Saturday 21 February 2015

Review of 'If You're Reading This Its Too Late' by Drake

If I die, I’m a legend’.

Gone are the days of singing soppy r&b slowjams and serenading women with his heartthrob image. The Toronto hip hop artist has embraced trap rap and Kanye-esque arrogance and now thinks he’s ‘a legend’.

Oh well, at least he doesn’t think he’s a God.

Drake’s transition from adorable puppy to angry Alsatian hasn’t been easy to digest. The first signs of this transformation took place on his last album, Nothing is the Same. Whilst he did prove himself to be a competent rapper on this record, his tough guy persona seemed a little forced. In short, it was like watching Mr Rogers play a gangster.

Mr Who? Oh sorry, let me pick a more relevant comparison (hell, even I’m too young to know who Mr. Rogers is). In short it was like watching Dora the Explorer play a gangster.

Y’all know Dora the explorer. I bet half you saplings still watch it. I CERTAINLY DO

With Drake proclaiming himself to be a legend on the very first track, I feared this new album would be a similarly embarrassing case of Drake trying to act tough and failing. Fortunately, I was proved wrong. Whilst there is a lot of bragging and dissing on this record, Drake manages to make it seem genuine rather than an act. How? Quite simply he counters this ignorance and braggadocio with a healthy serving of humility and wit.

Choosing to rap about issues that are relatable to him, Drake doesn’t come across as fake. He covers his feud with Birdman, his relationship with haters and his beef with Tyga – all the things fans want to hear. He doesn’t pretend to be a drug kingpin or a gangbanger. He instead acts himself. The result is a believable and likable version of Drake. He finds the happy balance between a cute puppy and an angry Alsatian, settling for the friendly but feisty temperament of a cocker spaniel.

If you’re reading this you’re confused

Canine analogies aside, Drake feels real on this album and realness is what we all look for in our hip hop, right? Admittedly, there are points on this record where he gets a bit hypocritical with the social commentary. He attacks Facebook and Twitter and internet culture a number of times talking dreamily of an age ‘before hashtags’, and yet the success of his career has relied on social media, particularly this album which was released without any prior promotion or warning, a move people have been describing as 'pulling a Beyonce'. Drake relied on the people of Twitter and Facebook to spread the word of this new album and therefore to criticise this platform seems a little unjustified.

This said, whilst I might not agree with everything Drake says on this record, none of what he says on this album is sheer dumb. Whilst the line about rappers struggling to eat does seem odd coming from a loaded artist like Drake, it is true in a wider context - most underground rappers can barely afford to fund their music careers these days because none of us pay for hip hop any more.

Anyway, that's the lyrics discussed. What about the rest of this album? What about the beats and flows?

One word - BUMPIN'!  

My reaction to the beats and flows
Yes, there are your typical 808s and staccato flows on this record. However, this is more than your average Chief Keef trap rap record. For one, there's a lot more creativity on display musically. The first track for instance contains some muffled vocals in the background that create a unique spacey vibe. Drake’s flows meanwhile have some fun twists and turns, the most noticable being the sighed delivery on ‘Madonna’.

'Know Yourself' and 'No Tellin’ stand out as the biggest party tunes and some of my favourites. If I had to choose my least favourite it would be 'Preach' simply because of the horrible use of auto-tune. Fortunately, the track that comes straight after, 'Wednesday Night Interlude' is one of the prettiest here, sporting a beat so wavy it sounds like it was practically produced underwater.

more of my reactions to the beats and flows

To spice things up, we get the track 'Jungle' towards the end of the album. It’s a slow-grinding soul number that harks back to Drake’s r&b days and shows us the artist’s diversity.
My reaction to 'Jungle'
This is immediately followed by old-skool boom bap flavoured single, '6PM in New York', the album’s closing track. Drake here ends up sounding a little like Lupe Fiasco, delivering some raw and fierce social commentary that will have hip hop purists turning their heads.

All in all, these final tracks serve to show off the extent of Drake's talent and the possible routes he may choose to take in the future (can we expect an entire boom-bap flavoured Drake album one day?). His last album may have seemed like he was playing a trap rap caricature, but now the rapper has quit acting and found his true identity. If indeed Drake does one day become worthy of 'legend' status, which is quite possible, people will remember this album as the moment he truly found his feet.