There’s a friend I used to rap with about hip-hop who I’m no longer in touch with that I’m going to call “G” for this review. G was really about the South, the Third Coast, that trill music. Above all G repped for Texas hard and was passionately anti-commercial about anything that you could hear on the radio or that sold more than a few hundred thousand units. Now because I liked G I had a hard time being honest when G went on rants about Drake. Actually they were more than just rants – “G” would go on about how Drake was ruining hip-hop, “F@%! that Canadian suburban poseur TV acting twat” and what not, and I’d just listen to G and not say s%#t.
Now that we’re not on speaking terms I suppose it’s time I come clean to myself if nobody else – G isn’t going to see it – I thought G was WRONG about Aubrey Drake Graham. The entire hip-hop universe didn’t implode because of the existence of Drake. Underground rap albums still get made and we review them every week. Not all major label releases are garbage just because a billion dollar corporate behemoth are behind them. That’s too easy and too simplistic. Common’s albums don’t suck. Nas’ albums don’t suck. You can still have artistic integrity even if you’re a cog in the wheels of a giant music industry machine. It’s possible to make creative and artistically fulfilling works without living in near poverty. It’s not EASY mind you. G wasn’t wrong to be suspicious of the industry, and I understood G’s “Started From the Bottom” rant because in a sense it was true – he grew up comfortably middle class. As far as rap success goes though he DID start from the bottom, giving away free mixtapes, earning his way up to a major label deal and the heights of fame and success he has now.
Then again… how much success does Drake really have even now? The recent news that Lil Wayne is suing Birdman to extract himself from Cash Money Records has thrown the entire nature of the Young Money subsidiary in doubt. If Wayne leaves and takes all of the Young Money artists with him, particularly Tyga, Drake and Nicki Minaj, what does Bryan ‘Baby/Birdman’ Williams have left after he’s gone – and just how likely is he to let that happen without one hell of an ugly fight? The fact Wayne would sue despite being one of the most successful rap artists of the last decade plus suggests that even if he’s well compensated, he still feels he’s been shorted on his TRUE earnings. Given that Wayne is often referred to as Drake’s “mentor” it’s not at all surprising if he feels the same way. That may be why “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” came out without any warning – or why he doesn’t thank Birdman or anybody from Cash Money in the album’s credits. It’s widely suspected he dropped this album just to fulfill his contractual obligations and get the hell out – possibly following Wayne out the door – or maybe just to find his own landing spot where he can continue to reach his millions of fans worldwide.
Now here’s where I’m going to flip the script because you thought you knew where I was going with this review – I’m shifting gears, stomping on the brakes, and if I timed my oversteer right I’m gonna sliiiiiiiiiiide right on out of view like a drift master. I still like Aubrey, but “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” isn’t that good. “I ain’t felt the pressure in a little while, it’s gon’ take some getting used to/floatin all through the city with the windows down, puttin on like I used to.” Yeah okay I can see how Drake is starting to reassert his independence on “Used To,” starting to feel himself again and get his swag back, but the beat does nothing for me. The s#%t doesn’t bump. Even if it was Drake’s best lyrical performance ever, I don’t feel the headnod factor. It’s not getting me excited. Have a listen to the instrumental for yourself.
There are definitely some songs that have commercial potential that I don’t hate, and though I’d rather hear Drake rapping than singing, “Jungle” seems like the kind of track that with a few choice edits (notably the line “f@%! what they talkin about on yo’ timeline”) could get radio play. It’s a pleasantly inoffensive beat from Noah “40” Shebib, but it’s not that much better than “Used To” because it’s still not the Drake I first got into – the “Best I Ever Had” Drake. That Drake had the hip-hop swag, the banging beats, and could still get away with singing just a little bit. You can’t find that on “Too Late,” and the more I listen to it the more I buy the theory that this was just released to get him out of a deal.
PartyNextDoor makes “Preach” sound like a really bad Future song, and Drake can’t save it after it goes off that cliff. “Company” features Travi$ Scott doing the same thing. This new modulation vocal style actually makes me yearn for the good old days of AutoTune, and everybody use to HATE on that s#%t. Maybe by the time the next even worse technique comes along, I’ll actually fondly miss Future’s singing.
Drake’s obsession with “6” on this album refers to the city of Toronto – it has nothing to do with the mark of the beast or the model number of the latest European sports car. It results in some of the album’s better moments, particularly “You & The 6,” and coincidentally “6” also occurs in the apparent sequel to “5AM in Toronto” called “6PM in New York.” The latter is a bonus track, and after a whole hour of music it’s the closest to the Aubrey Drake Graham that I actually want to hear from – the cocky s#@t talking Canadian who says “It’s so childish calling my name on the world stage/You need to act your age and not your girl’s age.” He even calls out people for acting foolish on social media, which is a lesson I wish more artists, athletes and entertainers would heed. “Your content so aggressive lately, what’s irking you?” Well we know what’s irking Lil Wayne – perhaps it’s irking Drake too. I’m glad he put out this album and that perhaps it will even lead to his artistic freedom, because maybe we can get back to an interesting Drake again. Then again if his next album is full of crooned duets with Future, it may be that G was right after all about Drake. I don’t hate him like she does though – this just isn’t my favorite album in his catalogue. It may not be Cash Money’s either – none of the songs are on Drake’s official VEVO channel and his “Jungle” mini movie is on his own imprint. Make of that what you will.