to boot. His story might be different, his style might be quirky, but his relevance right now can’t be denied; Thank Me Later is as important for hip hop as Merriweather Post Pavilion has been for contemporary indie rock (or is that chillwave?). Its true worth might take years to be revealed, but trust me, it will be.

John Twells



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