It seems strange to single out rappers for rapping about themselves, since that’s one of the most explored and abused subjects in hip-hop. Heck, most rappers rap about nothing but themselves, but in the wake of Kanye West’s success, a new wave of rappers like B.o.B, Kid Cudi, and now Drake have filled albums with an intimate form of introspection far removed from typical rap braggadocio. West’s breakthrough, The College Dropout, was about becoming a man, but it was equally concerned with the joys and hardships of becoming a star. That subject dominates Thank Me Later, the eagerly anticipated Cash Money debut of rapper-actor-singer Drake. From “Fireworks,” the opening track, Thank Me Later is filled with profound ambivalence about the process that transformed Drake from a supporting player in a Canadian high-school soap opera into one of the hottest acts in music. That introspection could easily have devolved into navel-gazing, but Drake has a clear-eyed, nuanced take on his evolution from an aspiring artist to a superstar who’s exhilarated but spooked by the prospect of cultural ubiquity. Musically, Drake favors warm washes of synthesizers that create a melancholy, fragile mood redolent of 808s & Heartbreak, and the album boasts a guest roster packed with big names like Jay-Z, T.I., The-Dream, Young Jeezy, and mentor/label boss Lil Wayne. Drake may be powerfully conflicted about stardom, but on his cohesive, bittersweet, assured debut, he proves himself worthy of the sometimes-blinding spotlight.
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