Drake certainly didn't invent hip-hop solipsism. But the genre's newest superstar proves more intriguingly introspective than most on Take Care, a solid sophomore effort that's destined to have hundreds of thousands of eager buyers also gazing into his navel this week.
The singer-rapper establishes his twin themes pretty effectively in his first two lines: I think I killed everybody in the game last year, man, f--- it, I was on, though/And I thought I found the girl of my dreams at the strip club, mm-mm, I was wrong, though.
That's right: Money (and a debut album that sold almost a half-million copies in its first week last year) can't buy love. Lapdances, yes. Breaking news alert, right?
Generally speaking, it's best for artists who are into at least, say, the third or fourth year of their recording careers to write albums about how it's lonely at the top. And Take Care has its moments of predictably woe-is-fame, boo-hoo bravado.
But the strangely tender album title is a tip-off that Drake is willing to delve further into vulnerability than just about any of his contemporaries.
And not for the sake of being a ladies' man -- though that certainly seems to be a side effect -- but because he seems to be a legitimately candid late-night diarist. The closest comparison might be something like Kanye West's confessional 808s & Heartbreak, without that album's stultifying AutoTune, off-the-scale paranoia, or deficit of musical variety.
You do have to wade through some token introductory braggadocio to get to the good stuff.
Shout-out to all my living tax-free/Nowadays it's six figures when they tax me, he announces in the opening cut, sparing us any details on how insta-millionaire playas feel about the 9-9-9 plan.
Once we've established that he is already a man of wealth (and taste; check out his references to Napa Valley restaurants), things get more interesting, as Drake details the differences between love and sex, only one of which he appears to have had a lot of during the past year.
The best track, Marvin's Room, stands as the best drunk-dialing anthem since Lady Antebellum's Need You Now, albeit a far more epic one. I've had sex four times this week -- I'll explain, he tells the ex he's still in love with after getting home from the club. Having a hard time adjusting to fame ... Tell her about it.
The song gets stranger and woozier as it goes along, finally melting into a bizarro coda in which he uses an electronic filter to croon some truly deathless verses to The One That Got Away: If you was in a pine box ... I'd just jump right in and fall asleep, because you are the death of me. What gal wouldn't swoon, hearing that on her voicemail in the morning?
Beneath all the B-words and N-words lurks the heart of a true romantic, which is why Drake has such unusual female-demo appeal (well, it's part of it).
The fact that he only seems to want to reveal his hopes and wounds under drunken duress helps keep the guys on board in a way they wouldn't with one of urban music's more uncloaked lotharios.
At times, Take Care comes close to being a concept album about workaholism.
Headlines, the album's first single, is actually about deadlines.
Money over everything, money on my mind/Then she wanna ask when it got so empty, he sings. Tell her I apologize -- If they don't get it, they'll be over you/That new s--- that you got is overdue. When the girl in question can't wait around for him to finish his album, Drake laments: I guess it really is me, myself, and all my millions.
Guest stars abound, of course, including Rihanna (on the subdued title track, as mellow a hip-hop single as you'll hear), Nicki Minaj (not so subdued on Make Me Proud, Drake's ode to womanhood, just in case all those B-words had you thinking otherwise), Rick Ross, and, inevitably, Lil Wayne.
It's late in the game that Andre3000 steals the show with the oddest and funniest cameo. The OutKast co-frontman raps quietly about friends that are married that don't want to go home/But we look up to them, they wish they were us/They want some new trim, we lust for some trust.
Soon he's talking about sitting here sad as hell, listening to Adele, letting you picture him weeping, just like all those Someone Like You-loving office workers in last weekend's SNL sketch.
But, lest you think he's a softie, Andre300's parting words are: Please be careful, b----es got the rabies.
If that kind of sexual conflictedness doesn't square with your brand of feminism, Take Care may not be for you.
But its bracing honesty on both ends of the scale may win some fans from the ranks of music lovers who don't go for hip-hop's more rank misogynists -- in tandem with the fact that Drake is one of the few singer-rappers around who doesn't make you wince when he's fulfilling either role.
His ride at the top could be short, but if he keeps up this deft a balance, you'd hate to bet against Drake someday graduating to making albums about how lonesome it is being a billionaire.