In honor of Black Music Month, Billboard will be celebrating four prestigious albums: Drake’s Take Care, Rick Ross’ Port of Miami, Destiny’s Child’s Survivor and Fugees’ The Score. For the first installment of the series, Billboard spoke with producer T-Minus on the creation and success of Drake’s Grammy-winning Take Care, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling over 600,000 copies in its first week.
Following his 2010 debut album, Thank Me Later, Drake and his Toronto team meticulously pieced together a beautifully composed, era-defining project. While Noah “40” Shebib oversaw every last note, sample and rhythmic embellishment on the 20-track project, Tyler Williams, aka T-Minus, helmed crucial tracks like “Make Me Proud,” “The Motto” and “HYFR,” among others.
With Drake’s signature melodic, sad-boy rhymes — coupled with commercial hits featuring artists like The Weeknd, Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj — the rapper proved his staying power while simultaneously hand-delivering the R&B/hip-hop blueprint that defined a decade. Ten years later, T-Minus discusses how it happened:
When we created Take Care, I couldn’t see what it would be for the future [or] the impact it would have. Drake was coming off of Thank Me Later — and it was a successful album — but one thing people were debating was the cohesiveness. People have their criticisms about it being a bunch of hard-hitting songs that were like a compilation, and Take Care was this cohesive body of work.
I didn’t realize [Noah “40” Shebib]’s touch and my touch and other people’s involvement would bring this new version of [Drake’s 2009 mixtape] So Far Gone — those dark pad-y kind of vibes, but a little more dance, a little more dialed in. I feel like Take Care solidified the Toronto sound and So Far Gone was the introduction. After the commercial success of Take Care, everybody was making tracks like Drake’s, [and] it snowballed. Those filtered sounds, low pads, the super R&B feeling with a rap bounce, a lot of it came from Take Care. The Toronto sound became everybody’s sound at one point. The city was looked at as one of the new Meccas of hip-hop and R&B with Drake, PartyNextDoor, The Weeknd. Take Care really introduced people to The Weeknd on a mainstream level. He was so involved in the writing.
[Take Care] connected generations because the sound was hitting so many different eras. If you listen to songs like “Cameras,” [with] the Jon B. sample, people who are in the older generation feel that energy. Drake is so classic R&B when he approaches his melodies, it’s so nostalgic, but at the same time, so fresh: 99% of the things [Drake] writes about comes from a place of truth. He’ll go out and experience life to speak and write about it and there’s a lot of vulnerability in that. People connected with a lot of the records on that album. I must have been 22 when the project came out. I was going through moments in my life that were similar to the emotion of the album.
My top songs are “Cameras,” “Under Ground Kings,” “Doing It Wrong” and “The Motto.” I was present for almost all of them. When I made the “Under Ground Kings” beat, I was in my basement with a few of my boys showcasing how I make beats. I found this little harp sample and it sounded really cool. I made the beat in 20-30 minutes and it slapped. When I made that beat, I was inspired by “Unforgettable” with Jeezy. I sent it over to Drake and he sent back a couple ideas. Then 40 did his thing on it, adding the sample on the hook. It came out really crazy. I never envisioned that it was going to be a standout track for a lot of people.
With “The Real Her,” I loved what 40 did on those keys. I was at the studio and I remember T-Pain pulling up and adding some vocals to the record. A lot of people don’t ever notice it. T-Pain is kind of a ghost on the record, he’s in the background singing low melodies. I was blown away watching Drake direct Pain and telling him what to write about. I really saw his intelligence as a songwriter.
With “HYFR,” there’s a funny story. Near the end of the project, Drake was into the chopped-n-screwed Houston vibe. He was like, “Yo, I found this sample, could you try making a beat out of it?” And he played me “Swangin’ and Bangin’” by DJ Screw. He said, “I’ll give you 24 hours and I’ll give you $10,000 if you can make this beat,” as a bet. I said let’s do it. I made a version of “HYFR” and he was like, “This isn’t it.” It was more on the R&B end. The same day, I made another beat with it and he said, “Yo, this is it.” All of a sudden I get a voice note on my Blackberry of the longest f–king verse I’ve ever heard from this dude. I didn’t get my 10 grand [laughs] but I make jokes about it to him and we just laugh.
I spent maybe a year-and-a-half working on Take Care, but the biggest three records I did were all within the last three weeks of the album. “The Motto” was done after the album was already finished. Drake reached out to me and he’s like, “Yo, I need a beat that’s uptempo and kinda in the Bay Area feel,” that was the sound that was poppin’ at the time. Drake deconstructed the beat a little more, he took out some sounds that he felt were unnecessary. He wrote the song, and within maybe a day or two, the record came out. It’s one of the biggest records I’ve done for him, so it’s crazy how it was so quick.
There are so many songs that people create to make one album, usually 20 songs [stick] out of 1,000 that you’ve created. Take Care was so intentional, I don’t think there were many “loosies” that never made the cut. We created 25 [songs] and ended up with 20. Take Care was so monumental and the only way you can make something monumental is when you have the intention of doing so. It’s so crazy to make a beat in the basement of your parents house, and all of a sudden, this sh-t ends up all over the world.
I look back on Take Care, and I’m still proud of the work that we did. It’s Drake. He’s an incredible writer. He’s an incredible visionary. Incredible producer. He doesn’t lose. [The album] is really standing the test of time.
As told to Neena Rouhani.