Drake's 'Take Care' Is the Greatest Emo Album of All Time

Five years after its release, the album remains the most candid view we've ever had of Aubrey Graham: crestfallen, contemplative, and alone in a life of luxury.

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Oct 27 2016, 2:31pm

The artwork for Drake's Take Care is ridiculous. Wearing an open black shirt with several chains and a pinkie ring, Drake is pictured staring mournfully into a golden chalice. He is surrounded by an assortment of objects, including an owl and a candlestick that look like heirlooms someone would bring onto Antiques Roadshow after they were passed down the family from a Scottish land baron. The colour palette can broadly be described as 'every shade of autumn leaf', and the general vibe suggests that it was commissioned as the cheaper alternative to an oil painting. A flame, lit not long before the photo was taken, is just beginning to melt away at the wax.

It is, for all intents and purposes, the most archetypal and memorable image of Drake in existence, surpassing such iconic renderings as 'Drake crouching in Timberlands in a softly lit cube'​, 'Drake concealing the boner gifted to him by Nicki Minaj in the "Anaconda" video'​, and even 'Drake cosplaying George Costanza at a basketball game'​. His second but first (and arguably only) consistent album, Take Care, introduced Drake as the figure we know today: crestfallen, contemplative, alone in a life of luxury.

"That's who's sitting on that album cover, that kid that's just somehow gone from his mom's basement in Toronto to becoming a king," Drake told MTV News ahead of Take Care's release. "That's what that album cover is about and there is a lot of deep thought involved in that 'cause you can go crazy doing this."

"This" meaning clubs, drinks, girls, fame. "This" meaning rap – a world Drake spent years pressed up against the window of only to come in and challenge perceptions about what it's "supposed to be" in the first place. "This" is what Take Care is all about: the psychological push-pull between wanting and having, between imagination and reality, when you suddenly find yourself balls deep in everything you ever wanted and can't give away that you might be in over your head. All of these internal conflicts are folded into an emotional narrative of Shakespearean proportions replete with breakups and hookups, navel-gazing and drunk dialling, concerns of allegiance and backstabbing. It's like The O.C. but with record contracts. Five years on from its initial release in 2011, Take Care remains the greatest emo album ever released.

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The first time I listened to Take Care I was a few weeks into a breakup, freshly alone at 22-years-old, with no fucking clue what I was doing. In situations like these you are forced to reassess yourself, since that's who you're going to be spending most of your time with. Removed from the bubble of comfort and external affirmation that is (on good days) a relationship, you begin asking yourself things like: What now? How do I find people to sleep with when Tinder won't be invented for another year? Should I get a hobby, start swimming or something? Do I even like the water? Who am I? Christ, is this my personality? Do I really have to deal with this chaos of doubt and discomfort and inability to pick a film on Netflix, day in and day out, forever? Did I make a huge mistake?

It felt like an act of cosmic benevolence that Drake would deliver this album that had both everything and nothing to do with me; that seemed to slip puppet-like over my body and emote on my behalf despite being so far removed from my experience it may as well have been written by someone living on a space station. All roomy production, cold piano lines and bristling ambience, a large aspect of what makes Take Care so emotionally relatable is the sound and texture of it. It's basically a sensory activity, like fondling lots of nice blankets or having sex on ecstasy. It's also the fanfare that accompanies the act of Drake taking his throne, but we'll get to that later.

I remember putting it on in my car on the way home from work; a dim night in November; streetlights whipping past on otherwise empty roads. The rhythmic thud of windscreen wipers going back and forth and the rush of tyres speeding over tarmac in the rain are sounds I associate with the album, even though they aren't actually there. The opening four chords of "Over My Dead Body" have etched themselves into my brain deeper than most childhood memories or embarrassing encounters. They expand and contract heavily, the way someone breathes while they're sleeping. Chantal Kreviazuk's vocals drift over the top, reverberating like she's addressing a large, thinly populated room. Then Drake rolls up gracefully with what is essentially a list of accomplishments followed by a "woops!" In just over a minute, it establishes an entire emotional landscape never before crossed in rap. Drake is there alone and, for the duration of the album, so are we.

