Drake’s now released What A Time To Be Alive is much more than just a collaborative mixtape-as-album released with croon-rapping Atlanta-based trap icon Future. Not unlike Drake’s February-debuted surprise platinum-seller If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, it’s a great chance to see Drake figuring out what’s stylistically next for him. Though not the blow away success that meets the considerable hype surrounding its debut, What A Time To Be Alive certainly features 2015’s top-selling rap superstar duo turning up and having a helluva lot of fun.
Drake comfortably slides into a celebratory, just past peak-hour at Atlanta’s Magic City strip club feel on #WATTBA. In 11 tracks, the hooks deliver as expected while par for the course bars from Future blend with Drizzy’s almost scientific desire to figure out how to get maximal impact from the minimalist style. Of course this was made popular by the artist who in 2015 has also released his third album, Billboard album chart-topper DS2.
Conceptually, more important to note than anything is the historical impact of Lil Wayne’s career decisions upon Drake’s career aims. Similar to what Weezy did in 2006-2007, Drake’s used mixtapes in 2014 to step back from releasing a proper album and attempt to dig deeper into a plethora of styles, flows and cultures in order to gain a more well-rounded sense of how he can continue to dominate the rap industry from both a creative and hit-making standpoint.
Significant in Drake’s quest to really evolve yet again as an artist is the presence of Atlanta veteran and frequent Future associate Metro Boomin as the release’s lead producer, instead of say, OVO Sound’s Noah “40” Shebib who only contributes stellar, swelling and soulful mixtape closer “30 For 30 Freestyle.” The song maybe warrants for more OVO involvement on the album as “30 For 30” exceeds Metro Boomin-produced “Big Rings” and “Scholarships” as athletic-themed tracks on the album.
Much ado will be made in the press (and likely on the Billboard charts as well) about “Diamonds Dancing,” “Jumpman,” “Change Locations” and “I’m the Plug,” which are an impressive quartet of excellent tracks all featuring varying levels of chopping and swirling production. Putting this many great tracks on one largely Metro Boomin-produced mixtape has the equivalent impact of his earlier Future-featuring hits “Karate Chop,” “Honest,” “I Won” and “Blow A Bag” being available in the same collection of tunes.
Drake takes his talent as a hook man to another level on What A Time To Be Alive and in putting his elevated skills alongside Future’s, he creates some truly must-listen moments. “Me and my friends we got money to spend” from “Change Locations” feels as good as the hook from Drake’s breakout single “Best I Ever Had.” Also, “go ahead and pick up all that cash, you deserve it” is intriguing because it feels aped from Future’s single “You Deserve It” from his 2012 album Pluto, and makes “Plastic Bag” inherently vivid, relatable and the best of the album-level mixtape’s “filler” material.
The mixtape’s best overall track may be “I’m The Plug,” a boastful anthem where Future discusses his success at having “a gang of women” and a “gang of drugs;” a notion that ultimately allows him to feel like the “plug,” aka the one man able to connect the finest of all things to those associates who desire them. Drake also delivers his most deft bars of the entire mixtape here, too. Drake’s still on the wave of trying to “do right and kill everything” as some eight years after his rise, he’s “doing 300 records a day, who really think they can get in the way.” Furthermore, when you can rap about how “Red Bull really gave you wings,” then nonchalantly complete the punchline a half-bar later and allow it to seamlessly lead into the next set of rhymes, that’s when you know one’s on another level.
Insofar as Future, as an emcee, he does very little on this mixtape to give anyone a sense that he’s going to be challenging Kendrick Lamar for being the most socio-politically relevant emcee in the game. His job here is to provide a tone that succeeds in resonating well against the minor-key led soul symphonies crafted by Metro Boomin. Whereas Drake here is the more classic R&B vocalist, Future is much more the singer as auto-tuned woodwind-style instrument, a lane that Young Thug has more so completely owned as of late.
In this being positioned as more of “Drake’s latest release” than a “Drake and Future collaboration,” do expect that the chart topping single lacking in Metro Boomin and Future’s collaborative history is likely to occur in short order. When Future says that he “feels like he’s at the stage of his life where he feels like he can conquer anything and everything” on “Diamonds Dancing,” he has no idea how right he could be.
In 2015, Drake’s released three top-ten Billboard rap chart singles. As well, he’s become the poster-boy of Apple’s move into streaming content, all while besting Meek Mill in a rap feud and canoodling with Serena Williams, too. As well, Future’s weathered the storm of his high profile breakup from Ciara and released an album bursting with heavyweight trap anthems. Adding an almost mindless, yet still hit-laden mixtape with Metro Boomin to their year? For Drake and Future, it’s certainly an amazing time to be alive.