Tag Archives: music

The Game is Flat

I’m not sure if Bosing is Sikkim’s first rapper, but I’ve heard over and over again that his self-titled album is “Sikkim’s first full-length hip-hop album.” Bosing is a 24-year-old from the village of Lingmoo in South Sikkim. His album was recorded and produced in a studio in Tadong. The album was being put out as the first such project by Gangtok nightspot Café Live & Loud. By every account, it should be a very Sikkimese piece of music. Except it isn’t.

I met Bosing, whose given name is Tashi Wangchuk Rapgyal, this week to talk about his music. He is quick to tell me about his primary musical influence and artistic role-model: Tupac Shakur (sometimes “2Pac”), the famous and genre-defining West Coast gangster rapper, tragically killed in his prime in 1996. Bosing pulls up his sleeve and shows me the somewhat incomplete but still undeniably clear sketch of Tupac he has tattooed on his right shoulder.

“Tupac was the first to come out with real gangster rap,” Bosing tells me excitedly. Bosing’s album is filled with talks of gangsters and “gees” and of famous American street gangs like the Bloods and the Crips, as well as direct allusions to Tupac’s lyrics. Plentiful too are references to the classic East Coast/West Coast rivalry that defined hip-hop through the nineties and into the aughties — a battle in which Bosing unwaveringly aligns himself with the West, both stylistically and ideologically.

As we talk, we are sitting in the second floor of a Cacao, my favourite café in MG Marg, and I lean over the railing to watch the shoppers placidly wandering the pleasant street. I’m not the best judge in the world, but it just might be one of the least gangster places in the world. It is hard to imagine anyone getting shot coming out of Café Live & Loud. It is a low blow, but I ask Bosing if he feels like a gangster and if he thinks he might one day get gunned down by a rival like his idol.

“I’m not a gangster, not a deadly thug, but thuggish in my own way,” he replied.

That seems as fine an answer as any, and as a white, nerdy, suburban kid from the American Midwest, I’ll be the first to admit that hip-hop’s ideas and aesthetics (even the “gangster” ones) can be appealing and meaningful to many outside rap’s original demographic of poor African-Americans from the urban ghettos. Still, one has to wonder what terms like “gangster,” “bloods and crips,” “East Coast, West Coast,” “thugged out,” “ghetto gospal,” et al mean here in Sikkim, so far removed from their original context. It seems to me that “keeping it real” and “holding it down for the red ones” may be fundamentally different acts in Gangtok than in Brooklyn or Compton.

For me, as a reviewer of this sort of thing, that is the crux of my difficulty processing this album. Divorced from all context and history, Bosing is an earnest and talented rapper whose first album strikes me as pleasantly unremarkable. Bosing’s lyrics at times feel like strung-together catch phrases that could be inserted into nearly any poppy hip-hop song today without raising comment. This is not entirely a bad thing. His beats are catchy and his tracks well put together. His flow is adequate and his rhymes usually rhyme. All this makes Bosing’s first album quite entertaining.

A couple songs do stand out to me. “Love You Mom” is a heartfelt ode to Bosing’s mother, and all single mothers. “Holding It Down” recalls the violent history of hip-hop rivalries and pleads for an end to it all because “we can’t live like this forever.” “Lost Loved Ones” remembers, well, lost loved ones. Sentiments like these are actually fairly common throughout hip-hop, but these sorts of songs rarely become chart toppers or club bangers and are thus less remembered. That Bosing chose to include his own versions on his album is to me a clear testament to his nuanced understanding of the genre.

Despite all these fine qualities, I can’t quite get over the fact that this album, billed as “Sikkim’s first hip-hop album,” lacks anything that feels even remotely Sikkimese, or even Indian. But for a couple passing references to Delhi and Lingmoo, an uninformed listener would have absolutely no clue even what continent this music comes from. It is almost uncannily generic. In fact, between all the references to American street gangs and such and the fact that Bosing raps and sings entirely in English — the language he tells me he finds most “convenient” — and has a very indistinct accent, one would probably assume it came from somewhere in the USA. (Not that I’m complaining about the lyrics being in English, mind, as it certainly makes my job reviewing it easier.)

