It’s a time-old tale: two artists are on the top of their game reaching the pinnacle of their career and they decide to collaborate. The general public go nuts for things like this, especially if it’s two musicians likely to bounce off of each other in the most entertaining of ways. Both Drake and Future I have liked and loathed material from in the past, but both are arguably bigger and more impactful in Hip-Hop than they’ve ever been. So naturally it’s an exciting thing to see on paper – two of the biggest rappers alive making an entire project together that fans have lusted over, it has the potential to mould their styles together make something truly original together, like we’ve seen in recent years from Run The Jewels.
The initial disappointment from ‘What a Time To Be Alive’ comes from the fact that it isn’t any of those things, and won’t be making it onto many AOTY lists in a couple of months time. It’s not the ground-breaking collaboration that it was penned as and isn’t as fully formed as either of the projects that each of the respectful rappers have dropped this year. ‘WATTBA’ was thrown together in a very short space of time (reportedly six days), which is probably one of the reasons they’re referring to it merely as a mixtape despite the fact you have to pay for it. This project doesn’t sound like it was lumbered over, this is a project that Drake and Future wanted to give their fans as a little gift, a token of appreciation.
On nearly every song on this album you can tell who did the primary song-writing. Atmospherically a massive proportion of this album sounds like it could have been taken straight from Future’s ‘Dirty Sprite 2’ which he released earlier this year. The opening track to the album ‘Digital Dash’ features two and a half minutes of Future doing his usual shtick –including the hook — before Drake comes on for a mere minute at the end using a flow that sounds like a slightly different variation to Future’s but a lot more animated and slightly more melodic. That’s the way that a handful of tracks on this project feel, there’s often times when they barely sound like they’re on the same page in terms of writing and that instead it’s just like one of them is jumping on the other’s track for a remix (often sounding like a Drake feature rather than vice versa).
It’s because of this overwhelming feeling that the project has been thrown together for the sole purpose of the enjoyment of saying that they’ve done it, that it sometimes feels like lyrically they’re both on autopilot. Both rappers spend a whole lot of time talking about the women they’ve slept with, the wealth they have/are going to acquire and of course in Future’s case, the occasional partaking of drugs (Lean). The main problem of Future’s music in the past is that it’s slightly one note and lacking in variety, and that feeling transfers onto here more-so now that we’re not getting as many nightmarish and entertaining explorations into a drug addict’s mind like on ‘DS2’. Drake does bring some diversity to the table but it’s often paired with ridiculously cringe-inducing phrases that come in the shape of misogyny like on the song ‘Plastic Bag’ where he tells a stripper to pick up all her money because ‘You danced all night girl you deserve it’. Even though these guys are auteurs in their own right when it comes to style, there’s something a little disheartening hearing the lines ‘I peel them hundreds on hundreds/I get that money on money/I get that guala on guala/I get them dollars on dollars/Then throw out them dollars, them bitches gonna holla’ on the song ‘Change Locations’ (which also has a hook saying ’60 naked bitches no exaggeration’). Despite the undeniably infectious flow and style in which the words are unreeled and the fact that there’s brilliant melodic interplay between Drake and Future on this track, it’s hard to get fully stuck in when the songs feel so undercooked.
That isn’t to say that this formula doesn’t always work and that this is an unenjoyable album. Fans of both Future’s work and Drake’s work will find at least a handful of tracks each to hold dearly within their catalogue. Despite the fact that the song ‘Big Rings’ has an extremely generic hook, ‘Cause I got a really big team/And they need some really big rings/They need some really nice things’, it is undeniably a banger that pounds through the speakers, and the phrase ‘What a time to be alive’ is said with such finness by both rappers. There are also times when these two rappers’ different styles do align with each other very well like on ‘Diamonds Dancing’, which not only sounds like a drug-fuelled nightmare, but the airy outro from Drake contains many quotables; I’m sure the phrase ‘You’re doing me dirty’ will be thrown around an awful lot in the next few months. Albeit, nothing on here comes close to the quotables that have floated round this year from both rapper’s solo projects such as ‘Running through the 6 with my woes’ or ‘I just fucked your bitch, in some Gucci flip-flops’.
The production itself on this album — handled by many producers including Metro Boomin, Southside and Noah 40 Shebib — is consistently great. Although many of the instrumentals sound like they’ve been lifted from ‘DS2′, they sound like they’ve been handled with care and genuinely cater to both rappers fantastically. Something that Future and Drake both have in common on the other projects they’ve released this year is that even though they sound completely different, they both exceed in creating eerie atmosphere based on very minimal production. This is evident on the final two tracks on the album which are solo tracks from Future and Drake respectively. They are both catered with pure class with Future’s song sounding like a typically handled nightmare gazing into his ever-interesting mind, while the closing track ’30 For 30′ by Drake is backed by dreamy piano snippets and has Drake reflecting on what’s actually happening around him (for the first time on the whole album pretty much) and gives his fans an update as to where he’s at now, touching on the Meek Mill beef and the way his mindset as changed.
The final message that Drake sends in his song sounds like an update for his fans and it sums up what this project is very well – a reminder that both these artists are very much still active and are capable of creating a storm in the media and social networks because they’re both on the top of their game. As Drake says on ’30 For 30’, ‘Man that shit gotta go Platinum’. Drake and Future both know the supply and demand game here, so gave their audiences some quick from-the-heart product to quench their thirsts. You all wanted this, so enjoy it for what it is.
Best Tracks: Dirty Diamonds, 30 For 30, Big Rings
Worst Tracks: Plastic Bags, I’m The Plug, Change Locations