After the huge commercial and artistic success of his last album, Thank Me Later, Drake threatened/promised that his next album would be a straight-up R&B record that forsook rapping for vocals. The plan fell through, but his 2011 album Take Care has the feel of a late-night R&B album, full of slow tempos, muted textures, impassioned crooning, and an introspective tone that is only rarely punctured by aggressive tracks, boasts, and/or come-ons. For the most part, increased success hasn’t done much to improve Drake’s mood, as he details his failures at love, his worries about living a hollow life, and his general malaise. Drake’s longtime producer/partner Noah “40” Shebib did most of the production work, and he surrounds Drake’s voice with murky beats, layers of dusky synths, and moody guitars that fit Drake’s voice perfectly; the two work together to create a thick mood of melancholy. When other producers take over, there is a definite shift in mood. Boi-1DA gives “Headlines” a jaunty synth line that Drake matches with his strongest rap, T-Minus brings some booty bass to the thoughtfully sexy Nicky Minaj feature “Make Me Proud,” Just Blaze builds “Lord Knows” around some majestic samples that let Drake brag like a boss, and Chase N. Cashe take things one step further toward R&B by creating a late-night after-hours club feel on the bittersweet “Look What You’ve Done” (which features a phone message left for Drake by his grandmother). The album's most unique track, “Take Care,” features Jamie Smith of the xx working with Shebib on an (almost) uptempo, (almost) danceable song that has a typically great vocal from Rihanna. The super-moody collaboration with the Weeknd on “Crew Love” is another highlight, though it does point out the problematic fact that the Weeknd beats Drake out in the vocal department. The collabo with the predictably brilliant André 3000 and Lil Wayne also point out Drake’s shortcomings as a rapper. Though he drops the occasional line that dazzles (“All my exes live in Texas like I’m George Strait”), Drake is a middle-of-the-pack rapper at best. His true strength, as Take Care proves over and over, is his willingness to delve deeply into his emotions and the ability to transmit them in such a simple and real fashion that it’s easy to connect with him even if your life isn’t filled with glamorous exes, hangs with Stevie Wonder (who adds some harmonica to “Doing It Wrong”), and gold owls. It’s an important achievement, and his success might mean that the world was ready for the first emo rapper. Thank Me Later hinted at it, but Take Care makes it plain. And while Take Care's charms may be a little more hidden, with a couple exceptions, than Thank Me Later’s were, repeated plays reveal a record that is just as strong and more powerful emotionally. Don’t play it at your next house party or DJ night; save it for later when you need something to get you through the rest of the night.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra