Drake, and by extension many of his fans and critics, spend so much time on his origin story it’s easy to forget he’s become a fully-formed, dominant presence in mainstream rap over the last few years. He’s hosting and acting on Saturday Night Live, getting three quarters of the way to platinum during the first week of his album release, and having Kanye West concede that he’s won the summer.
So when he warns, “Please do not speak to me like I’m that Drake from four years ago, I’m at a higher place,” of course he’s stunting. But he’s making a valid point. Six years to the day after dropping his final mixtape, So Far Gone, and forcing a spot at the table of consistently chart-topping rappers, he’s reemerged with a digital victory lap in the form of If You’re Reading This You’re Too Late. Once you strip away the cultural context of a “surprise album” that we’d been expecting for months and nonsensical analysis of Drake’s faux handwriting on the cover art, you’re left with a hybrid of the Soundcloud loosies Drake’s been dropping mixed with his typical album fare.
The good news is IYRTYTL is as seamless and coherent as anything of Drake’s not named Thank Me Later. It moves briskly, with Drizzy avoiding getting too caught up in emotional talk for the first two thirds of the album. Instead, he opts to split the initial handful of tracks providing a refresher on all things Aubrey. Since he last checked in, Nike is dropping off boxes like he plays for North Carolina. The shallow broads in one of the two cribs he’s paying the mortgage on are draining his wi-fi to swipe through Instagram pictures of their frenemies. To be sure, complaining about having to pretend to like fellow rappers is a decidedly first world problem. But Drake is really good at distilling the nebulous blob of his emotions down to melodic, clever bars people find themselves repeating months later, so you’ll oblige. The familiar, familial cast of Boi-1da and Noah ‘40’ Shebib are the primary architects. For the most part, they keep things sparse and atmospheric. But there are surprises in the form of PARTYNEXTDOOR opening the album by burying a sample of Ginuwine’s “So Anxious” under a skittering, Timbaland-influenced bassline on “Legend.”
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is likely to spill from plenty of speakers outside of Canada. But even to foreign ears, this sounds like Drake’s most distinctly Toronto-sounding album, and he doesn’t have to force an attempted re-branding of the city as “The 6.” From the dancehall airhorns, to the patois scattered throughout, there is a heavy nod to Toronto’s Afro-Caribbean community. For those who have been clamoring for Drake to shelve his falsetto in favor of more rapping, this album is long overdue. Drake drops some rather transparent bars about possibly being goon-affiliated between his Degrassi days and Comeback Season on “”Star67. And even on cuts clearly devoted to pillow talk (“Wednesday Night Interlude,” “Madonna”), he avoids the crooning altogether or hands the duties off to PARTYNEXTDOOR. Thankfully, his time-honored practice of outing and throwing shade at his exes (we see you, Ericka and Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree) is absent.
The blunder of shoehorning songs like Juvenile’s “Back Dat Azz Up” and Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘It’s Yourz’ into ballad form has also disappeared. Drake’s Kanye-influenced format of mixing in heavy doses of melody and note bending with his raps has been co-opted by the likes of Future and Travis $cott. But he changes things up by mixing in Lord Infamous’ trademark cadence while both singing and rapping. That dominant theme of rap/singing creeps through repeatedly as hints of Ciara’s ‘Body Party’ peek out from underneath ‘Wednesday Night Interlude.’
Drake thoroughly dresses down Tyga on “6PM In New York,” by telling him to stop acting like his rumored, underage sidepiece, Kylie Jenner — a fitting way as any to end the album. From running the gamut of tough talk, romance, checking in with his mom, and blurring the line between introspection and self-absorption, Drake has quickly eclipsed his own skill set from his last album—let alone his 2009 mixtape. He dropped into the rap zeitgeist as the least known member on a song featuring Eminem, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne. Now you can make a hotly contested argument that he’s currently outpacing everyone else that rapped on ‘Forever.’ Nothing is the same.
Listen to Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late on Spotify below.