I have a complicated thought process when it comes Aubrey Drake Graham. Drake is a cocky wordsmith with a way of effortlessly bending the English language to evoke a wide range of emotion. He also is the same rapper who admitted to going through his girl’s phone while she was in the bathroom. I’ve always liked dualities in musical artists, so perhaps that’s where my fascination lies.
When news hit that Drake was dropping a new album, we all became FBI agents, searching for the coveted linkage. The last time we had a “surprise” major musical release this big was Beyonce’s self-titled album. As always, I took to Twitter to see how the rest of the world was faring with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Utter pandemonium. Some people were tweeting out faulty download links, others were complaining about the album artwork, and of course there were the music snobs who wondered aloud why we even cared so much about a new Drake project.
Drake remains relevant due to his ability to make a direct impact on popular culture. For the last five years, he’s steadily become one of the biggest established artists in the world. He has carefully curated a musical catalogue that appeals to people of all walks of life. Your little brother might play “Started From the Bottom” while he’s getting ready for school. Drake could be the background on your sister’s iPhone. Your mom can sing “Hold On, We’re Going Home” while she’s cooking dinner. Your dad, if he’s like mine, probably only listens to the Drake songs with Jay Z. Where Drake’s connection runs deepest is with millennials. He’s one of us.
While his opulent lifestyle is the fantasy of millions around the globe, what truly connects Drake with his core fans is his transparency; his willingness to air out his innermost insecurities and fears makes him endearing. He’s built his brand on his ability to become painfully honest on tracks. He says things that would make many rappers cringe.
When it became obvious that I wouldn’t be able to find a link quick enough to satisfy my curiosity, I resorted to buying the album on iTunes, mainly in order to be one of the first to give it a run through, and in penance for downloading all of his other projects illegally. A week removed from the purchase, I still don’t regret it.
When I pressed play on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, I was ready to be amazed. By now, we know what to expect from Drake. Innovative nineties samples, strong songwriting, the perfect lines for future Instagram captions, and some street anthems. Since the So Far Gone era, these things have set him apart from his peers. This simple formula has worked for Aubrey time and time again. We wondered: did the formula have the juice for another run?
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is dope. It might be on the lower end of the totem pole in regards to Drake’s full discography. This isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. It has been well documented that Drake is set to release his fourth studio album, Views from the 6, later on this calendar year. The purpose of this project is most likely to drum up more anticipation for the upcoming album, and to show his fans where his at from a musical standpoint. This is a transition.
The mood is rather dark and brooding, echoing the vibes that emanate from the place that he calls home… The 6. Much like the infamous “Houstatlantavegas,” this is place seems to be the setting for much of the antics that fill Drake’s records. For years Drizzy has been one of Toronto’s biggest ambassadors, constantly referencing his hometown and its role in molding him as a man. This time around it’s winter in Toronto. The air is crisp; the streets are covered in blackened snow from exhaust and soot. This time around Drake is in a more introspective and calculating mood, taking stock of his surroundings and preparing for his next movement.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late functions as the perfect set up for Drake’s next project, like a carefully placed lob from Chris Paul to Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan. Drake uses this mixtape to introduce us to the place that he calls home. On songs such as “Know Yourself,” “No Tellin,” and especially “You and the 6,” Drake ushers the listener into his Toronto, and as one would expect he is a gracious host. We get flashbacks of him in his “yellow techno-marine” with Ethan, who “pushed a Subaru hatchback,” and running the streets of Toronto with his woes. Note that the usage of the word “woes” has risen by 5000% since this tape dropped.
In Drake’s Toronto we find a man who has removed himself from his peer group. Much like the heroes in many comic books, we see Drake return to his lair in order to regroup. 2014 wasn’t the greatest year for Drizzy, coming off an album that wasn’t as well received as he would have hoped, tension with one of his label mates, and strippers making salacious accusations on his character. Several times throughout the mixtape Drake takes time to reflect on where he was before the fame. He muses about a different type of struggle that may seem more innocent as more time has passed. It’s clear that he’s disappointed in where he is right now, and is taking time to return to where he’s most comfortable at… The 6.
Drake continues to set up the narrative for his album. We see that everything isn’t squeaky clean in the 6. While it is undeniable that he is the man of his city, it isn’t easy at the top. He’s become jaded with his new position in his city, which can also stand for a metaphor with his placement within the rap industry. We find Drake more cautious and guarded, less buddy buddy and more bout it bout it. A theme consistent throughout If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is the clear lack of trust that he has for the new people that he has around him. Drake is constantly rapping about his ever tightening circle, the bad press that he can’t seem to get away from, and his inability to simply find peace of mind.
This may be why many struggle to digest this project. It’s a departure from the crooning, brooding Aubrey that we’ve grown used to. Sure there are tracks such as “Madonna,” “Company,” and “Jungle” that see the fleeting return of Heartbreak Drake, but there’s no real emotion in these tracks. It’s more colder, more distant and matter of fact. This is what the industry has done to him. In a life full of empty relationships and dashed expectations, Drizzy has sunken to a pessimistic state that he can’t seem to get out of. It’s clearly reflected in the music.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is an interesting release. While, it’s not the complete, cohesive, album-quality release that we’ve come to expect from our friend from the North, maybe that was the point. Drake still gives us songs for the club (6 Man), for the bedroom (Wednesday Night Interlude and Jungle), and for the whip (10 Bands and Used To). If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is merely the pit stop on our road to Views From the 6. It would be in your best interest to strap up and enjoy the ride.