By the time of the release of Drake's first full-length album, the Canadian rapper was already a star thanks to his huge single "Best I Ever Had," his celebrated mixtape and then EP So Far Gone, and his spots on hits by Young Money and Eminem. Thank Me Later had the tough assignment of living up to the anticipation and further Drake as an artist, and it totally lives up to the hype. Thanks to the rich and nuanced production and Drake's thoughtful, playful, and intense lyrics, Thank Me Later is a radio-friendly, chart-topping collection of singles but also a serious examination of Drake's life that holds up as an album.
Most of the record finds the young rapper (23 at the time of release) conflicted about his growing stardom and fame. Whether it’s a relationship splitting up as on the melancholy “Karaoke,” worries about the fame changing him (“The Resistance”), fears that so-called real hip-hop fans will find him manufactured (“Show Me a Good Time”), or the difficult nature of romance when you’re a star (“Miss Me”), Drake isn’t afraid to examine what the past year has done to his life. He’s also not afraid to talk about how great life has become as well, dropping plenty of lines about the money, the women, and his own prowess as a rapper. His belief in his own skills is well-founded, as the list of collaborators lined up to work with him attests. T.I., Swizz Beatz, Young Jeezy, the-Dream, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, and Drake's mentor Lil Wayne all drop by to add verses, sing hooks, and produce tracks, and their presence sometimes serves to liven things up and keep Drake away from his melancholy nature.
The T.I./Swizz Beatz track “Fancy” is a fun and sassy summer jam with a huge hook, his track with Jay-Z ("Light Up") is a fierce takedown of the Industry and the damage it can wreak, and the Nicki Minaj collabo "Up All Night" is a tough-as-nails boast that features Drake at his most insistent. Elsewhere, Lil Wayne's verse on "Miss Me" is his usual breathtaking verbal roller coaster, the-Dream's vocals on the verses of "Shut It Down" are heartbreakingly sincere, and Jeezy adds some welcome ferociousness to "Unforgettable." It’s like all the guests had to bring their best game to keep up with Drake, and they didn't want the youngster to show them up. He never shows anyone up exactly (though Jay-Z's verse sounds kind of out of breath compared to Drake's), but he definitely proves that he belongs at the very top of the game. His nimble flow is impressive; his words are heartfelt, brainy, and surprising; and while his singing may not be the best, it shows a vulnerability that is rare in rap circles. Indeed, it is this willingness to be introspective and honest that makes Drake unique and helps make Thank Me Later special. It is the rare album, rap or otherwise, that follows through on the artist's potential and the fan’s anticipation.