The Game, the self-proclaimed guide to “penetrating the secret society of pickup artists,” tells the story of Style, a nerdy kid with a bad clothes and worse hair who studies all the great seducers before ending up under the tutelage of an eccentric genius who would be the best in the world, if only he could reign himself in. As it turns out, Drake, the child star-turned-rapper Lil Wayne’s Young Money imprint, has followed nearly the same path, and while his new Nothing Was the Same doesn’t hide who else he learned from — across the album, he quotes Ma$e, remembers standing at a Bun B concert, calls one song “Wu-Tang Forever,” and raps over Kanye-influenced chopped-vocal beats in a sing-song style that might best be described as “sad Nelly” — the result is almost sui generis.
As big as any of those artists but still rocking that same chip on his shoulder, Nothing is something like rap’s version of Jordan’s Hall of Fame induction speech, the point where our hero stands at the top of his profession but still checks the kids who dissed him in high school and girls who turned a shoulder shortly thereafter. Where on “Tuscan Leather,” he’s “rich enough that I don’t have to tell ‘em that I’m rich,” on lead single “Started From the Bottom” (my mom’s favorite rap song since “Day ‘N’ Nite,” incidentally), he brags that “just a reminder to myself/ I wear every single chain even when in the house.”
Here and elsewhere, the contradiction is meant to imply depth, but more often it disguises bitterness. “No help that’s all me,” goes the hook to one of the bonus tracks, a brooding banger that could be this album’s “The Motto,” but actual emotional depth comes, most memorably, from convos Drake has with the ones who created him, his dad telling him that he and his girl should try to work it out and his own mom worrying that she might end up 70 and alone. Reviews, so far, have been mostly positive, but should we be surprised? Style, after all, began his career as a music critic.