Drake's Family Message: How 'Nothing Was The Same' Inspired Personal Reflection (Opinion)
"Heard once that in dire times when you need a sign, that's when they appear/ Guess since my text message didn't resonate, I'll just say it here."
Two days before Drake's third studio album, "Nothing Was the Same," surfaced on the Internet, he debuted one of the album's most personal songs, "Too Much," on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." "Don't think about it too much, too much, too much, too much/ There is no need for us to rush it through," Sampha's abrasive voice introduces an emotionally frustrated Drake. Sampha's hook is almost the antithesis of Drake's turmoil; the calm. "Done saying I'm done playing," Drake launches into rapid rhymes of the restlessness that success has struck upon him. But it's the second chorus where you hear Drake roll up his sleeves.
"My uncle used to have all these things on his bucket list/ And now he's acting like, 'Oh, well, this is life. I guess.' Nah, fuck that shit/ Listen man, you can still do what you want to do, you got to trust that shit/ Heard once that in dire times when you need a sign, that's when they appear/ Guess since my text message didn't resonate, I'll just say it here/ Hate the fact that my mom's cooped up in her apartment, telling herself that she's too sick to get dressed up and go do shit like that's true shit."
After I fell upon the song itself, I found myself doing what many do to Drake's music: reminiscing of a close relationship, the kind you hardly ever speak of, to yourself or others, in order to avoid the acknowledgement of its internal impression. For me, it wasn't an ex, though -- it was my kinship with my older brother.
He has always played more than the role of a brother; he's been a best friend and father (that's another story). Our parents' room felt too dark to run to when I was scared, so I used to run to him, whose door was always open and marked by the moonlight. When my mother was sick, he packed my lunch daily with a week's worth of food, and held my hand at school when I couldn't speak a word of English (I still say my vowels in Spanish).
While I've held his hand too as we've grown up, it's not comparable -- and I'm always looking for chances to return the favor. He grew up a little sooner than he should, and he did so for me and my younger brother. He's never let me or my world slide off of his shoulders, no matter what weight of his own he was already carrying.
Drake's "Too Much" is built off the foundation laid down by the "Take Care" gem "Look What You've Done." While the earlier song spotlights moments in which Drake's uncle and mother showed their support for fostering his dream by any means necessary, "Too Much" finds Drake blindsided by the negative effects of that dream.
My older brother and I roughened the edges of our connection after I moved from California to New York. We've let the distance between us -- ironically rooted from the pursuit of a dream of mine he's supported -- morph into disconnection.
There's definitely a complacency in place: my brother is running off routine, reclusive to the world outside the city limits of Northern California, almost like the past has disillusioned him or drained him of dedication. While he leads a hard-working life, the girl who was once woken up by her older brother in the middle of the night to be introduced to her favorite song to date, Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky," believes he can do more in multiple areas of his day-to-day life, from his heart to his hands.
I want to pull him out of his sandpit of comfort, but will he let me?
"Writing to you from a distance, like a pen pal, but we've been down," Drake closes "Too Much" with brewing desperation, before Sampha calms with hope for closeness. "Don't give up when your heart's done/And you tell me something's gone wrong/ Wholehearted, wholehearted, you care, you care 'cause I'm such a dreamer, a believer in a sense."
The majority of "Nothing Was the Same" finds Drake looking back on the times before he was engulfed in detachment, waxing poetic about former flames, close friends and family. On opening track "Tuscan Leather," which samples Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing," he addresses his falling out with Nicki Minaj ("Not even talkin' to Nicki, communication is breakin'/ I dropped the ball on some personal shit, I need to embrace it/ I'm honest, I make mistakes, I'd be the second to admit it/ Think that's why I need her in my life, to check me when I'm trippin'"), touching on his stubbornness to admit his shortcoming first (who hasn't felt like that?).
Who is really to blame, or who am I really mad at, when my concern for my brother's happiness is in the pitch of a whisper, and my effort is masked in frustration? I can try harder to connect, but instead, I apologize for not responding to text messages in a timely manner, while not letting a second pass between text messages with an ex. I tell myself to let my brother be, for though I may have seen more than he has, he has felt more than I have. But it's also hard to stand still and see the one person that's to thank for my success not attend to his potential.
What makes Drake an easy target for criticism is what also makes him indestructible: emotion. "Nothing Was the Same" introduces listeners to a more confident rapper who can spit-sing of failing relationships and personal wrongdoings while threatening competition with flexing braggado ("The Language"). The album lifts more than one memory and one emotion, all at one time. Lucid stories are interwoven; within each song Drake effortlessly switches from the romantic to the explicitly prideful and back again, melodically and lyrically, all in six minutes or less. The album's downfall is also its strength: it's a stream of emotional entries to lose yourself in, not structured for analyzing or sprinkled with anthems.
Over a bed of soundscapes soaked in 90s R&B and rap influence, Drake transitions from agile, boastful rhymes laced with subliminals ("The Language," "305 To My City") to mirror-gazing with ease.
Drake opens his "Too Much" Fallon performance with advisory reassurance to his family and friends that the words he'll soon spit are out of care, as if, along with the audience, it's their first time hearing Drake's heartbreak through the "Nothing Was the Same" song: "Before I do this song, I just want to say: to my friends and family I want the best for everybody and I love you all." If so, as like him, this is the first time I've allowed myself to reflect on my desperation for the disconnection between my brother and me. (Thanking Drake now.)