"How much time is this n---- spending on the intro?"
Drake has always used his album's intro tracks--"Fireworks" on Thank Me Later, "Over My Dead Body" on Take Care--as hyper-focused sort of state-of-the-union addresses, letting you know where he's at and what he's up to. In the case of "Tuscan Leather," he does so with three verses over three different chops of the same sped-up and reversed Whitney Houston sample--ten points if you can actually identify the song--sounding as locked in as he ever has, rapping his typical rags-to-riches story and relating his ever-expanding ambitions ("On a mission tryna shift the culture") while dismissing those who still bother to challenge his supremacy ("Just give it time, we'll see who's still around a decade from now").
But perhaps more importantly, Drake also sets the tone for Nothing Was the Same by bragging about his ability to subvert the mainstream hip-hop form, as he's actually doing so. Like much of the album, "Leather" is too atmospheric and free-form to work as a single, but Drake still threatens to "go an hour on this beat," and repeatedly makes the above rhetorical reference how long the track is, almost daring listeners to skip ahead, if they can break from the song's hypnotic spell. "This is nothin' for the radio, but they'll still play it though / Cause it's that new Drizzy Drake, that's just the way it go," Aubrey boasts in the song's first verse, before summing it up with his new brand motto: "Heavy airplay all day with no chorus."
Amidst all the well-placed namedrops in "Tuscan Leather"--shoutouts to Dwight Howard and UNLV basketball, comparisons to Guy Pearce in Memento, even details of dates with Fresh Prince alum Tatyana Ali--the two that really stand out are his references to his Young Money crew, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj. Based on the lyrics here, it seems like Drake's relations with his label family are as strained as they often sound to be with his real kin--his claims to be "as famous as his mentor" (reflecting back on his hopes that "success never changes our relationship" from "Fireworks") sound more like a lament than a boast, while his reports of "not even talkin' to Nikki" are near-heartbreaking for the couple that once got married on record. (Tellingly, and unsurprisingly, neither rapper shows up anywhere else on NWTS.)
"Leather" is ultimately as strong an opener as "Fireworks" or "Dead Body," with 40 doing a brilliant job of keeping things fresh by twisting up the sample with each successive verse, and ending things on a despairing but defiantly hopeful Curtis Mayfield quote from a live late-'80s gig ("Our having the same fears, shedding similar tears, and of course dying in so many years. It don't mean that we can't have a good life"). How much time is Drake spending on the intro? As much time as he goddamn pleases, and if he wants to go an hour on the beat, we'll listen for the whole thing and not check our watch once.
POPDUST SAYS: 4/5