by GIOVANNI QUATTROCHI ’16
After his third studio album release, Drake is at an awkward point in his career. After Kanye released his third album, he went through a major withdrawal from the public. Drawing on the pain of losing his mother and fiancé, he came up with the album “808’s and Heartbreaks,” the antithesis of what he had become until that point. The breakdown of the ego and artistic integrity exemplified by the choices in instrumentation appeared like a digression from his pop/soul/electronic masterpiece album entitled “Graduation.” Really, “808’s” was an exploration of the more criticized elements of popular music: autotune, minor keys, low registers and out of key singing. “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” similarly abandons many of the musical themes that have contributed to his success thus far.
Drake has cornered the market on being the “self-deprecating singer/rapper,” becoming more widely known than J. Cole or Frank Ocean. However, on this album he hardly sings at all, and comes off as emotionally shut off. While the mixtape is certainly a regression from the style that has made Drake one of the best things to come out of Canada since Justin Bieber, it does not seem to be a strategic one. When Kanye was thrust toward rock bottom, he dug as far as he could inside of himself and pulled his demons to the surface for everyone to relate to. Drake has seemed to voluntarily wander over to rock bottom, and is now reading diary entries from when he was there. In every creative writing course I’ve taken, the professor has stressed the importance of showing, not telling the reader what you mean. Drake seems to have missed this point, causing his subject matter to seem shallow.
On the first track, ‘Legend,’ he discusses his satisfaction with his reputation; “oh my God, if I die I’m a legend,” introducing his braggadocios style, and production from the extremely talented producer, PARTYNEXTDOOR. The beat is reminiscent of J. Cole’s “Power Trip.” Drake has been quoted saying that he considers himself the first person to successfully rap and sing. While he may have sold more records, I would say his successors, J. Cole or Frank Ocean, are much more masterful with the technique.
The second track, ‘Energy,’ is Drake’s third attempt at rapping aggressively over a heavy trap and ominous piano beat. Two former releases ‘Started From the Bottom,’ and ‘0-100,’ used the same technique, which caused them to be wildly successful. The technique refers to the style used by legends of the genre Tupac, on a number of tracks and Kanye West, specifically on “Get ‘em High,” and more recently, “New Slaves.” The repeated use of the style, informed by a lack of life experience to draw on, contributes to the opinion that to continue to build a career, Drake will necessarily become a parody of himself. His mentor, Lil Wayne, faced the same dilemma upon recovering from his addiction. In order to preserve his integrity and keep his audience listening, he hired a team of writers, produced one track a day for 100 days, and sought out every artist that was willing to collaborate with him. Upon being asked how he managed to be so prolific, he answered honestly that he was only the ‘Lil Wayne’ brand representative, and that credit was due to those he employed.
Drake claimed to be working on a studio album entitled “Views From 6,” and instead dropped this 17-track mixtape. Increasing the rate at which he releases music may be good practice for the artist, but the lack of humility and the perceived thoughtlessness of the writing does not help his case.
The hook on the third track, “10 Bands,” is entertaining and exemplifies both his privilege and his work ethic; “I could pay my mommas rent when I was 17… I can’t let the streets down/ I’ve been in the condo for a week now.” Oh, what would the devastated ghettos of Toronto do without Drake? All kidding aside, he does make many legitimate attempts to incorporate successful hip-hop motifs into his work. On the fifth and sixth tracks he summons both the soft-spoken rap and upbeat latin influences utilized by Chance the Rapper. On the ninth track he again employs producer PARTYNEXTDOOR, but this time to sing, in a style reminiscent of artists Frank Ocean and The Weekend. On the end of the twelfth track, “6 Man,” Drake directly quotes Erykah Badu’s part from the song “You Got Me,” by The Roots. As a student of hip-hop, I considered this the best reference, and best track on the album. I was however devastated by the omission of Questlove’s snare breakdown that accompanied the original. The next track “Now & Forever,” like some of the first tracks, attempts to reincorporate old successful techniques in this case reusing the melody of the hook on “No Lie”
Drake is like many of his peers. Having reached the height of success on his 2013 release “Nothing Was the Same” he had planned to release this album for free, but was then pressured by his label, to release it for sale on iTunes. Some lyrics, such as “brand new Baretta, can’t wait to let it go/ walk up in my label like where the check tho? yeah I said it” on the eighth track, “Star67” assert his frustrations with the label. The track opens with a sample of mentor Lil Wayne, who is currently suing his partners at the label for $51 million in response to their decision to withhold the release of his anticipated album “Tha Carter V.”
Wayne makes an appearance on the eleventh track ‘Used To’ on which he exhibits the wordplay he’s become known for. By declaring “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” not a mixtape, but his fourth official album release, Drake’s taken a gamble. While it may be a crucial step in the development of Drake’s gloomy-gangster persona, it in no way is worth purchasing something else that costs $9.99 that costs 9.99. It’s on Spotify, and if there are no singles on this album, so if you don’t seek it out, you might miss it. If his next release is even comparable to Kanye’s fifth studio album, “My Dark Twisted Fantasy,” I’ll be damned.