“Up All Night” featuring Nicki Minaj, #49
“9 AM In Dallas”, #57
“Fireworks” featuring Alicia Keys, #71
“Fancy” featuring T.I. & Swiss Beatz, #99
Approached in bulk, Drake’s tracks achieve a definite if subliminal groove that is, at first, both attractive and of a certain clinical interest. The same can be said of his raps, which are straightforward and plainspoken. But if you’re going to be this plainspoken you’d better make sure you have something to say and have some poetry hidden in there somewhere. Drake has neither, and after a few plays his minimal grooves become boring. When Drake says he wants to be a real artist, I believe him, but I believe him even more when he expresses doubts about his talent. His honesty may get him somewhere eventually, but it hasn’t yet.
Disturbed—”Another Way To Die”
Environmental metal: it’s not quite an oxymoron, but it sure doesn’t make much sense.
When you limit your musical palette as much as these guys do—they don’t write new melodies or rhythms for each record, they just switch rhyme schemes—the smallest change or addition can come as a surprise. Here, they add a few pleasant harmonies and suddenly sound almost as upbeat and friendly as The Beach Boys. They should be careful, though: too many cracks in their obnoxious facade and they’ll start to get boring.
Soulja Boy Tell’em—”Pretty Boy Swag”
Not so much a change in style as a change in speed, and a smart move. The slow, deliberate, teasing pace makes Soulja Boy sound more mature without diminishing the feeling that’s he’s still just a teenager having a great time with something he loves. That’s almost enough to make him important, even if all he raps about is how cool he is.
Bobby Brackins featuring Ray J—”143″
Ray J seems to make his living now attaching himself to young rappers, where he applies his seductive crooning, reminds everybody of his biggest hit, and smooths out any rough spots that would make these records interesting. Though I’m not sure Brackins would be interesting even without him.
The Dirty Heads featuring Rome—”Lay Me Down”
Unbelievable. A Jack Johnsonish acoustic reggae ballad with a plot that is basically a rehash of The Getaway—the movie version, that is, where the beautiful young couple get away with robbery and murder to spend the rest of their lives having sex on the beach, as opposed to Jim Thompson’s original novel, which had an ending so depressing, ironic, and horrifying that even Sam Peckinpah didn’t have the nerve to serve it up on screen. You should read it, if only to understand me when I wish The Dirty Heads a less final but somewhat similar fate.
Jaheim—”Finding My Way Back”
If this was 1973, this would probably be a big regional R&B hit in Baltimore or Chicago, like The Whatnauts or some of the lesser Chi-Lites singles. It’s 2010, though, and what would have been second-tier in the ’70s is just an oddity now. If Jaheim is going to mine the past, he should go all the way, like Raphael Saadiq. Or he should at least get better songs.
Rodney Atkins—”Farmer’s Daughter”
Notable only for the way Atkins sings, especially the first verse. His backwoods accent is so heavily played and calculated—not a single drawl out of place—that it becomes a kind of minstrelsy; good ol’ boy whiteface, if you will.
Craig Morgan—”This Ain’t Nothin’”,
You need to walk a pretty fine line to pull off country sentimentality. Do it right, the way Miranda Lambert does on “The House That Built Me” and you can produce a powerful record despite the required cliches and homilies. One bad line, though, can tip you over into bathetic camp. This song has three or four bad lines, one of them in the chorus, so it gets repeated over and over again, and another in the second verse that wouldn’t be out of place in a South Park parody.
Blake Shelton—”All About Tonight”
There are two things I find interesting about Blake Shelton. One is his release schedule, where he’s experimenting with putting out half an album every few months (this is the lead single from his second “six-pack”); and the other is that he’s engaged to Miranda Lambert, who outclasses him in every way I can think of. His music doesn’t interest me at all.