By Rahul Sharma
This is Future’s universe; we’re just lucky to be a part of it. 2015 has been the best year of Future’s 5+ year career, and his recent hot streak started in late 2014 when he released Monster, the first mixtape that would kick-start his unprecedented streak of projects through 2015. Since then, he’s released Beast Mode, 56 Nights, and Dirty Sprite 2 – all incredible projects that seemed to help catalyze Future’s rise to god-like status in the world of rap.
Alternatively, there is a rapper who isn’t a descendant of the revered Dungeon Family and wasn’t born and raised in the streets of Atlanta, but has just garnered just as much hype and success around him this year: Aubrey Graham. Drake has had himself one hell of a 2015, which started off with the release of his well-received album If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, a pseudo-mixtape project that was meant to create buzz for his upcoming studio album “Views From the 6.”
In addition to this, Drake had some of the hottest songs of the year: his feature on Fetty Wap’s “My Way,” his release of the summer anthem “Hotline Bling,” and his single “Back to Back,” which was a part of the highly-publicized, extremely meme-filled beef he had with Meek Mill, one of the biggest events that transpired in the rap world this summer.
On one end, we have Future Hendrix, the God of Atlanta trap music in 2015, whose meteoric ascension to superstar status in the span of a few months was so tangible that we as fans felt like we grew with him. On the other, we have an already established international superstar in Drake whose fanbase is so passionately loyal that it seems as though every decision he makes and every song he releases is a predetermined move part of a larger, more grandiose scheme to reach greater heights.
So naturally, these two colossal forces decided to collaborate and make an album together, with one of Atlanta’s hottest and most talented new producers, Metro Boomin, crafting the beats. It’s titled “What A Time To Be Alive.” Once rumors started buzzing that this project was a real thing, the hype snowballed into something that was nearly impossible to live up to – even by Future and Drake’s standards.
At first impression, the album is a collection of hard-hitting trap beats laced with Future and Drake verses on each song, usually with a hook done by either one of the artists, sometimes both. Once you delve further into the intricacies and nuances of the album, it’s evident that the structure of the songs aren’t as complex as one would hope for in a collaboration album.
For instance, in other contemporary collaboration albums such as Watch the Throne or Run the Jewels, the albums would feature complex songs where Kanye and Jay-Z (or Killer Mike and El-P) rapped long verses, interwoven with each other’s alternating lines and ad-libs. They were competing with each other on the same song, but also empowering one another to rise to greater heights; they were truly a team.
On What a Time To Be Alive, it merely seems as though Drake and Future are rapping as separate entities on the same song, because they have to. The lack of chemistry is quite apparent throughout this project and it’s the only thing holding it back from being a truly memorable creation.
Sonically, the album sounds pretty similar to Future’s recent studio album Dirty Sprite 2: heavy, sometimes dark trap beats with catchy hooks and memorable phrases. Although Metro Boomin didn’t produce the entire album, he produced several of the songs and his influence can be heard throughout and he may very well be the MVP of the album simply because of how polished his beats are.
However, it’s apparent that the quintessential trap beats provide a familiar background for Future much more than it does for Drake, because the entirety of the album felt as if Drake was just an afterthought. Instead of the project feeling like one cohesive collection of songs that equally showcased the skills of both Drake and Future, it feels as though Future’s verses and rapping shined through much more than Drake did.
Drake definitely had some shining moments in the project, notably on his 30 For 30 Freestyle, but overall, Future was the Finals MVP of this album and Drake was a decent second-option; he was the Dwyane Wade to Future’s LeBron in the 2012 NBA Finals. And if that analogy upsets you, just be glad I didn’t compare Drake to Shane Battier.
This isn’t meant to be a knock against Drake’s technical or musical talent, because he’s undoubtedly a talented artist with an ear for great sounding songs; it’s more indicative of the intentions these two artists had when initially crafting the album.
Future and especially Drake have both mastered the art of song creation: they know what’s currently hot, what will catch the attention of social media, and what beats and hooks will be played on the radio and at the club. If you’re a college student who attends parties, chances are pretty likely that you’ll be hearing many of these songs for the next few months at pre-games and get-togethers. You’ll be hearing soundbites of Drake yelling “Jumpman! Jumpman! Jumpman!” in the background of your friend’s Snapchats when they’re taking Snapchat videos of themselves in the middle of a party.
