When the dialogue surrounding a Platinum-selling, Grammy-winning rapper’s new surprise project primarily concerns the backstage drama surrounding its price point, that’s a problem. (Don’t believe me? Do a Google search.)
Perhaps it’s because Drake’s new mixtape (album?) If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late lacks diversity in sound and subject matter. Several of its beats mimic the hypnotic piano loops of last year’s smash hit singles “Believe Me” and “0 to 100 / The Catch-Up”, while lyrical retreads of “Worst Behavior” and its chest-beating boasts are all too common. The stark, tender, and—most importantly—relatable confessionals of 2009’s star-making mixtape So Far Gone and the following year’s stellar debut album Thank Me Later are more or less absent until its downtempo conclusion.
As with everything else in his life, Drake is plenty aware of his regression: “I’m turnin’ into a nigga that thinks about money and women / Like 24/7, that’s where my life took me,” he spits on “Know Yourself”. On the bright side, the 6 God clearly gives a shit about rapping again. Maybe his summer tour with Lil Wayne, chock-full of classic hits featuring fluid flows, lit a fire under his ass. Whatever the case may be, this is the least R&B, Auto-Tune-centric project we’ve seen from Drizzy since 2007’s Comeback Season, back when he was little more than a backpack rapper in the vein of Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West.
While the Drake of 2015 bears scant surface resemblance to his younger self, he regains a compelling fascination with rhythm and repetition on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Drake may fall into overused flows from time to time —as is the trend these days— but there are moments of undeniable brilliance here. He turns every cadence into a hook, latching onto a hot rhythm or pattern throughout a verse only to flip it on its head by the end. “Energy” sways effortlessly over another somber piano riff, “10 Bands” makes ample use of pauses, nearly every song features egregiously stretched syllables that rubber band back to swift spitting, and bonus track “in New York” unleashes the lyrical beast we’ve been waiting for since “in Toronto.” At his best, Drake makes every line count.
At his worst, he sounds soulless under layers of sonic sludge and ugly, forced nihilism. How many times can Drake bitch and moan about his wealth, his thankless work ethic, his prowess with the ladies, etc. etc. over murky backing tracks before even the most ardent of fans get queasy? This is a 17-track project clocking in at 70 minutes, and it certainly feels like Drake’s cleaning house before the impending release of his proper fourth studio album Views from the 6. Here’s hoping the monotony is out of his system, but it’s hard to be optimistic when this has been Drake’s modus operandi for the past two years.
“Company” opens with a laundry list of Drake’s needs—a girl from the country, a girl from Kentucky, a shawty from Houston, a girl who gon’ love him, a girl who gon’ trust him…cry me a fucking river—accompanied by typically snooze-worthy production from the scourge of the rap scene himself, Travi$ Scott. Seriously, the only thing more frustrating than his messily layered atmospherics is his slapdash use of Auto-Tune. (And don’t get me started about the two tracks featuring PARTYNEXTDOOR. Just…no.)
But the good ultimately outweighs the bad. The dangerously monotonous “6 God” is saved by a hellacious beat, “Energy” is straight-up mean in the best possible way, “Now & Forever” reminds us why Drizzy is one of the best hooksmiths in the game, and then there’s “You & the 6”, a classic Drake confessional and argument-cum-love letter to his mother that will induce feels in even the toughest rap forum warriors:
“And look I hate it when you hate on all my girlfriends
And assistants always convinced that there’s always someone better
Like that girl from that gym who trains you
I know you wanna arrange it, you told me she’s free Thursday
And I’m sure that she’s a angel but she don’t want this life, the timing ain’t right
Maybe one day but even one day with us is a time of a life
We do things that people pay to document
You got the sweetest heart but I’m not here to give out compliments, or boost nobody confidence momma
I got no friends in this, momma, I don’t pretend with this, momma, I’on joke with this, momma”
That’s the sort of unfiltered honesty and sincerity that got Drake to where he is, as demonstrated with the daring lyric “I know that showing emotion don’t ever mean I’m a pussy” from 2011’s “Lord Knows”. I really wish Drake would drop the Toronto gangster facade he’s built up so carefully over the years but he’s too far gone to go back.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is a solid project—it’s way better than Nothing Was the Same, an album that deserved a 4/10 in retrospect—but with all this talk of being a “Legend” and a “6 God”, it’s not good enough. I’m just saying he could do better.
Nick Porcaro is a 24-year old graphic designer, musician and writer based in Jersey City, NJ. Nick graduated in 2012 from UArts in Philadelphia, PA with a BFA in Graphic Design. As a musician he’s played guitar for over 10 years, in addition to dabbling in bass, drums and vocals. Nick currently plays rhythm guitar with Max Feinstein and has worked with Matt Scuteri, Sara Martin, Shakedown Inc., and The Nerd Who Ate St. Louis. When he’s not freelancing for the Wilma Theater, Nick is writing songs for his debut solo record.