This album feels a bit anonymous in time as well as space. Bosing raps a bit about his haters and say he is “coming around with another hit, man, another hit, man.” But this is Bosing’s first album, his breakout debut. Does he already have haters worth taking down in song? When has he produced hits before this? All of these are phrases that get used a lot in hip-hop, in one form or another, but knowing Sikkim and having briefly met Bosing, it all seems a bit off to me.

I don’t know what I was expecting. I didn’t exactly think Bosing’s album would be all talk of pujas or Himalayan majesty or…or whatever. But I did expect a certain amount of inherent Indian-ness.

I am actually a bit ashamed of this rather orientalist line of thinking, but there is a second (preferable) explanation besides that I’m easily sucked in by stereotypes. It could be that hip-hop is now global, flat, accessible to all and no longer tied to any particular demographic or culture — so much so that it doesn’t matter where you are from anymore, and that the East Coast and West Coast are no longer places but ideals.

Discussing some of our favourite artists working today, Bosing mentions The Game, a fantastic rapper coming out of retirement in the next few months. “A month back I got into trouble, and I kept wondering ‘why did it happen to me?’ When I listened to Game, it helped me figure out what I’d been through,” Bosing says.

Maybe it is all universal, and the attitudes of gangster rap, with its aggressive and darkly confident stance towards life, can find purchase in any life, anywhere. And maybe in this moment some of the social critiques of gangster rap can apply just as well to India, even Sikkim. Bosing points me to a line in his album alluding to a Tupac lyric about “a black panther born in the ghetto every twenty minutes.” Replace ‘ghetto’ with ‘slum’ and ‘black panther’ with a more generic rebel, anyone oppressed and fighting those in power — well, it does apply to India, doesn’t it?

I don’t think there is an answer to the question this implies: whether it is better to rep your origins and your past as uniquely as possible or to fully integrate with a global movement and help determine its destination and its future. For now, I’m content to just keep an eye on Bosing to see where he goes next. He tells me he is planning to release a music video for “Holding It Down” in the next couple weeks. He hopes to soon be travelling to Hyderabad and Delhi to perform at clubs and concerts. He is already working on his second album.

Bosing’s self-titled album is available at Café Live & Loud on Tibet Road in Gangtok.

Five more reviews, still for the price of one

I think I have to do this occasionally: review five mixtapes at once just to clear out a backlog of opinion that builds up while I work on critiquing one single album in a review that has pretensions towards being an essay. So if you want to listen to a ton of awesome hip-hop this week, start with these.

To kick us off, let me point you to the record I’ve been kicking at every opportunity over the last couple weeks: XV’s “best of” mixtape V for Vizzy, presented by Evil Empire (who added annoying DJ tags aplenty). XV gives us a collection of just…really catchy tracks. Beats to bounce too, hooks that worm into your brain. And yet the polished production isn’t a way to help us swallow lyrics that are shallow and materialistic. There is real intelligence here, in a mix of storytelling and touchingly honest autobiography related in a shocking variety of surprisingly original narrative forms. I really can’t say enough about this album, or about XV’s prodigious skills as a rapper and writer. Just get it. You can find it at http://www.2dopeboyz.com/2010/08/04/xv-v-is-for-vizzy-mixtape/.

I’m going to be perfectly honest here: I’m mostly including Aleon Craft’s new mixtape, The Stargazing Soundtrack, because I want to comment on the the bubbling of space-themed hip-hop songs that is turning into a positive trend. B.o.B., Kid Cudi, Jay-Z and even Eminem have had “spacey” tracks in their most recent outings, with more looking to show up as the twenteens wear on. Is there something in the zeitgeist, some yearning for science-fictional escape and exaltation? In a way, though, it worries me, because the tone of these tracks usually suggest that outer space, rocket ships, other planets, et al are dream states more than graspable reality. I want civilization to make space development a real priority. I don’t want to see it slip into some cultural neverwhere of fantastical alternative future divorced from serious politics. But that doesn’t have much to do with this mixtape, really, and this mixtape is quite good. So just check it out at http://aleoncraft.com/2010/08/the-stargazing-soundtrack-aleon-craft-smka/. And vote for space.

