Mixing downtempo R&B, hip-hop, and soul with introspective, emotionally open lyrics, Drake’s first two studio albums, 2010’s Thank Me Later and the following year’s Take Care, were huge worldwide successes. Unsurprisingly, the Canadian rapper’s newfound status as one of hip-hop’s most vital crossover artists fed into the aggressive, ultra-confident tone of his third album, 2013’s Nothing Was The Same.
Riding the crest of a wave, Drake had spent much of 2012 touring in support of Take Care, while also finding time to start the record label OVO Sound with his longtime producer Noah “40” Shebib, and embarking on sessions for his next album. With 40 once more handling production duties, alongside OVO Sound affiliates Boi-1da, Mike Zombie, and Majid Jordan, Nothing Was The Same became a darker affair than its predecessors. Over a set of songs that largely eschewed any pop affectations for a dense mix of eerie synths and street-tough trap beats, Drake, armed with an improved singing voice and peak-performance rapping skills, unleashed some of the most compelling and consistent vocal performances of his career.
Lead single “Started From The Bottom,” a brooding rags-to-riches affair replete with spectral piano lines and deep rumbling bass, presaged the new direction. “Wu-Tang Forever” continued the eerie tone with a sonic tribute to the Staten Island natives. Elsewhere, “Worst Behavior” featured one of Drake’s most menacing vocal turns over tense and scattershot beats, while the murky slowed-down samples, submarine sonics, and submerged trap beats of “305 To My City” sound like the song was recorded in the depths of the ocean.
On an album generally short of guest spots, one of Drake’s heroes, Jay-Z, contributes a memorable verse to the chilling, ethereal “Pound Cake.” Lyrically, the song was a morose affair, with angry broadsides at former girlfriends, family members, and school friends, alongside some disillusioned soul-searching and the usual boastful turns. Light relief from all this darkness was found on the luscious soul of the Sampha-assisted “Too Much,” while the heartfelt “Hold On, Were Going Home,” a warm and breezy slice of pop-soul, proved the album’s big crossover hit, reaching No.4 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Despite its dark, uncompromising tone, Nothing Was The Same proved another huge success for Drake. Released on September 24, 2013, it debuted at No.1 on the US Billboard 200, selling nearly 700,000 copies in its first week of release. The album made further international waves for the rapper, charting high in his native Canada as well as in the UK, Denmark, and Australia, and making many end-of-year lists. Arguably the most consistently thrilling album of his career, for Drake, Nothing Was The Same more than lived up to its title.