Drake’s sudden drops of music get progressively bigger. Last Thursday night, the Toronto rapper released a mixtape without warning, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, which was a 17-song collection before his fourth studio LP Views from the 6. That same day, Kanye debuted his first adidas collection and 750 Yeezy Boost, while Puff headlined “The Tip-Off” concert with Snoop Dogg that kicked off NBA All-Star Weekend. The timing of everything fueled the rumor mill for social media, and some questions were raised. Was Drake intentionally trying to overshadow Hip Hop titans Kanye´West and Puff Daddy? Was this a ploy to get out of his Cash Money contract just like his mentor Lil Wayne? Or, is Drake simply establishing himself as the hottest emcee? In the same week that Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker The Berry” and ‘Ye’s new song “Wolves” were available for listening, Drake felt the need to shift the conversation to him. Where he was once viewed as Hip Hop’s sensitive soul, he’s evolved into a formidable competitor chasing after legendary status. By now, listeners know what to expect from him—dark, moody and honest have all been words to describe his music before. The difference with If You’re Reading This Its Too Late is that we’re witnessing the start of Drizzy season in all its memes and hashtag glory.
In each of Drake’s releases, there’s an artistic growth that can be traced through his songs. From So Far Gone to Thank Me Later to Take Care to Nothing Was The Same, you can pinpoint the exact dramas and victories he’s gone through to support his oft-quoted “I’m the rookie and the vet” boast. On If You’re Reading This Its Too Late, there’re less stories about heartache and relationships with women (although that’s his modus operandi) to make room for the tough-talking Drake that’s been running rampant lately. Ginuwine’s “So Anxious” gets a rework in “Legend,” a four-minute opener on exactly where he sees himself among others in the game. “When I pull up on a nigga tell that nigga back, back / I’m too good with these words, watch a nigga backtrack / If I die all I know is I’m a mothafuckin’ legend / It’s too late for my city, I’m the youngest nigga reppin’.” He aims more vitriol at his unnamed enemies on “Energy,” delivering a fully loaded clip of bars at lame girls, fake rappers’ careers he saved and why he hates the Internet so much. Plus, Drizzy is in his prime, and he’s turned himself into the slick George Gervin / Steph Curry of Rap. All smooth-action jump shots and finger roles, he’s deceptively and extremely skilled. More of an orator than a storyteller, his transformation has been slow and intense to watch.
Simply, Drake’s aggressive behavior is a reminder that he’s fighting to secure his spot at the top.
In his brooding short film Jungle, a 14-minute clip that reflects on the price of fame and his purpose in life, he familiarized his fans with his journey of young Drake growing into current Drake, who is one that holds his city in high regard. So, when much of the sonic landscape is done by Noah “40” Shebib and the OVO in-house roster (Boi-1da, PARTYNEXTDOOR), If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late mirrors the feel of a cold night in Toronto while deep drums, warm jazz notes and hazy keyboards add texture. Overall, we’re getting a new side of Drake, where songs like “You and the 6,” in which he vents to his mother, and “No Tellin’,” in which he explains there’s a lot more to do in his career, are firm messages on where he’s headed. “Please do not speak to me like I’m that Drake from four years ago, I’m at a higher place,” he says, presumably to tell his audience that he’s progressed in leaps and bounds.
With all-new material, it’s actually not surprising that Drake’s mixtape doesn’t have a clear single. Save for the previously released tracks “6 God” and “Used To” (which is redone and features a new verse from him), he’s relying heavily on his established formula of Tweet-ready lyrics and infectious hooks that made songs like “Started From The Bottom” and “0 to 100/The Catch Up” so big. There are standouts that lie both within and outside of the run-of-the-mill Drake matrix. “Know Yourself” is a virulent, Drake special that culminates with the enigmatic “running through the 6 with my woes.” “Jungle” is molasses sweet, the lyrical equivalent to blowing warmth into your cold T. Dot hands. In the past 96 hours lines like, “10 bands, 50 bands, 100 bands, fuck it, man” and the aforementioned along with “you know how that shit go’” are becoming the sole reasons they’ll be club anthems in the coming months. He has a vice-grip on popular culture and is showing no signs of loosening it anytime soon.
As a primer for his next album, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late serves its purpose of showing his longevity in the game. On “6 PM in New York,” he goes off for nearly four minutes about his career successes and several rappers (Tyga, maybe Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino and The Throne) who name-checked him that’s very characteristic of the 6 God. “Your content is so aggressive lately, what’s irking you? / Shit is getting so personal on your verses, too / I want to prove that I am Number one over all these niggas / Being number two is just being the first to lose.” It seems holding the title of Best Rapper Alive means a lot more to him now than airing out personal confessionals. At 28, he’s very much hitting his stride in Rap, using every transitional moment to add one more compelling chapter to his narrative.