Probably the most significant mixtape to drop recently is the G.O.O.D. Ass Mixtape, presented by Perajok. What we have here is a collection of recently released new tracks by artists on Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label, plus a few associated acts. (In case you were wondering, G.O.O.D. stands for “get out our dreams.”) The whole thing comes as excitement is building about the release of Ye’s fifth studio album, which was originally going to be called Good Ass Job (completing the quartet of albums begun by College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation). We’ve got, among others, Big Sean, Consequence, GLC, Tony Williams, John Legend, Kid Cudi and of course Yeezy. To be perfectly honest, I mostly copped this to get the new Kid Cudi tracks, plus Kanye’s new “See Me Now” single and a live version of the stunning “Power.” But the whole thing is seriously good. Great even. Grab it at http://www.2dopeboyz.com/2010/08/16/perajok-presents-g-o-o-d-ass-mixtape-mixape/.

We have established by now that I have a deep, unshakeable love for the delightful novelty of mashups — music that artfully combines parts of two often very different musical works into a new, mutant whole. So of course I was pleased to find the recently dropped Dub Kweli by Max Tannone, which puts Talib Kweli’s vocals over dub reggae. I wish I knew more about the reggae source material used here, to better appreciate everything going on with this album — it is one of those, so good that it demands more from the listener. The reggae is a good match to Kweli’s particular vocal patterns, and his lyrics are fascinating as ever. There are a few unexpected gems here, including yet another attempt at remixing Kanye West’s “Get Em’ High” — an impossible feat, of course, since the original track is so perfectly produced, but an enjoyable attempt nonetheless. Snag it at http://www.dubkweli.com.

While on the mashup ride, I found a similar project from last year by the same guy: Jaydiohead, Jay-Z over Radiohead. I have started saying lately that Jay-Z mashups are more fun to listen to than in his original songs. Maybe this is because Hov’s unique and, of course, compelling rap style always has a certain dissonance with the beat that stands out on studio albums but is par for the course — preferable even — when mashed up with something unintended. This is kind of a “have my cake and eat it too” situation for me, as I have, on occasion, been forced to defend hip-hop’s artistic worth against comparisons with the paragon of moody and “deep” alternative rock, Radiohead. Give it a download at http://www.jaydiohead.com/.

For Your Information

Long ago, I remember seeing the inner city black kids that got bussed in to my suburban high school sit in the computer lab looking up rap lyrics on the Internet. I didn’t get it at the time — I was wandering through the too-bright wasteland of “nu metal” and its ilk — but it struck me that these young people who had no interest at all in memorising Hamlet or the periodic table of elements (neither did I, of course) were so compelled by this music that they would spend their free hours learning every word.

I get it now, of course, and I do the same thing with really catchy songs, googling the lyrics and playing them over and over in my head on long jeep rides or rainy walks home until I can recite the whole verse, the whole song. There is a prissy, rational part of me that insists that that time and mental energy would be better spent committing to memory facts and figures or eloquent quotes from respectable literature — knowledge more useful than crude rhymes about fast money and faster women. But unfortunately we don’t get to choose the medium that grabs us. For me and millions of other hip-hop fans, rhyming phrases and dope beats form an irresistible combination with an addictive power. Now if only there was some way we could harness that power…for science!

Last week an ex-girlfriend of mine inexplicably emailed me a link to an album by an artist I’d never heard of before: Baba Brinkman. Curious, I downloaded The Rap Guide to Human Nature, and just a couple tracks in I understood why this music made her think of nerdy, hip-hop loving me. Baba Brinkman quite literally raps about science, specifically about evolution and, in this album, how it shaped and continues to shape human behaviour.

Apparently Baba has been doing it for quite a while now, and he has a couple other similar album covering other topics from an evolutionist perspective. Like any rapper he goes on tour, but not of big stadiums or traditional concert venues: he performs at college campuses, there to educate students as much as entertain. He isn’t a parody, like “Weird Al” Yankovic or some of the early nerdcore artists who tried the science gimick; it is obvious that he genuinely loves hip-hop and works hard to make his music accessible as well as informative. And that pays off, for while he doesn’t have any club bangers on here, his beats are fun, sophisticated and competently composed.

