In the year since his debut, Thank Me Later, Drake has done his best to shake his clean-cut image. He began broadcasting his syrup habit, aligned himself with the debauched R&B singer The Weeknd, and released “Marvin’s Room,” a single that pushed his too-much-information confessions to scathing extremes. All that seemed to forecast a dark, druggy sophomore album from the rapper, yet Take Care never feels tortured or onerous. Crafted primarily around the oblique production of Drake’s native Toronto—all rippling synths, distant pulses, and purposeful empty space—his follow-up album is plenty downbeat, but it’s also gorgeous, an immersive headphone masterwork that’s tender and intimate like little else in contemporary rap and R&B.
Radio Drake, the proud cornball who raps in lame hashtags and noxious pickup lines, makes mercifully few appearances here. He’s been replaced by a hardened, no-nonsense rapper on “Lord Knows” and “Underground Kings,” spitfire tracks that make a strong case for Drake as 2011’s most-improved rapper. Mostly, though, Drake is more concerned with working through heartache than proving his mettle. Save for “Marvin’s Room,” where he tries to upend an ex’s healthy new relationship on a mean, drunken whim, he sings from a place of good intentions, addressing his estranged flames with concerned affection.
On the album’s heartbreaking title track, a reworking of a forlorn Jamie xx house remix for Gil Scott-Heron, he and Rihanna duet as ex-lovers who console each other wistfully, vowing to leave the door open for the future. “When you’re ready, just say you’re ready, when all the baggage just ain’t as heavy,” he sings longingly, though he knows better than to hold out much hope. On song after song, he reminds himself and his exes that their separation is for the best, even if that’s scant comfort in the short term.