There are rappers, there are artists and then there are superstars. If the progression from the former to the latter takes numerous years, then 25 year old Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham is arguably on course to shattering the record for the quickest rise to the highest musical echelon. With his previous ‘mixtape buzz’ quickly passed by the meteoric heights of the buildup to his debut album, Thank Me Later culminated in the birth of arguably a new breed of rapper – that whose vulnerability, narcissism and questionable obsessions was on display for all to admire or even deride. Drake’s ascendance to a headline act has been aided not only by his allegiance to the Young Money camp but also for pushing the envelope with his hybrid rapper-meets-R&B singer style, which has enamoured the female following and encouraged sensitivity amongst the male population of listeners (to some degree).

But what good is the popularity and the plaudits without the end product? The past and present legends all produced enthralling, timeless bodies of work over a space of time. If the Canadian is to emulate or even better his idols (and in more recent times, his rivals) Take Care is the ideal platform to lay down the marker as the best that his generation has to offer.

Calling it a comeback album would be something of a crime, considering the commercial and critical success of Thank Me Later. Yet Drake’s approach to Take Care is that of one with something to prove. The lead track “Headlines” is a pacy, catch-me-if-you-can offering, where even he acknowledges that he took his eye off the prize for a moment. With production again handled mainly by 40 (as well as T-Minus and other grand names) the mood inevitably would again be set to a dark, atmospheric arena which Drake has excelled on in the past.

The curtain raiser “Over My Dead Body” is haunted by an ominous chorus from fellow Canadian singer Chantal Kreviazuk (which cleverly sounds like a sample), with Drizzy laying bare just a sample of excursions faced in his short journey. As expected, Drake’s verses are a self assessment of his mistakes, obsessions and remorse. Drake’s recollections vary; reminding an ex of his contributions to her new found esteem on “Shot For Me,” “Crew Dem” finds Drizzy sharing his bromance for his entourage, with vocal help from the mysterious R&B act The Weeknd whilst the late night drunken call concept on “Marvin’s Room” are followed by an additional interlude entitled “Buried Alive” which features a surprise guest in the form of Kendrick Lamar.

Being the poster boy for the new wave of emotion-drenched music a la Frank Ocean and The Weeknd, Drizzy’s anecdotes are sharper and musically more engaging than the rest. Trading bars for harmonies at every given moment, the YMCMB star remains in full control of tracks and more often than not crafts a superb mix between the two.

But the problem that lies within such a style is the constant change in the mood of Take Care. For all of the rapper’s solid and superior verses, many a time his indulgence in syrupy urban-pop will lead many to assume view the R&B project than a rap one. Not that there’s an issue with his singing – performances on “Doing It Wrong” (which features the legendary Stevie Wonder on harmonica) and the pulsating “Cameras/Good Ones Go” prove he can execute the genre even better than some who dedicate their full craft to it.

The jury on Drake always comes to loggerheads at the overdose of gushy, almost sickening odes to women he admires, those he’s lost and the ones he’s yet to meet. The cringe inducing chorus on the Nicki Minaj featured “Make You Proud” causes the techno heavy track to malfunction whenever it comes in to break up the verses of YM’s prince and princess. Even with the lyrical merits of Lil Wayne and the enigmatic Andre 3000 on “The Real Her” its immersion in an R&B groove, instead of a production which the protagonists could incinerate, is slightly disappointing.

But for all the barbs thrown at him for his arguably soft exterior, the rapper genuinely seems to speak from the heart – digging deep into the hidden chambers where many stereotypical men hide their pain, jealousy and vulnerability. Not being afraid to explore the cantankerous relationship with family, “Look What You Have Done” beautifully brings to wax the rebuilding of his relationship with his mother, all whilst chronicling his come up in the early years.

The harsh critique of Drizzy is also ironically as a result of the heights he could reach if he embraced the rapper mode full time. When opting to rhyme instead of romance, he creates Hip Hop which obliterates some of the better offerings which have surfaced in recent years. In a tribute to both the underground circuit and the legendary Southern act UGK, “Under Ground Kings” is a highly charged offering, which even with a buttery voice finds Drake delivering an intense performance.

The “moment” of Take Care comes at track ten, where and Maybach Music’s Rick Ross jump into the explosive Just Blaze produced “Lord Knows.” With choir on hand and Blaze’s trademark drums in overdrive, Canada’s light skinned prince shows all he doesn’t play – swiping at foes altogether and taking claim as the possessor of the best flow. Moments like this are the knockout punches on Take Care, and a few more highlights like such would instantly claim the full plaudits. Instead Drake opts for the safer victory in churning out mellow, reflective music which hops between wailing and spitting. Showing his desire to stay in the safe zone, Drake ropes in Rihanna yet again – this time for the radio bound title track which samples Jamie XX and Gil Scott Heron‘s “I’ll Take Care Of U”. Even if on paper, it sounds like a paint-by-numbers single, its cool sample adds an edge to it which might have lacked in previous potential lead singles.

To appreciate Take Care would show ones appreciation for a whole body of work, rather than a specific genre. Whether singing, rapping or taking time out from both to narrate, Aubrey Graham’s execution is near flawless, knowing which flow to use, harmony to explore and more. Drake’s second album is thematic, and much like his other efforts and explores the lows which fame brings as well as the carefree highs.

With in-depth production plus a number of tricks and twists in its structure, to gain a full grasp of the album’s sound takes several listens in order to appreciate the work of 40, T-Minus, The Neptunes and more. It tops Thank Me Later in a number of ways, due to the rapper’s growth both as a performer and in his conception of songs. The yin/yang of Hip Hop and R&B has yet to be fully mastered, however, as its imbalance will still leave many yearning for either more of the “backpacker Drake” or just him embracing a more defined masculine persona.

Take Care submerges listeners into the familiar claustrophobic world of Drake which is made up of paranoia, women, regrets and superstardom. Those who dislike the concepts, the familiar settings or his whiny voice will be quick to depart. But everyone else will remain in awe of the 25 year old who is still some years away from taking on the burden of being the number one in the game.

Drake – Take Care
Released: November 15, 2011
Label: Cash Money/Universal
Buy: Amazon UK / Amazon US