The science is solid too. I am especially entranced by the five short “Hypothesis” tracks, which eloquently and concisely argue five different theories of human nature as they relate to evolutionary theory and the sex and violence that permeates rap music. Though brief, “Creationism,” “Spiritualism,” “Social Constructivism,” “Biological Determinism” and “Evolutionism” are the most valuable tracks on the album from an educational standpoint, because because by masterfully putting them in rhyme Baba makes the basic points and fallacies of each theory almost absurdly easy to remember.

Baba Brinkman isn’t the only one out there grinding for more academic hip-hop. I’ve always been a big fan of the nerdcore act MC Hawking, which used a voice synthesiser to recast renown theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking as a crude, gat-blasting gangster rapper. I especially enjoy the tracks that quite literally articulate scientific concepts like The Big Bang or entropy, and when I played those for a professor of mine he said he would like to use them in his natural science classes — if it weren’t for the dirty joke about priests watching child porn. Most everything I know about 18th Century American treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton comes from a hip-hop performance by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

But Baba Brinkman does more than lay out the facts and theories: his songs deftly weave together the science with personal opinion and autobiography, as well as commentary about the flaws and power of the rap game. “The Planter’s Dilemma” isn’t just a recitation of the classic “prisoner’s dilemma” thought experiment on the tension between cooperation and competition — the song talks about how Baba’s family worked in ecosystem restoration and describes the unique practices of reforestation subculture. The delightfully framed “Twin Studies” gives us a glimpse into Brinkman’s life on tour, while still digging into the classic “nature vs. nurture” debate and how some of those questions can be answered by studying twins separated at birth. “Parental Investment” is an ode to the producer that makes the beats for Brinkman’s songs, and then goes into the difference amounts that males and females are required to invest to have a child. Baba is more than just his schtick: he’s a legitimate artist whose work has a lot of mainstream appeal. He isn’t going to blow up on the charts anytime soon, but I think rap fans who aren’t as geeky as me can really enjoy — not to mention benefit from — music like this.

I believe in hip-hop just like I believe in science. And I believe in what Baba Brinkman is doing, taking the powerful techniques of rap and using them to literally make his audience smarter. That’s not something a lot of artists can say, I don’t think. Any good album will make you think, of course, and broaden your experience, but science is better than platitudes or aesthetic clichés. If you give The Rap Guide to Human Nature a few solid listens and honestly try to learn the insights articulated within, you will be better equipped to act more rationally and understand the irrational behaviour of others. That’s a big deal.

You can listen to Baba Brinkman’s new album, The Rap Guide to Human Nature, which is also available to download on a pay-what-you-want basis, at http://bababrinkman.bandcamp.com/album/the-rap-guide-to-human-nature. Check it out, and learn something.

While You Were Out, 8-27-2010

Confession: I haven’t actually been saving links all week. Looks like I’ll have to scramble back to find the cool things I saw like…

http://putthison.com/post/1003890136/put-this-on-episode-3-work-itunes-vimeo – Put This On is a better blog than it is a video blog, but episodes things come around so rarely that I guess it can go here. I really loved the bit with the lady who does Nerd Boyfriend. Having now seen her articulate her blog in person, I totally get that whole shtick now.

http://pubrecord.org/special-to-the-public-record/8121/rigging-of-digg-covert-mob-conservatives/ – A fascinating exposé of a far-right fringe group banding together to game the crap out of Digg. A few years ago I interned with a popular blog, and while we weren’t exactly gaming the system, part of my job included cultivating influence on Digg.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/weekinreview/22worth.html?pagewanted=all – Your daily dose of medieval misogyny and barbaric sexual oppression in the Islamic world. Nothing to see here, folks…

http://www.csicop.org/si/show/bridging_the_chasm_between_two_cultures/ – This was from a few years ago, but MetaFilter and me only discovered it recently. Famous New Age writer turns her back on all the bunk and joins the skeptical community. This piece is way too long, but still worth it. Also check out the insights here: http://www.metafilter.com/94583/Bridging-the-Chasm-Between-Two-Cultures

http://www.2dopeboyz.com/2010/08/04/xv-v-is-for-vizzy-mixtape/ – I’ve been jamming to this for like the last two weeks. Seriously, if you are into the kind of music that I’m into at all, check it out.

