When Drake first exploded into mainstream popularity in 2009 with the now-platinum single “Best I Ever Had,” I was not so much unimpressed as uninterested, carelessly dismissing the former “Degrassi” actor as just another addition to the growing commodity of auto-tune-abusing rappers who compensated catchy, radio-friendly hooks for a lack of any potent lyricism. His subsequent signing that year to Lil Wayne’s Young Money, the record label responsible for such laughably commercial releases as “Lollipop” and “Bedrock,” served only to reinforce my pre-existing notions that he had little to offer as a creative artist.

Recently, though, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the presence of Drake’s persona, which has enlarged to near Kanye-esque proportions, in the hip-hop industry. Despite this, it was only by the ardent recommendation from a close friend that I decided to even give Take Care a chance as an album worthy of any degree of artistic merit.

My first impressions were of the record’s predominantly dark, somber aesthetic, a distinct departure from the “maximalist” production techniques featured on earlier Drake tracks such as “Forever” and “Over.” Throughout much of the album, the nocturnal, downtempo atmosphere of Take Care provides a specific element of intimacy, creating a suitable sonic backdrop over which Drake expresses feelings of loneliness and alienation experienced collaterally from having gained his rapid stardom.

“Over My Dead Body” excellently embodies this effect, and serves well as the album’s opening track. Even in between boastful remarks, Drake manages to voice a certain earnest vulnerability which contains his image within a frame of integrity. This holds equally true for the second track “Shot For Me,” on which the rapper attempts to elicit jealousy from former lovers by brandishing his fame and status. Lyrics such as “Yeah I said it, Bitch I’m the Man / Don’t You Forget It” are neatly followed by the confession “Ok look, I’m honest / Girl I can’t lie, I miss you / You and the music were the only things that I commit to.”

The album’s title track is another standout on the record, largely because of the production of Jamie Smith, producer of U.K. R&B band The xx, and also exemplifies the subdued, minimalist aesthetic of Take Care. It features an almost direct transposition of Smith’s remix of Gil Scott-Heron’s “I’ll Take Care of You” as its beat, over which Drake and Rihanna reservedly trade verses of apprehension and heartbreak in perfect compliment.

“Take Care” appropriately leads into “Marvin’s Room,” so named after the studio, owned formerly by the late Marvin Gaye, in which Drake recorded the song. “Marvin’s Room” captures the desperate, uninhibited honesty of a drunken phone call with lyrics such as “The woman that I would try is happy with a good guy / But I’ve been drinking so much that I’mma call her anyway and say / Fuck that nigga that you love so bad.” Yet, for Drake, it also seems to offer a needed sense of self-reflection as he muses “I don’t think I’m conscious of making / Monsters outta the women I sponsor ‘til it all goes bad.”

“Crew Love,” which features an appearance by fellow Canadian R&B artist Abel Tesfaye, otherwise known as The Weeknd, also demands special mention with its unique dynamics, oppressive kick-drum assaults, and a vibrantly dark harmonization between both singers.

However, in its 18-track length, Take Care unfortunately compromises its delicately wrought ambience with a somewhat needless amount of filler, at the very least detracting from the album’s overall effect and at the very most compiling together as many hip-hop headliners as possible onto the album’s tracklist, which features obvious appearances from labelmates Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, but also from such negligible names as Birdman and Rick Ross.

After spending a couple days with Take Care, my impressions of Drake as another commercially motivated sing-song rapper have, to some extent, been replaced by that of a musician with a poignant and distinguished artistic vision.

Though his lyricism and vocal ability, at least technically, still fail to impress me, Drake manages to use both to depict a fuller image not entirely dependent upon any one component. Rather, Take Care draws upon equal parts voice, lyrics, and production in delivering a particularly engaging and compelling sonic experience, at least over part of the album.

Relative to his earlier releases, I’ve discovered newfound appreciation in Drake’s latest record as testament to both a personal and artistic maturation not often observed in today’s rap industry.

While Take Care pales in comparison to the masterful complexity of Kanye’s 2010 landmark hip-hop album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Drake shows considerable promise with his sophomore effort and will likely garner a lot of this year’s critical and commercial acclaim. Make sure to check it out for yourself.