Sounds like somebody broke Drake’s heart because (according to his sure-to-chart version of the story, anyway) she couldn’t take the stress of his rapidly growing success. The bitter-ex lead-off tracks — “Fireworks,” for which Alicia Keys can’t quite work an “Empire State of Mind” miracle, and the way-too-aptly named New Wave power nap “Karaoke” — work about as well as that emo shit usually does. Songs like “The Resistance,” in which Drake beats himself up for everything from having unprotected sex to neglecting to call his grandma, though, offer a refreshingly honest, intimate, and uncertain portrait of his (or somebody’s) fame: “Did I just trade free time for camera time,” he ponders. “Will I blow all this money baby — Hammer time?” Drake, who’s been a Canadian celebrity for about nine years now due to his role in Degrassi: The Next Generation, freely admits he’s no longer Jenny from the Block after his comparatively quick rise in music — from mixtapes to mainstream-rap radio in three years. The rocks that he’s got have changed him. But Drake’s got a more balanced view of success than either Eminem’s miserablist don’t-bother-me-when-I’m-taking-my-daughter-to-the-mall perspective or just about everybody else’s check-this-shit-out consumerist circle-jerk. Drake begins the awesomely produced “Over” protesting, “I know way too many people here right now that I didn’t know last year, who the fuck are y’all?” like he’s actually upset about it, adding a layer of complexity to his boasts of “overnight” success and multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with Sprite. Guest Jay-Z probably sums it up best in “Light Up”: “Sorry, Momma, I promised it wouldn’t change me, but I would’ve went insane had I remained the same me. … All I got is this money, and this should do.”
The problem, of course, is that Drake’s not summing it up on his own album. This imperfect Jay-Z verse (it name-checks Fonzy, for example) is probably the best on the album. Drake’s many tossed-off lines (Lil Wayne seems to have been a bad influence, and Drake lacks Weezy’s change-up flow and charisma) are guaranteed to grow tired once the hip-hop-as-soft-rock-ballad production and lack of viable competition have inevitably made several of these songs into omnipresent hits. But the trending return to emotional resonance in ringtone rap is a welcome one, even if it’s Auto-Tuned.