The greatest, if not first, indication of the strangely guilt-ridden fixations of Thank Me Later comes on “The Resistance,” in which Drake stutter-steps from remorse over not calling his grandmother in her nursing home to regret over the abortion of his unborn child. It’s this humdrum conflation of the glam-ridden and the everyday, both shaped into conduits for easy self-blame, that define the album, which is bizarrely contrite about almost everything. But it’s Drake’s persistent charm that elevates this material, making it more cross-sectional psyche-plumbing than pitiful whining.
There are definite moments of bluster here, from the slow-spooling cockiness of the title track to Drake’s compulsory attempt to match guest Jay-Z on “Light Up,” but taken in sum, each one feels equally cancelled out by some demonstration of despair. In this respect, Drake is like an ordinary rapper turned inside out, eager to play up his doubts and misgivings as emotional merit badges, casting himself as perhaps the most melancholy MC on the planet.
This is the same attitude presented on his earlier mixtapes, which were far clumsier—808s & Heartbreak-aping exercises with a distinct atmosphere of sorrow. The voice on his proper debut is a little more restrained, better at blending the airing of self-directed grievances with the bursts of confidence that parallel them. Drake’s qualms feel genuine and honestly delivered, and in this sense, Thank Me Later is a distinct effort, a chronicle of a man who’s intensely uncomfortable with fame while obsessed with maintaining it. It’s a strangely complex structure for a mainstream rap album, though it never strays far from the genre’s standard verbal palette.
There are times when Drake plunges into self-pity, as in the drippy “Cece’s Interlude,” which is all sad-sack, effects-smeared crooning, culminating in the dismal couplet of “I wish I wasn’t famous/I wish I still existed.” There are also times where guest stars exert an undue influence of the album’s style. T.I.‘s appearance on “Fancy” derails the album’s flow for a laundry-list cataloging of possessions, and guest spots from Drake’s Young Money teammates force him into strained buddy-buddy territory.
These serve as distractions in Drake’s ongoing examination of himself, while at least providing a high-spirited bulwark against the album’s sappier moments. The rapper’s insistent navel-gazing isn’t the most original concept, and it won’t make for the most stable subject matter in the long run, but it certainly works on Thank Me Later, which nails confused introspection in a genre famous for willful misrepresentation of self.