Drake’s and Pusha T’s albums drop: Add them to the “best of 2013” shelf

Jason Walsh, Staff Reporter

Artists: Drake / Pusha T
Albums: Nothing Was The Same / My Name Is My Name
Ratings: 4/5 / 4/5
Here we have two of the most anticipated hip-hop albums of 2013. Besides “Yeezus” and “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” I don’t think any albums this year have been so hyped and looked forward to.

“Nothing Was The Same,” Drake’s follow-up to 2011’s great “Take Care,” has been seen as something like a turning point: Where will Drake take his sound from here?

“My Name Is My Name,” on the other hand, is Pusha T’s long-awaited and long-delayed debut solo album, anticipated since his years with Clipse and his time doing features on Getting Out Our Dreams (G.O.O.D.) Music tracks.

“Nothing Was The Same” and “My Name Is My Name” both live up to the hype, and both of them see their artists trying to push hip-hop in pretty much opposite directions.

These albums are some of the most aptly-titled records to come out in a while. Whatever Drake haters might want to say, he has a pretty good claim to saying that “Nothing Was The Same” since he broke out. With his three studio albums, Drake has pushed mainstream hip-hop in some unforeseen directions

I mean, who could imagine someone crooning “How beautiful our kids would be, girl, I don’t need convincing” on a mainstream rap song if it wasn’t Drake on “Connect”? For the past several years, Drake has been one of the few remaining counter-points to the dominance of trap in mainstream hip-hop.

“My Name Is My Name” wholly embraces that trap aesthetic from the start.

Opening track “King Push” declares “I’m King Push, this king push / I rap n**** about trap n****s / I don’t sing hooks.” What does Drake do except sing hooks? Later on we get Pusha spitting that “they name dropping bout caine copping / but never been a foot soldier.” Drake up and admits he’s not from the streets on “Wu-Tang Forever,” but does that really matter as much as it does for Pusha?

Pusha T may have updated his sound a little bit since his Clipse days (now he’s produced by Kanye rather than The Neptunes), but his subject hasn’t changed at all. “My Name Is My Name” is an album as chock-full of coke rap as the seven year old Clipse masterpiece “Hell Hath No Fury.”
Regardless of the vastly different hip hop styles they represent, what makes “Nothing Was The Same” and “My Name Is My Name” two of the best rap albums of this year is the production on both records.

“Nothing Was The Same” was handled almost entirely by Drake’s in-house producer Noah “40” Shebib, who also handled most of “Thank Me Later” and “Take Care.” Much has been written about Drake and 40’s friendship and working relationship, and for good reason. It’s hard to imagine Drake rapping and singing over anything but a 40 beat, and it’s hard to imagine anybody except Drake on a 40 beat.

With “Nothing Was The Same,” 40 continues to create cohesive albums that sound like unified pieces of work. Maybe Drake puts it best when he says on opening track “Tuscan Leather” that “Life is soundin’ crazy, 40 on Martin Scorsese.”

Most of “My Name Is My Name” was handled by, naturally, Kanye. I don’t think I really need to write about what a good producer Kanye is. “My Name Is My Name” sees Kanye channeling his recent “Yeezus”-sound on stand-out tracks like “Numbers On the Boards” or the fantastic “Nosetalgia,” which features Kendrick Lamar.

Kanye also contributes the beat for “Hold On,” which sounds like it could be an outtake from the “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” sessions: it’s all warbled autotune, dramatic piano samples and hand claps (plus Rick Ross shows up for a verse, making it feel even more like MBDTF).

Despite Kanye’s presence, “My Name Is My Name” falters a little bit by attempting to do too much, or at least by being poorly sequenced. “Let Me Love You,” featuring Kelly Rowland and produced by The-Dream, is a great song but feels very much out of place in between trap anthems “No Regrets” (featuring Jeezy) and “Who I Am” (featuring 2 Chainz & Big Sean).

“40 Acres,” produced by and featuring The-Dream, and “Sweet Serenade,” featuring Chris Brown, are both slower-paced songs with more emphasis on synth-based production rather than trap’s snare drums and cymbals. These songs are all good, but they’re placed seemingly at random: “Sweet Serenade” is number three, “40 Acres” is six and “Let Me Love You” is eight, all stuck in between more aggressive trap songs.

“My Name Is My Name” can be a little jarring at times as it shifts between sounds like this without much flow. The album as a whole could be sequenced much better and doesn’t reach the level of cohesiveness that “Nothing Was The Same” does. But Pusha T’s charisma and skill as a rapper, plus the fact that the subject matter never strays far from trapping, keeps the album from feeling disjointed.

“Nothing Was The Same” and “My Name Is My Name” see their respective artists developing each of their trademark sounds further. Drake croons about relationships. Pusha raps about coke like he’s been doing for over a decade. They’re both taking hip-hop in very different directions, and that seems like a great thing to me.

“Nothing Was The Same” is a welcome relief from the current omnipresence of trap, and “My Name Is My Name” represents about the best that can be done with the trap sound.