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Sounding Off: Drake ft. Rihanna
Is Drake a great artist by virtue of knowing what to steal? "Take Care" inches the answer closer to yes.

I was up until 3 a.m. on Sunday night listening to Drake’s new album Take Care, which conspicuously leaked that evening, a week ahead of its November 15 drop date. Funny, because two nights earlier I’d engaged in (yet another) Drake-debate, wearily faux-swearing at the end to “never talk about Drake again!” Living in this city and caring about music, I knew that was completely impossible. And two-and-a-half-days into this “leak” (more on that next week), it’s already racked up quite a play count. Highest is the album’s plaintive, pulsating title track: “Take Care,” featuring Rihanna. There are layers upon layers here. The melancholic, “piano house”-y thump is actually a re-gift from Jamie XX, originally heard earlier this year on the young Brit’s Gil Scott-Heron remix record, We’re New Here. Even more considerable is the permutation of a 50-year-old blues standard culminating in “Take Care,” which Ann K. Powers dissects over at NPR. Someone, a purist or luddite perhaps, might argue this invalidates any claim to originality on Drake’s part. But the cultural lore and references that inform this cut, and the contemporary links served up, make this almost an artist’s statement about how what’s old survives by being retold in the language of its generation. It’s like Jeffrey Eugenides borrowing from Victorian novel tradition to write The Marriage Plot, or David Hockney’s iPad still lifes. In a sense, this is just what blues sounds like in 2011. Of course the trappings of our time are different, meaning “Take Care” functions just as well whether you’re under black light in a sea of bodies or smoking alone out your bedroom window. Rihanna’s working an undressed lower range, her typically vacant projection verging on emotive as she sings the lines that slice the song open: “I know you’ve been hurt by someone else/I can tell by the way you carry yourself.”  A minor-chord guitar riff separates her lament from Drake, who goes in double-time – half-singing/half-rapping – riffing on a toxic relationship via Lesley Gore: “It’s my birthday, I’ll get high if I want to/Can’t deny that I want you, but I’ll lie if I have to.” The straightforward 4/4 metre propels drums that throb and race but still manage to hold steady the surging atmosphere of lament. One-two percussion stabs add urgent emphasis; wide-open spaces heighten the isolation.

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