All Respect Due to the Wu

We all stand on the shoulders of giants, of course. Without slipping into obsession with past founding fathers, it is healthy to occasionally acknowledge our influences. So let me direct your attention this week to a new mixtape by the annoyingly named Bronx rapper CurT@!n$, The Dissertation: The Wu-Thesis.

The mixtape uses familiar Wu-Tang beats and skits, though touched up a bit and mixed with surprising elegance with CurT@!n$’ own similar material. Mixtapes often use beats popularised by other artists (though less and less these days, as mixtapes become more like interim albums), but spitting over classic Wu-Tang takes guts. If CurT@!n$ had been even a little bit whack with his lyrics, the resultant scorn would have been intense.

Thankfully, he does pretty well, jumping from pun to pun with decent wordplay and an aggressive, occasionally bitter attitude. CurT@!n$ obviously worked really hard to do these famous beats justice. In a few of the tracks he is a little attention deficit in his relationship to the subject at hand — not unlike A Man and his Mixtape favorite Cobe Obeah — but the standout tracks, “The Gentrification” and “Letter to the People pt. 4,” stay devastatingly focused.

There are some big differences between the classic works of the Wu-Tang Clan and CurT@!n$’ homage. The most obvious is size and scope. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was a huge album by a huge group — nine dudes! — with songs four to seven minutes long with up to seven verses by various members of the Clan. CurT@!n$ is just one guy, and his mixtape is ten tracks, most less than three minutes long. But CurT@!n$ isn’t trying to match the Wu, he is merely paying his respects to one of the most influential hip-hop acts of all time. I suspect that in this project CurT@!n$ in some ways imagined himself a member of the Clan, and composed his short one and two verse tracks as if they were going to be tacked on to the originals right after Method Man or ODB finished spitting.

The best way to think about this album is, happily enough, as a dissertation: a synthesising of what CurT@!n$ learned after extensive study. See, not only does CurT@!n$ use Wu beats, he follows in their footsteps thematically, discussing with impressive intelligence the sociological roots of poverty, violence and drug use in African-American New York City. This is a topic that the Wu rapped about extensively a decade ago, and CurT@!n$’ deft updates of old complaints are cutting in their contemporary accuracy. “The Gentrification” breaks down the futility of modern attempts to fight urban poverty with commercial development.

But the Wu-Tang Clan didn’t just write social commentary. Their depiction of life on the dangerous ghetto streets set the stage for songs that are really about personal transformation. CurT@!n$ does the same in his thesis. Yes, he spends a lot of time on posturing and put downs, but in the end, particularly in “Letter to the People pt. 4,” he argues that moral uprightness is more important than material success.

I definitely recommend checking out CurT@!n$’ new mixtape, The Dissertation: The Wu Thesis. You can download it for free at http://usershare.net/2DopeBoyz/4wv8pwmtxgbf.

What a summer album should be

So it’s summer. It’s hot. I’m in Thailand right now, and sunny afternoons must be spent lounging under whirring fans. And my summer afternoon easy listening soundtrack? Travie McCoy’s new solo album Lazarus, out last month just in time to help us beat — or enjoy — the heat.

Travie McCoy, a polyethnic native of upstate New York, is best known as the rap vocalist front man for the usually light-hearted, occasionally cerebral pop band Gym Class Heroes. I really like Gym Class Heroes, and mostly because of Travie’s affable vocal charisma and broad-minded honesty.

Unlike a lot of rappers, Travie’s rhymes don’t feel effortless. On the contrary, they sound like he put a lot of thought and work into them. There are honest to goodness jokes in there, not just wordplay. There are flourishes in his style that sound more like spoken word or slam poetry. There are moments of recitation filled with surprising and convincing emotion.

Let me be clear on one thing, though. As talented a rapper as Travie is, this isn’t really technically a hip-hop album. It’s pop. Sometimes it does tilt heavily in the direction of hip-hop, but others it swings the other way, into alternative rock. That’s okay, I think, in part because Travie can handle the different styles (he can really sing, not just autotune sing like Lil Wayne), and in part because hip-hop and pop are entirely intertwined these days. But don’t worry about the genre ambiguity: all good summer music is a bit more poppy than its cool weather counterparts.

