It’s hard to remember a time when Drake wasn’t worried sick about one thing or another. Starting with his first studio album, last year’s “Thank Me Later,’’ he has distinguished himself from other rappers by being ambivalent and elaborately conflicted about his success - by describing with enthusiasm how emotionally taxing it is being Drake. He’s always been the guy who said he wished he could have just gone to college instead of being famous - who asked, at 23 years old, during a duet with Jay-Z, “I keep thinking, how young can you die from old age?’’
Drake, real name Aubrey Graham, is 25 now. His second full-length, out today, is a mighty thing, every bit as turbulent and achingly defensive as Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.’’ Musically, it’s like a new species of exotic bird, with strings and synths and voices that sound like they were imported from another planet. Lyrically, it’s Drake at his most worried yet.
But instead of just stressing out about fame, Drake is now writing songs about accepting the consequences of time passing and friendships changing. When someone asks him when he started caring so much about money on the single “Headlines,’’ he answers sadly but without arguing: “It happened over time.’’ On “Shot for Me,’’ he recounts a conversation with an ex-girlfriend who complains about never seeing him because he’s “always busy doing things.’’ Drake is exasperated by this. “I really wish she had a different way of viewing things,’’ he says.
Some will insist it’s boring, listening to a young star complain about being a star. But “Take Care’’ is not about that; it’s about a person growing into himself, and smarting at the sacrifices required of all of us - famous or not - as we leave adolescence behind and grow distant from people we used to love. It may be mopey, but Drake is finding new words for ancient kinds of pain, and it is captivating.
What’s never been clear is what he actually thinks of himself - whether he believes he’s a cool, good person or not. But on “Take Care’’ there are moments when he sounds genuinely certain that he’s going to survive his young adulthood intact, where he sounds legitimately bulletproof against dullards who would call him soft. One of the best lines on the album: “I never hear the disses they try and point out to me / but it’s whatever, if somebody wanna make it a thing.’’Leon Neyfakh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.