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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

June 15, 2010 at 10:48 AM

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Drake headlines Summer Jam, releases R&Bemo album "Thank Me Later"

Posted by Andrew Matson

Image by S. White

"The Resistance" by Drake, produced by Noah "40" Shebib

"Up All Night" by Drake feat. Nicki Minaj, produced by Noah "40" Shebib and Tone Mason

Local "rhythm and contemporary music" station KUBE 93.3 FM throws its annual Summer Jam concert Friday, and the big headliner is 23-year-old Canadian heartthrob Drake.

He's the face and sound of urban-identified music right now, a good-looking TV star (he was in teen soap "Degrassi") with a reedy-voiced muffle-thump R&Bemo style.

His presence at Summer Jam points to the diminished tastemaking power of mainstream music media and big record labels in general — Drake got famous on the Internet in 2009, with Clear Channel radio/MTV/BET catching on after the fact to his freely downloadable mixtape hit "Best I Ever Had" — and his performance should draw heavily from "Thank Me Later," his debut for-sale album. It's the major event for rap-ish music in 2010, and will probably sell a million physical copies.

"Thank Me Later" is largely personality-deficient, with Drake's rap-self a careful amalgam of Kanye West's inward loathing, Lil Wayne's penchant for punchlines involving hyphens or colons, and Jay-Z's relentless self-chronicling and double talk. It's a blatantly synthetic presentation that runs parallel to modern Facebookers and Twitterers who manufacture an online image to stand in for who they wish they were in real life, but don't go overboard with it, instead just barely tweaking reality.

Not that rappers have ever been wholly "themselves" on recordings, but many of Drake's lyrics revolve around moments of personal disillusionment and regret, directly related to fame, heartbreak — in general, stuff one assumes a person wouldn't make up. It's tough to tell what's really going on, though, because Drake's image of no image is an image itself.

The best verse on "Thank Me Later" is the most direct one, from belligerent tough-talker Nicki Minaj on "Up All Night." She follows Drake's conceptual, complicated brags with 100 percent attitude:

"F___k I look like, ho? / I look like YES and you look like NO."

"Thank Me Later" is easier to listen to without hanging on Drake's every word. Singing is his strength, his ever-so-slightly nasal buzz sounding Auto-Tuned even when it's not. He Legos onto backing tracks like an instrument, all tone and timbre.

Which brings us to the main source of emotion in Drake's music, and the unsung hero in his career: Noah "40" Shebib and his R&Bemo backing tracks. Shebib produced the bulk of "Thank Me Later" and also Drake's star-making mixtape "So Far Gone." When one thinks of Drake, one thinks of Shebib's work without knowing it. In a Shebib song, nothing shocking happens. Synthesizers feature heavily, and they're soothing and blurry, musical versions of the colors gray, beige, taupe. Drums hit hard but rarely crack; the percussion edges are mostly rounded. It's ruminative rainy-day music, relaxing and vaguely minor-key, and communicates some deep eternal flatness no matter what Drake sing-raps about.

He's got a few explosive songs, but mainly it's gauzy R&Bemo, and listening to it feels like being on antidepressants.

Drake plays KUBE 93's Summer Jam 2010 with Trey Songz, Rick Ross, Fabolous, Game, and Jason Derulo Friday, June 18 at White River Amphitheatre. Learn all about it here.

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