We've seen a highly saturated blanket of exposure in the lead-up to the release of Drake's sophomore effort Take Care, with a flurry of self-leaked tracks and an industry branding campaign that was downright needling. The much-hyped cover of the album – the talent in hunched melancholia over a golden goblet, surrounded by gaudy gold-on-gold-on-gold decor – is a relatively apt representation of the record itself.
In a decadent but mostly monochromatic and downtempo hybrid design of R&B, Hip-Hop and dance, Aubrey Graham brings all the right knob-turners (Just Blaze & Lex Luger, among others) and mic-rockers to establish foundational cred – the very least we'd expect after so much Young Money hype. Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Andre 3000 and Lil Wayne all turn out impressive appearances, but all the starry love in the sky can't save a downer of a record.
Over the sparse "The Real Her," Drake's dream-inducer verse is wiped clean by Wayne's smooth delivery, and it's far too easy to be removed from the rest of the experience by Andre 3000's fluid flow, despite his ending line: "Please be careful, bitches got the rabies."
The droopy-croon picks up the pace to damn near a sprint on "HYFR," where mentor Lil Wayne's style leads the way, and bleeds deep into Drake's flow. It's clear that the D is working harder than ever to earn what many feel he hasn't yet. His abilities as a vocalist have undoubtedly improved, but not enough so that he sounds anything but whiny and overly nasal on the Rick Ross-guested "Lord Knows," despite a solid verse:“They take the greats from the past and compare us / I wonder if they'd ever survive in this era / In a time where it's recreation / To pull all your skeletons out the closet like Halloween decorations.”
“Take Care” is strong, with Jamie xx remixing his Gil Scott-Heron collaboration into a relentless beat. But once again, paired against more established vocalists, Drake falls short enough to distract, even on his own title track. The pillow-talk lovesap of “Shot For Me” would be endearing, if it weren't a narration of Drake’s bitterness and arrogance: “The way you walk, that's me / The way you talk, that's me… First I made you who you are, then I made it / And you're wasted with your ladies / Yeah I'm the reason why you always getting faded”.
The complaints and head-hung melancholy brought on from – as far as we can gather – overachievement, oversexing and maybe even a dose of regret over the nickname "Drizzy" ultimately leave Take Care under a cloud of narcissism. On his platinum-selling 2010 debut, Drake succeeded through vulnerable observations on the fairer sex. Those in tune with the steps between Thank Me Later and Take Care were excited for the mixtape promise and fire he brought at the time, but that energy is nonexistent on the finished product. The ego is too strong, the Sex Panther funk too thick. At this rate of progress, however, he's likely to find the right balance the next time around.
CraveOnline's Rating: 6 out of 10