Drake Takes Center Stage On Take Care

​"That was back in the days, Acura days," Drake raps at the end of both verses of "Under Ground Kings." It's half of one of the most revealing couplets of Take Care, his masterful second album, and it's a callback to his come-up, a transition in roles from Degrassi's Jimmy Brooks to a promising rookie rapper from Toronto.

You can see some of that in a segment from the MTV Cribs-style Degrassi Unscripted from 2004, which features a skinny, then-18-year-old Aubrey Graham tooling around in an Acura ("It's a nice first car, for, like, a teenager, I guess"), sneaking forbidden chocolate to his grandmother, and putting his massive music collection, his many dog-eared rhyme books, and his nascent rap talents on display for the world to see. It's goofy, sure, but it's one of the formative documents of Drake's stardom: He may seem like a silver spoon-fed product of entertainment industry nepotism, but he dreamed of rap stardom, and worked to be good enough to deserve it.

Take Care is more than proof that he is; it's as good a rap album as 2011 has had.

Here, Drake has new flows (double-timed snippets throughout, a breathless delivery on "HYFR," and a deliberately choppy three-bar stretch at the beginning of "We'll Be Fine" that will be purloined by many a lesser rapper), ones that make his "I run that" declaration about flow a lot more believable. And he's ditched the obvious hashtag-rap punchlines, more or less, which will get bylined and Twitter-based critics off his back. His best trick continues to be his understanding of melody, and his willingness to sound a little more sing-songy than most rappers to make a bar more indelible.

That strength also ties into his biggest limitation as a rapper—his over-reliance on multisyllabic end rhymes that usually run together a bunch of single-syllable words, which can be distracting. But while the battle rap aficionado knows that saying things he's expected to say would be fatal in that arena, he subverts his tendency to avoid the predictable and makes accessibly rapped pop music for listeners to put on repeat. A slew of hooks that literally repeat phrases may not be a creative stretch, but they'll be embedded in the collective consciousness of the young music-loving population by Thanksgiving.

There's nothing on Take Care that would render an 18-year-old in an Acura unable to rap or sing along, but there's quite a bit of sonic variety. Drake, who gets most of his production from fellow Torontonians, wisely uses longtime collaborator Noah "40" Shebib for watery, contemplative, downtempo tracks like "The Real Her" and "Over My Dead Body," leans on T-Minus for "We'll Be Fine" and "HYFR," deploys The Weeknd as a wraith-like complement to his deeper thoughts, and gets one of the finest productions of the year out of Just Blaze on the bombastic "Lord Knows."

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