By Maceo Maddox
Aubrey Drake Graham. The man needs no introduction. Ever since So Far Gone was released in 2009, Drake has managed to stay on top of the rap game, and he has done so in impressive fashion. After not releasing a project in 2014 and still maintaining relevance and making waves in the rap scene, he opens 2015 with a surprise: If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
There’s been much deliberation over whether this project is an album or a mixtape. Though Drake himself has categorized the project as a mixtape, any full-length record that is released for sale I personally consider an album. There’s also been much speculation over the circumstances of this release, with the general consensus being that Drake created this project as a mixtape for sale in order to break his 4-album contract with Cash Money Records (which makes a fair amount of sense, though unconfirmed). This theory would also explain the sound of the album and the flows Drake takes on it.
It’s no secret that the music Drake makes is in direct correlation to where he stands in his personal life at the time, as most – if not, all – of his songs revolve around himself, with a proportion of his lyrics making waves through their depth and connection to his audience. Drake executes this well on his second LP and magnum opus, Take Care. Ever since this release, however, Drake has taken a turn from the turmoil and emotional appeal and stepped into his confident self. Nothing Was The Same reflected this changeup, albeit in a lackluster manner.
This is a difficult album to review (I’ve changed my entire review on it three times), and one of the most daunting qualities of it is the simple and minimalistic the instrumentation. Throughout this entire 17-track LP, I’ve lifted my brow at only a select few instrumentals. However, though the beats are simple, after multiple listens, you begin to understand the atmosphere the album is trying to convey.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is a completely conventional album. It takes sounds that we’ve heard before – look at the similarities in song structure between “0 to 100” and several of the tracks, namely “No Tellin’” – and uses them as a template. To put it simply, the instrumentals on this album operate as dumbed-down and less-cloudy Nothing Was The Same instrumentals. Normally, this would be a recipe for disaster, but Drake makes do with what he’s given.
The conventionality of this album is bolstered by the lack of originality in Drake’s flows. Most of the flows on this project can be heard elsewhere on the mainstream hip-hop scene. The flows are hardly dynamic, but due to Drake’s bravado and poise, they mesh with their beats in a deceptively-unassuming manner. The greatest difference between this album and every other Drake album to date is how defined and composed he is with his subject matter.
It’s clear when listening to this album that Drake has reached a point in his career where he is both aware of and comfortable with where he is. And once you dismiss Drake’s cult following and hype, it’s much easier to appreciate this project for how simple and effective it is.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late has many bright spots on its track list. The songs with switch-ups in the middle of them are noteworthy; “No Tellin’”, “Star67”, and “Know Yourself” are a few of the more intriguing tracks, with “Company” falling short, having been ruined by the Travi$ Scott feature.
“Know Yourself” has a very open, spacious trap appeal to it, and switches mid-way from a song that is meant to elicit a turn-up to a song that is DEFINITELY meant to elicit a turn-up. The two aforementioned tracks take the 0 to 100 route, starting with a pretty basic, floaty instrumental and then switching to a more moody, down-tempo sound that incites singing from Drake.
The two PartyNextDoor features both do a great job of using PND’s sound as an atmospheric asset to the album’s sound. “Wednesday Night Interlude” alone is a pretty good song by PND standards, and though the chorus on “Preach” almost caused me to completely mark that song off as terrible, the way Drake flows on the almost-absent beat during his verses is very melodic and easy to vibe to. Also, the switch-up at the tail end of this song is a nice addition, and truthfully one of my favorite parts of the album.
Going down the track list, the song that solidified this LP as a controversial listen for me was “Madonna”. Drake opens this song by mumbling over the beat in a hardly-intelligible manner. (One thing I had to get over as a Drake listener is that he sometimes decides to vocalize in ways that are annoying at the first listen, look at 6 God.) However, “Madonna” has a very smooth beat, and after getting used to the mumbling chorus, it’s interesting to hear how Drake sings along his opportunity to court some woman into his vehicle.
The tracks that push this album from simple solidarity to something-worth-listening-to come at the very beginning and very end. “Legend” and “Energy” both do a great job of introducing the path that Drake is taking on through the majority of this album, and they’re both sonically engaging. Drake tests out his singing-without-singing ability on “Legend”, and the beat on “Energy” is likely to induce a fast-paced head nod.
However, the closing three tracks are definitely the best segment of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. As he did on Take Care, Drake dedicates a song to a conversation with his mother, discussing relations with her, his father, and dealing with the realization that he’s the head honcho of rap. “Jungle”, my personal favorite, is a sentiment to some woman who’s no longer in his life anymore, and features some very striking and slightly frightening emotional lyrics.
Lastly, we are given another one of Drake’s acclaimed “(time) in (location)” tracks: “6PM in New York.” Holding up to expectations, this song is on par with its two predecessors in terms of lyricism and tenacity, and it’s also a tad more insightful. Not to mention, the Tyga diss.
Of course, there are blemishes to be acknowledged. The most disappointing part of this album would have to be “Now & Forever”, which is an absolutely terrible song, as Drake is whining over some down-tempo pop/r&b instrumental and vocalizing using this grimy pitch corrector that results in a sonic atrocity. No mooore, no moooore, no mooore. Also, “6 God” is hardly recommendable for any reason than maybe the switch-up at the end, if that. Still, the unity of this album is impressive, especially with the sound we’re given.
Let it be known that creating an album that is cohesive does not automatically equate to a great album; Drake proved that to us with Nothing Was The Same. However, unlike on NWTS, here Drake gives us flows and lyrics that are easy to sing along to, and he does so seemingly without effort or pressure.
Plus, the beats aren’t dreary, rather they’re simple-to-effect and provide a loose platform for Drake to fulfill with his refurbished flows, yet more focused lyrics. A very complicated and intriguing mix of musical ideas.
There are a lot of factors to consider when critiquing a Drake project, which makes it difficult. To critique a Drake album without considering his (previous) position(s) in the rap game is almost too much of an objective decision to make.
This album is meant for an extremely casual listen, but overall, it was definitely a step in the right direction. It’s catchy, relaxed, and consistent, and I wouldn’t mind hearing this kind of Drake on Views From The 6.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late: 7.9/10