Brandishing a developing sound that he claims to be “That new Toronto,” and lyrical skills that don’t appear to be deteriorating anytime soon, Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late serves as a warning flare to the rest of the rap game.
As if this past weekend in music didn’t present enough to gloat about, OVO Sound front man Drake dropped a pseudo-surprise project titled If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, in what acts as the prelude to the artist’s fourth major label album, Views From the 6, which is slated to be released later this spring. The
album mixtape project also included a fifteen minute short film titled Jungle, a brief documentation of the 6 God contemplatively gazing into the depths of his city, kicking it with his homies, and even sporting a newly acquired Canadian drawl, ya know? Consumed in context with one another, the seventeen song treat and brief flick provide Drizzy’s audience with a snapshot of the rapper’s life, an environment that we’ve been familiarizing ourselves with over the course of the past half decade or so. And while his latest offering isn’t a drastic shift from any of his previous releases, it serves multiple functions in a buffer zone as Drizzy readies himself and his forthcoming album to potentially take firm grasp over hip-hop’s crown, a title that exists in a fluid genre with frequent lead changes.
Though Drake flirts with evolution in some aspects on this project, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late doesn’t fully escort the Toronto rapper into any new realms of uncharted hip-hop. Rather, it’s on this project that he noticeably attempts to rid himself of the negative perceptions that countless peers and critics have attempted to plague him with over the course of his career. Aside from the beautiful dedication to his mother titled “You and The 6,” and the Gabriel Garzón-Montano assisted R&B ballad “Jungle,” Drizzy tosses aside the sentimentally on this project, choosing instead to channel much darker depictions. Evident examples of this are seen throughout the album, but most notably on tracks like Boi-1da’s piano driven, borderline paranoid “Energy,” in which the rapper defiantly states “I got rap n*****s that I gotta act like I like, but my actin’ days are over, f*** those n*****s for life.” Other joints, like the previously released “6 God,” and the Weezy assisted “Used To,” document the Toronto MC’s acknowledgement of his competition, but in some respects it’s on this project that Drake appears to be his biggest enemy. This becomes evident immediately in the short film, as a short soliloquy pits the rapper in a newly discovered territory — one that causes the him to contemplate the trappings of fame and fortune. He laments:
“Shit’s just crazy, like… The whole energy out here is just changing, you know? It’s just getting dark, man, quick… It’s just like, man, when we’re on the road it feels like anybody’s a target, you know? You just don’t know where it’s going to come from; you can’t even gauge it, man. And it’s like I go from that — trying to balance that — to just balancing my own sanity. I’m drinking more, I’m smoking more. We’re out here staying out so late that it’s early… I’m not losing it though, you know? I’m just like — I’m just venting. I’m not like worried or nothin’. It’s already too late for these guys, man, trust me. I’m just more worried about myself, you know? I just gotta come home.”
The troubles and doubts that weigh Drizzy down in the film act as a common thread that reoccurs throughout the mixtape, as the rapper questions himself multiple times on the project. It’s as if he still experiences brief moments of disbelief, like on tracks like “No Tellin’” when he boasts “I’ve been goin’ hard, but then again, they think I’m soft, think I’m innocent/I’m just lookin’ in like I’m really him, man, I’m really him, you just feelin’ him!” And while he does offer slight slivers of vulnerability, he’s quick to regain control, as is evident further in the song when he asserts “Please do not speak to me like I’m that Drake from four years ago, I’m at a higher place/Thinkin’ they lions, and tigers and bears, I go huntin’, put heads on my fireplace.” And while a majority of Drizzy’s rounds are fired without a direct face or name, he drops a few gems that will prime hip-hop heads for a potentially record breaking second quarter. Overall, aside from a few dashes of “No he didn’t” bars, and a solid dose of nostalgic storytelling, Drizzy didn’t profoundly advance himself from a lyrical perspective on this tape. I suppose fans will have to wait patiently until Views From the 6 to determine if “the new s**t is on steroids” like the rapper claims on “No Tellin’.”
If there’s any aspect of this tape that’s on roid rage, it’s the production. In some respects, If You’re Reading This serves to further cement musical environments that Drizzy has notched grooves in for some time, while on other tracks it allows him to showcase a sound that he and his OVO group have created all their own. Jams like “Madonna” allow Drizzy to pay homage to an H-Town plug he rode into the game on, and he even pairs up with G.O.O.D. Music’s Travi$ Scott for a new breed of Houston sonics on the stripper ode “Company.” The tape also receives eclectic electronic contributions from PARTYNEXTDOOR (Preach, Wednesday Night Interlude), but it’s producer Boi-1da that allows Drizzy to give his audience the best glimpse of the 6. Trademarked by gloomy, winterized synths and stove top high hats, 1da’s “10 Bands” and “Know Yourself” stand as the tape’s two strongest beats, transporting listeners to a frigid Toronto environment that we’ve rarely had the pleasure of visiting on Drizzy’s previous projects. Backed by the single most addictive phrase on the album, you can’t listen to either track without envisioning yourself running through the 6 with your WOEs at least once.
With a developing sound that he brands as “That new Toronto,” and lyrical skills that don’t appear to be deteriorating anytime soon, Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late serves as a warning flare to the rest of the rap game. As a whole, the tape isn’t an overpowering surge forward for the Toronto artist by any means, but it provides listeners with spurts of addictive flair and mastermind potential that will sustain a buzz long enough for the OVO head to round the troops for Views From The 6. He certainly talks a mean game, but time will tell whether or not Drizzy’s right when he says “It’s already too late for these guys.”
The Breakdown |
Rhymes – 8/10 – Featuring a much more aggressive tone, Drizzy’s bars hold up to the standards that he set for himself after releasing “0-100/The Catch Up” this past Spring.
Production – 9/10 – Utilizing wintery synths, a barrage of high hats, and reoccurring R&B samples, the Drizzy sound — and the sound of the 6 more importantly— has begun to take shape.
Originality – 8/10 – Pairing the tape with a short film was a clutch move by the OVO head honcho, and the tape/flick combo proves to render a unique creation with consistent themes represented throughout.
OVERALL – 8.3/10