Nothing Was the Same

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October 09, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

Drake’s not your average Best Rapper Alive. Jay Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne: These fellas gladly accepted the designation at their peaks. With his superb third studio album, Drake, 26, purrs back onto the scene in total control of hip hop’s most expansive vision — which happens to take a dim view of simplistic notions of success (including the idea of a best living rapper). Nothing Was the Same bristles with epiphanies, absurdities, and plenty of bluster, but it’s all fodder for a hyperrealistic portrait of Aubrey Drake Graham, not some coronation ceremony.

To Drake’s detractors, he’s like a boyfriend who’s needy at home and aloof around your pals: an egotistical softy. This lush, un-hurried album reveals a surer character, rebuking other rappers who talk smack ”just to get a reaction” and even, on ”Too Much,” close relatives who refuse to be helped: ”My uncle used to have all these things on his bucket list/Now he’s acting like, ‘Oh well, this is life, I guess.”’ Always, he’s preoccupied with failed connections.

Meanwhile, the music itself — largely produced by his stalwart collaborator Noah ”40” Shebib — explores affinities with songs that overlap and build on each other. It’s a thinking rapper’s paradise: On ”From Time” alone, he debates with singer Jhene Aiko about the nature of love, fondly remembers women he met at Hooters and Macy’s, and breaks down advice from Dad. That’s real talk of the highest order. And it’s why no one else can touch him — long as he might for the company. A

Best Tracks:
Hold On We’re Going Home
The Language

Nothing Was the Same

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Cash Money
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Nothing Was the Same

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