Call Drake emotional. Say he sings too much. Characterize him as cocky. None of that has halted his ascent to the top of the charts. In fact, his ability to disarm any slights against him and internalize them has resulted in the 25-year-old’s becoming a leading voice across mainstream music. Now, with his sophomore effort, Take Care, a little more than a year removed from grappling with newfound fame on Thank Me Later, Drake has fully embraced his current position, insistent that he deserves it and confident that he won’t let it go.

Drizzy lays out that perspective on the album’s first two lines, via the piano-driven “Over My Dead Body,” where he raps, “I think I killed everybody in the game last year, man/Fuck it, I was on, though/And I thought I found the girl of my dreams at a strip club/Fuck it, I was wrong, though.” The uncompromising lyricism continues on “Underground Kings,” “HYFR (Hell Ya Fuckin Right),” “Headlines” and the Just Blaze–produced “Lord Knows.” The last number includes Rick Ross, one of the six rap features on the album—Lil Wayne (twice), Andre 3000, Nicki Minaj and Kendrick Lamar—each fittingly placed and complementary in their appeal. (Rihanna, The Weeknd and Stevie Wonder’s harmonica also appear.) Some of Drake’s vulnerabilities also seem to have withered away, and the unfiltered honesty that connected with many is more sporadic than in the past, although “Look What You’ve Done” tugs on the heartstrings, as Drake delves deep into his relationships with his mother and his uncle, both of whom raised him.

Not surprisingly, females are the topic du jour on Take Care, with tales about past lovers (“Marvin’s Room”) and potential lovers (“The Real Her”), about honoring women (“Make Me Proud”) and commodifying them (“We’ll Be Fine”). The Toronto native expertly juggles his singing and rapping, confirming his growing songwriting abilities. Still, things become too R&B-centric toward the end, when Drake’s crooning carries three straight cuts, without a single bar spit.

The album’s strongest suit is its sonic cohesion. Led by all-stars 40 and T-Minus, who, combined, produced 12 of the 17 tracks, Take Care is somber and mellow, cold but not unwelcoming. Its ethereal chords, delicate strings and subtle percussion provide a steady mood and tone that is both dense and structured. Coupled with Drake’s voice, cadence and multiple flows, the sound bed creates a captivating and enveloping listening experience.

Overall, Take Care’s sum is greater than its parts. This isn’t a drawback—especially in hip-hop’s current climate, where new material comes and goes. As Drake continues to find his voice and stay true to himself, he’s put his team in place to take care of the rap game for the near future.

’Til next time. —Adam Fleischer

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