Last week Drake decided to try to draw any of the attention that was growing around rappers like Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and P Diddy onto him instead. It worked – ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ dropped unexpectedly with 17 songs and instantly had everybody rushing to get their hands on the new tape. The hype surrounding it (other than the fact Drake is one of the most popular musicians of the last 5 years) was enlarged by the controversy as to whether this album is either an album or mixtape. If it were to be an album – and he has been selling on iTunes like an album rather than as a mixtape – then he would be free of his contract with Cash Money records and as he says, he is the successor to Lil Wayne who has just left Cash Money.
The thing is that ‘If You’re Reading This…’ definitely plays like a mixtape rather than an album due to the fact that a large part of it plays as a continuation from his last album and doesn’t properly have its own identity. That being said, this is probably the closest we’ve got to having a Drake project that has him rapping the entire way through and probably the closest we will ever get. Drake projects often feel lop-sided and confusing because he blurs the lines as to whether he’s a ‘tough’ guy or a ‘sensitive’ guy, so to have him creating his darkest project yet feels somewhat more coherent than his previous albums. A lot of these songs sound similar to the ‘tough guy’ moments off of ‘Nothing Was The Same’ with Drake spitting over the top of some trap influenced beats. The problem with this in the past has been that the beats just haven’t suited his style of rapping and he’s ended up substituting flow for brilliant beats like on ‘Worst Behaviour’ on his last album. Some of the tracks on here follow suit with that track sporting his very chopped up flow with better results than on ‘NWTS’ but are still very hit or miss like the track ‘6 God’ which even uses some of the same catchphrase lyrics as ‘Worst Behaviour’.
However, elsewhere on this album Drake’s flow is fantastic for these beats and he’s entirely upped his game. Drake builds his style upon spitting incredibly catchy phrases that were all but devoid on his last album. Even if on first listen it feels like listening to the same thing over and over again, when it comes to the second listen the amount of phrases that have been glued into the back of your head is astonishing. From the irresistible hook on ’10 Bands’ to the line ‘I WAS. RUNNIN. THROUGH THE. 6. WITH MY WOES’ on the song ‘Know Yourself’ they’ll all be surely cemented in your memory. The beats themselves are much better than anything Drake has rapped over before with them being more experimental (a trend that’s becoming more popular in Hip-Hop) and dark. Drake raps over the top of trap beats that are manipulated and turned on their head like on the track ‘Energy’ which also has Drake sounding more coherent in flow than the rest of the record. They also use a lot of keys that are either detuned or used in a peculiar way to sound extremely haunting. There are a few artistic choices in the production that really should never have been put onto record; both of the tracks with PARTYNEXTDOOR on them are just terrible as they’re drowned in autotune and are the only real times where the singing side of Drake comes through for an entire track with horrible results.
The fact that for so long people have hated on Drake just for being sensitive in his lyrics has never really made much sense; what does make sense however, is hating on him for the way he pretends to be sensitive when talking about women. His lyrics on this are no less cringe-worthy in this sense as he’s constantly rapping about money and bitches – he’s really not a political or socially conscious rapper. This shouldn’t be a problem in itself as some of the most entertaining rap music of all time have been just that – entertaining. People use words to paint portraits and wind words to create hilarious and spellbinding music despite it’s message. Even though Drake is something of an auteur when it comes to the way he delivers his songs, he unfortunately is not entertaining in his wordplay and fails as a lyricist. He doesn’t make his lyrics interesting in any way unless you are truly invested in Drake’s life and invested in him as a person. On the song ‘Jungle’ he’s talking about being paranoid about a girl’s timeline… how truly spellbinding. On the song ‘Company’ he creates a list of things he needs from his girl with lines that seem to only be there to boost his ego like ‘She walk right up to her ex, look him dead in the face/And say, “You ain’t got the juice like that/You ain’t got the juice like that”/That’s cold, ice cold, girl you ain’t have to do him like that/Why you had to do him like that?’ Even on the better moments of the album you have to be entirely invested in Drake as a person, especially when he’s dropping lines about his feud with Tyga and even on the sweet ode to his mother ‘You & The 6’.
Regardless as to whether this is an album or a mixtape it’s extremely refreshing to hear Drake try to make a Hip-Hop project that will silence the critics of him being too ‘soft’. It’s refreshing to hear him try to dig himself slightly out of the artistic hole he’s made for himself. It’s nice to hear him try, it’s just a shame he doesn’t succeed. Drake has mastered his style to the point where most of the world knows it; he’s a modern archetype for style over substance in music and that alone is to be praised, but there’s still so much to be desired.
Best Tracks: ‘Energy’ ’10 Bands’ ‘You & The 6’