You’ll see several Instagram pictures between now and the end of eternity captioned with “What A Time To Be Alive” or any combination of diamond emojis and the dozens of quotable one-liners peppered throughout the album. The point is, Drake and Future know what product sells, and they’ve mastered its creation. Because of this, it sounds as though Drake and Future made this album because they’re aware of their respective positions at the top of rap currently, not because they wanted to create an organic product that explored the depths of their creativity.
Although Future has been making trap music his entire life, Drake seems to have caught onto the wave and is fully capitalizing on it in a multitude of ways. Whether it’s his rendition of staccato-based rapping, the trap snares in many of his recent songs, or even his collaborations with artists such as Migos and iLoveMakonnen, Drake has adopted the “trap culture” and has garnered a great deal of commercial success with it.
Similarly, a majority of the songs on WATTBA are very catchy, but there’s a manufactured vibe throughout the album that feels as though it’s a mutually beneficial business venture more than anything. The lack of chemistry between the two artists is further exemplified within the lyrical content of the album as well.
From a lyrical standpoint, this album is exactly what you’d expect: tons of braggadocio, personal wealth and drug raps, and verses about how each of them are at the top of the rap game. There’s also some slick Meek Mill jabs that Drake includes as well. The lyrics are perfectly suited for the production, so being critical of lyrical content on an album like this would be unwarranted. However, it becomes blatantly obvious how different Future and Drake are as human beings.
Both had completely polar opposite upbringings, one grew up in the slums of Atlanta while the other was raised in an upper-middle class household in the suburbs of Canada. Many of Future’s verses are highly introspective and almost feel like a cry for help from his the depths of his codeine haze. He discusses his undying, passionate love for dirty sprite, his struggles with drug addiction and feeling inadequate, and how his rise to fame contrasts with his dark past. It’s all very thought-provoking and surprisingly emotional for a trap album; however, Drake’s lyrical content on his verses just don’t seem to fit in with Future’s.
While Future discusses the troubles within the depths of his soul, Drake’s lyrics are much more light-hearted and somewhat simple. He discusses his money, his possessions, his friend’s possessions, and once again about how some girl in his life “used to be a good girl.” While these lyrics aren’t poor by any means, they just don’t seem to fit alongside Future’s verses.
It just doesn’t feel right to have a Drake verse on a song titled “Live From The Gutter” where Future is discussing his rise from literal rags to riches. It’s not Drake’s fault that he wasn’t raised in unfortunate circumstances, but still, the juxtaposition of his verse with Future’s verses provided a contrast that seemed more like a facade than something genuine.
There are a few standout songs on this album, such as ‘Jumpman’, ‘Diamonds Dancing’ and ‘Scholarships’, where Future and Drake seem to be on the same wavelength, and those songs are excellent and truly cohesive. Overall, the lyrical content on What A Time To Be Alive doesn’t make or break the album by any means, but the distinction in content between Future and Drake’s verses are evident.
Overall, What A Time To Be Alive is a solid project. The strength of the album is completely up to the interpretation of its listeners, however. If you’re looking for a more lyrical, complex album that stretches the boundaries of creativity and music altogether, you probably won’t enjoy this album (and that’s your own fault for expecting that from this type of an album).
However, if you’re looking for a fun, generally lighthearted (we feel for you, Future) album with excellent beats and catchy hooks, this project is for you. While the album’s strengths lie in its catchiness and accessibility, its weaknesses are rooted in the lack of chemistry between the two artists, and the general feeling that the album was made as a power move instead of an actual album that they were truly invested in.
After all, it only took them 6 days to complete the project. Even so, What A Time To Be Alive serves its purpose in being an energetic, hype-inducing album that will keep fans occupied until Future and Drake release their respective solo projects later in the year.
Both artists had their individual shining moments on the album, but Future was the star and, at this point in time, it truly feels like he can do no wrong. 2015 has been an outstanding year for Drake, and the excitement for his long-awaited next studio album “Views From the 6” is at an all time high. But, it’s been an even better one for Future, and we can only wonder how long he can sustain this streak of pure excellence. Hopefully, it’s forever.