Drake Is Corny and Courageous

The rapper's new album, Nothing Was the Same, honors hip-hop's past, present and future.

3. Whether through sampling, interpolations or features, NWTS honors the past, present and future of hip-hop culture. I can hear Fat Pat’s verse from “25 Lighters” chopped and screwed on “Connect,” as well as crunk inspiration from Lil Jon’s “Who U Wit” on “Started From the Bottom.” More than anything, however, Drake populates NWTS with references to Wu-Tang Clan, showing his special affinity for the mark Wu left on hip-hop.

I’m a huge fan of the nine-member collective, owning all Clan and solo member albums, along with the Wu-Tang Manual, which the group’s primary producer, The RZA, published in 2005. Suffice it to say, my Wu roots run deep, and so do Drake’s. It’s clear on a couple of cuts: “Pound Cake,” which features Jay Z and a Timbaland-inspired interpolation of Wu’s “C.R.E.A.M.”; “Worst Behaviour,” a nod to Ol’ Dirty Bastard; and “Tuscan Leather,” one to Cappadonna.

Drake flips the title of the Clan’s 1997 double album, Wu-Tang Forever, to create a song of the same name. Injected throughout Drake’s version are samples from Wu-Tang’s “It’s Yourz.” However, Drake adds new meaning to what the Clan originally intended as an ode to their Staten Island, N.Y., roots. For Drake, “It’s Yourz” refers to the hip-hop game and his feelings for a woman when he raps, “What make me think about the game girl/and how I switched it up wit’ a new thang/Young nigga came through on his Wu-tang/And nowadays when I ask about who got it, they say ‘it’s yourz’.” For that line, Drake gets a C for courageous confidence because he cleverly claims the girl and the game as his.

Nothing Was the Same is not Drake’s best album if measured against Take Care, his Grammy-winning sophomore collection. More than anything, though, NWTS captures how comfortable Drake is in his own skin. He has put together a solid concept album. He’s mastered the art of articulating his rhymes without amorphous obscurity, although he’s often criticized as the sappy, corny-acting rapper who takes up way too much studio time airing a laundry list of emotions through an annoying, nasal-tinged voice. Like an awkward-shooting three-point baller, Drake has learned how to motivate off the hate.

But Drake is also my No. 2 fave right now because his life stories force me to think about my own emotions. Like my mother says, I’m a poor little black girl from the South who, like Drake, started from the bottom, and now I’m here. I can only imagine how many other people — be they hip-hop heads or not — can truly empathize with how humble beginnings, messy relationships and a commitment to the grind of life can lead to personal success.

Clearly, I don’t mean success as it relates to cash money. I mean courageous success. That peak moment when grace meets grind. Emo rap or not. It’s hip-hop at its finest.

Joycelyn A. Wilson is an assistant professor at Virginia Tech and a Hiphop Archive alumnus fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University.