As a summer album, Lazarus hits a lot of the right notes. “Billionaire” featuring awesome singer Bruno Mars is an absolutely chill bit of whimsy, fantasising generously about all the admirable ways one might spend a billion dollars. “Akidagain” is guaranteed to evoke delightfully heartbreaking nostalgia, even in people who didn’t grow up in 90’s middle-class America. “We’ll Be Alright” and “After Midnight (It’ll Burn),” while not as addictive as recent party anthem staples by artists like Black Eyed Peas or Ke$ha, is still a perfectly serviceable hand-clapping club twister. That’s what summer is all about: lazy daydreams, fun in the sun and in the dark, and remembering the ups and downs of summers past.

But just like in his Gym Class Heroes days, Travie takes some more serious turns in this album. “Dr. Feel Good,” “Critical” and “The Manual,” while all fun and and bouncy, address the troubling ambiguities of trying to make it through daily life emotionally intact and evoke medical and psychiatric terminology that recalls Travies past struggles with pill addition — a subject he alludes to often, going back as far as Gym Class Heroes’ The Papercut Chronicles. “Superbad” is a triumphal alt rock road anthem, but the lyrics flow with subtextual undercurrents, dark and grim. In “Don’t Pretend” Travie punctuates his quivering verses with sniffles and sobs — as break up heartbreak songs go, this one is potent.

And that’s okay too, because summertime can just as easily be twisted by drama, angst, frustrations and redemption struggles as any other time of the year. After all, our problems don’t turn off when the beaches open, or for that matter when they close. So any good summer album will have a few lessons in it to carry you forward into the fall and the winter. Just like any good summer.

Travie McCoy is proving to be a talented and versatile solo artist, and Lazarus is an excellent album worth you time. Listen to some of it at http://www.myspace.com/traviemccoy.

I have mixed feelings about Drake’s mixed feelings

So yeah. Thank Me Later, the first studio outing from talk-of-the-town newcomer Drake (occasionally “Drizzy”) and probably the most hotly anticipated album of the year so far, is finally out. So let’s talk about it.

Drake, born Aubrey Drake Graham, is a 23-year-old multiracial rapper and R&B singer from a wealthy suburb of Toronto who got his start in show biz as a child actor on the Canadian high school TV serial Degrassi: The Next Generation. Not exactly the most traditional background for a hip-hop phenomenon. He was more or less discovered by Lil Wayne and put on Wheezy’s Young Money label. Pretty soon he was showing up everywhere. He dropped a mixtape (technically his third) called So Far Gone, which shockingly turned out to be one of the most popular albums of the year. The for-sale EP version of So Far Gone sold 500,000 copies despite the fact that the whole thing was available free online. He got a huge hit with “Best I Ever Had,” and then another with “Successful.” Soon everyone wanted Drake on their album or mixtape. He added his sultry monotone to the hook on “Off That,” from Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3. He seemed to pop up everywhere. Everyone said he was going to be the biggest new star, and even his detractors marvelled at how quickly he had flown into the spotlight. Soon his debut studio album was practically the only thing anyone talked about.

So how does it sound? Slow, for one. Some of the songs are about as minimal and down-tempo as you can get in hip-hop, or even R&B. Drizzy sing-raps or gently croons for much of the album, and admittedly he has the pipes to make it work. Sometimes he speaks so slowly and in such a slick monotone that it sounds more like bedtime story recitation than rap. Seems like Drake would rather make us contemplate the zen pool of his lyrics than sweep us up in river-rushing flow. This style is certainly original, and it is a testament to Drake’s force of character that he managed to get the studio and all his big time collaborators (Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Young Jeezy, Nicki Minaj, Swizz Beatz, The Dream, T.I.) to go along with his unconventional choices.

On the other hand, much of it sounds like he was trying to make rap music for elevators and shopping malls. Hip-hop fans like hip-hop because they prefer bouncing to engaging beats over swaying to gentle melodies. Luckily there are some more up-tempo joints, and those are, for me anyway, the standout tracks on the album. “Over” thumps with complex, bold beats. “Light Up” invokes inner and outer darkness with menacing drums. “Thank Me Now” has some of the swerve of familiar tracks like “Good Life” from Kanye West’s Graduation. “Fancy” starts out with a for-the-ladies club hook by Swizz Beatz and a ripping fun verse by T.I. before slowing down and pulling back with the vocals for another melancholy story from Drake in the second half of the song. In fact, all these faster tracks contain the occasional moments of stillness that seem to be Drizzy’s trademark.