Take Care lends itself to moments of solitude. It goes hand in hand with the image of Drake driving himself aimlessly around The Six, drifting past an ex's house, slowing down slightly as he thinks about stopping, then quickly pulling off to a club to get tanked instead. It's the awkward first evolution of the Drake we see now on Views, sat composed in the backseat of a car like a GTA loading screen.

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Drake is obsessed with the idea of being trapped. Geographically, in a memory, in a form of employment. Take Care is supposedly inspired by the So Far Gone cut "Houstatlantavegas", which details his affair with an ambitious stripper "stuck" in that life. As a result he spends most of Take Care either rifling through the debris left by women he was once involved with, like the ghost of relationships past, or asserting his position in rap in the moment. Love and hip-hop are narratives that run parallel to one another throughout, together detailing his climb to the top and the psychological collateral of it. It posits Drake as rap's latest Icarus – "If I'm going anywhere, it's probably too far," he shrugs on "Headlines". So far, so good, I guess.

But the overarching theme of Take Care is loneliness – in an inner circle, in a city he came to represent, and in the public eye. It's the internal monologue of a young man trying to find himself while stepping into a position where everyone else is grabbing for a piece of him. Arriving the same year as The Weeknd's House of Balloons, the same date as Childish Gambino's Camp, and in the wake of Kid Cudi's Man on on the Moon I and II, Take Care is an introspective and retrospective sign of the times. Like all of those albums, it is a magnum opus in male vulnerability. House of Balloons takes an unhealthy crawl through a 3am of sex and drugs with its finger firmly on the self-destruct button, while Camp takes a more adolescent approach to heartbreak and identity politics, and Man on on the Moon I and II land as a one-two punch about solitude and addiction presented as surreal dreams and harsh realities, respectively. All four position their protagonists as outsiders, but Drake is different. Boosted by Birdman and Lil Wayne, Drake's inherent corniness isn't embraced as much as it is transformed into something else – something cool. Because here's the thing: Drake is a massive nerd.

A Jewish-Canadian former child star who came through looking like a politician's son, there is no part of him that fit the blueprint laid by rappers in the 00s. Even the video for "HYFR" – one of the album's most boastful ergo hardest tracks – opens with home footage of him as a toddler in a paisley waistcoat. It goes on to depict his re-Bar Mitzvah, featuring DJ Khaled rocking a baseball jacket in a synagogue and Drake being given a chair lift that sees him grinning like he's seven lines deep getting a lap-dance before smashing up his own Torah birthday cake. A truly amazing collision of table manners and bravado, "Tuck my napkin in my shirt cuz I'm just mobbin' like that" is not a line most people could make work. And yet, somehow, Drake does. Somehow he makes it all work – including the assertion that all his girl's previous lovers were just "practise" for him, the OTT worshipping of Nicki Minaj (who, on Take Care, is a stand-in for strong women everywhere), and managing to whip up his own insecurity and narcissism up into something moving rather than objectionable.

It goes without saying that the album's combination of brooding alternative R&B, hip-hop and electronica transcended conventional genres to establish one of the most memorable sounds of the last decade. But Take Care's biggest accomplishment is transforming Drake from a rapper into an icon. If you strip away the bravado, muscle mass and memes currently providing the padding for Drake's persona, Take Care is what you would find. It's the reason he can lint roll his trousers to the pleasure of all. It's the reason he can do the "Hotline Bling" dance and not be written off like a total'd Astra. It's the reason he can be perceived as a manchild constantly on the verge of crying – the kind of guy who would go home with a woman and decline sex in favour of washing her hair – and still be looked up to. All the jokes we have made about him, he laid the foundations for on Take Care by creating such a distinct balance of vulnerability and ambition. It's emo as fuck, established the Drake we know today, and remains his greatest achievement for doing so.

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