Due to his unorthodox pedigree-half-Jewish Canadian kid from a comfortable neighborhood who played a wheelchair-bound hoops star on Degrassi: The Next Generation-Drake has enjoyed a level of rap stardom (engineered by Lil Wayne) that often feels like an elaborate hoax. But vulnerabilities become strengths on this cagily self-aware debut album: He’s an emotionally fragile guy who relishes fame and fortune while second-guessing every smile from a new chum or overly friendly woman. Beside Alicia Keys on “Fireworks,” he yearns to find the love his divorced parents never had; on the title track, he ponders whether former girlfriends discuss him over “double-pump lattes and low-fat muffins.” Drake’s personal anecdotes lack the bravado of bullet-wound boasts, but they’re intimate and lyrically detailed enough to draw blood.
A reformed backpack rapper with enough brains to move beyond regressive ’90s-worship, Drake unspools his usually clever witticisms over airy, wide-open production (Boi-1da, 40, Kanye West, many others) that’s more suggestive of contemporary R&B: “Toodles to you bitches / And if you dolled up, I got the voodoo for you bitches,” he quips atop the menacing strings of “Up All Night.” The abundance of spacey synths and clattering, reverbed percussion makes Thank Me Later feel like ideal cruising music for a ramshackle UFO, but it also incorporates dynamics like few other hip-hop albums before it. Drums disappear, phasers distort everything, and Drake comes in crooning about one stripper or another.
It’s a testament to the album’s weird cohesion that the menagerie of guests-Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, The-Dream, et al.-doesn’t overwhelm the host and turn the entire operation into an unseemly, DJ Khaled-esque bukkake party. Ultimately, Thank Me Later‘s revelry concludes with emotional disgorgement, but no messy hangover.