Drake’s main themes are his mixed and vulnerable emotions regarding fame, money and women, and the way fame and money have affected his relationships with women. The double-edge of stardom is not a new topic in hip-hop or music in general, and while I’m not super-interested in those issues (I’m not, after all, rich and famous), it is a discussion that I tolerate in doses. But usually artists don’t get to talk about their fame-pain in depth until at least their second big album, after they added something new to the conversation in their first. Not so with Drake. In So Far Gone Drizzy spent the whole time talking about how he was going to become famous, and now that he is famous he spends all of Thank Me Later reminiscing about things that are happening right now. For someone who spends so much time thinking about success, he sure seems bewildered by it.

Probably the best album about fame (heck, one of the best albums, period) is Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, in which Slim harnessed the controversy surrounding his popularity to illuminate a great deal of hypocrisy by both his critics and fans. Drizzy doesn’t have any sort of socio-political agenda here. For Drake, it’s just all about Drake. He’s not interested in human nature; he’s interested in Drake nature. And on that subject he is extraordinarily open and emotionally articulate.

In “The Resistance” he discusses an accidental pregnancy that his lover had terminated, and admits that she sent him SMS texts saying she regretted the abortion, which were mistakenly read by whatever new girl he was then with. I appreciate his honesty here, but anecdotes like that aren’t profound; they just make him seem like a total tool, especially given how much of the album seems devoted to seducing his female listeners.

And then there are his many references to insomnia and having to stay up all night working in the studio. I get that: nobody likes not getting enough rest. But I can’t help but remember that Kanye West recorded his breakout single “Through The Wire” while in the hospital with broken limbs and his jaw wired shut after being hit by a car. Compared to that, Drake’s several complaints about lack of beauty sleep seem pretty whiney and insufferable.

There just doesn’t seem to be much for mortals like us to connect to in this album. On So Far Gone he crooned that “I want the money, the money and the cars, the cars and the clothes, the hoes…I suppose, I just want to be successful.” Now that he has all that, however, he seems kind of bummed out about it, even as he poutingly brags about how awesome his life is. That’s a paradox that bores me to tears. This may be my particular pathology, but I have no patience for existential angst. I came to hip-hop to get away from angsty music.

But dammit, this album is growing on me. In part it is because Drake’s introspective attitude seems to have rubbed off on some of his more straightforwardly cocky collaborators. Jay-Z’s verse on “Light Up” is truly excellent and takes a shocking turn when Hov admits that “I once was cool as the Fonz was / but these bright lights turned me to a monster” and darkly apologises to his mother for letting stardom change him. Even the rough-edged Young Jeezy comes out of his shell a bit, talking about a potential wife and admitting to a tender love for the rap game.

The other part is Drake himself, who for all his half-hearted talk of regrets and often un-endearing arrogance, is still powerfully compelling in his diction, his vocal charisma, and his sense of detail and narrative. After repeat listens, I couldn’t help but get drawn in. Maybe that’s Drake’s hidden strength, or maybe that’s just how music works: we’re more likely to like it the more mental energy we give it.

In a weird way, I kind of resent Drake for being lyrically interesting enough to make me want to pick up every note and joke, while also being boring enough by his lackadaisical ennui to make my mind wander mid-song. This combination forced me to spend a lot of time digesting this album, and that was time I could have spent exploring other rappers that weren’t preordained by Lil Wayne. A lot of music passes through my headphones, and if I’m too distracted I can easily miss something great if the hype hasn’t told me to pay attention.

So here I am: first wanting to like this album, and then not liking it, and now liking it without really wanting to like it. And I’m left not really knowing how I feel about the whole affair, so much so that I’ll probably waste even more time trying to sort my opinions out. I’m not exactly pleased with this situation, but maybe I’ll come around. Who knows? Given enough time, perhaps I will thank Drake later.

You can listen to music from Drake’s new album Thank Me Later on Myspace at http://www.myspace.com/thisisdrake.