Review Summary: So Far Gone, while not exactly exploring new depths, is an extremely enjoyable mixtape mixing mainstream R&B and Rap styles.
Has there been an artist in recent times that has risen as fast as biracial rapper-actor Drake (real name: Aubrey Graham)? Starting off starring in the show Degrassi: The Next Generation
, Drake's rapping career shot off quickly after his third mixtape, So Far Gone
, was released. His single “Best I Ever Had” reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 without the backing of a label (since then, he was picked up by Lil Wayne's Young Money label). So, in a way, the burden of his popularity is put singularly on one mixtape, which can only do one thing: place unfair expectations on it. At least it helps that So Far Gone
is an extremely enjoyable hybrid of mainstream rap and R&B, fronted by a charismatic artist who has an ample amount of musical potential.
In terms of technical skill, Drake still has long to go: although his voice is calming and pleasant, it sometimes seems as if the Auto-Tune is doing the singing for him. And his rapping...well, it's not perfect. Drake has a confident delivery but also occasionally subpar lyrics plague his easy flow, and it's evident in songs like “Ignorant ***,” one of the four songs featuring Lil Wayne, where Drake proclaims, “Always knew that I could figure / How to get these label heads to offer him good figures / And me doing the shows / Getting everyone nervous / 'cause them hipsters gonna have to get along with them hood niggas” (huh?). Still, even when fumbling with his lines, Drake makes it look good, and his fans will hardly notice any of his small missteps.
While Drake's most popular song by far has become “Best I Ever Had,” a sunny ode to an anonymous lover, he perfects his “adolescent love” formula with “Little Bit,” a “duet” with Lykke Li (in reality, her voice is sampled; he just croons over it). Despite the fact that the voice of Lykke Li is sampled, he works with her voice, not only duetting with her, but also letting her adorably young voice take the front stages at time. The simply lovely refrain (“I only think I'm a little bit in love with you,”) drives the song home, and makes the track one of the best on the mixtape.
Being a budding artist, Drake has an abundance of help here: Lil Wayne features on four tracks (and usually dominates Drake in terms of rapping) while other guests include Bun B, Trey Songz, and Omarion. Standout “Say What's Real” is also produced by Kanye West, and shows his skill, the minimalist drums and electronic beeps create a chilly atmosphere and enhance Drake's rapping, which is some of the most solid on the album. Sometimes, when left alone, Drake struggles a bit: late-album dud “Sooner than Later” shows Drake at his most musically vulnerable, warbling stereotypical lyrics about a neglected lover.
On So Far Gone
, Drake constantly embraces new, 808's and Heartbreak
-esque electronic production over any type of old-school hip-hop beats, which is not always a bad thing: it shows the kind of artist he is. Drake foreshadows the future of hip-hop, a techno-flavored mix of R&B and rap, a style that artists like Kanye West and Lil Wayne have warmed to. Even when he switches it up, Drake is successful: “Let's Call it Off” samples Peter Bjorn and John while retaining Drake's Auto-Tune-heavy R&B singing. While many fans of hip-hop don't necessarily see this as a positive change, if quality albums like this are being released in this style, the future of hip-hop may not be as bleak as we thought.
So Far Gone
isn't going to change anyone's mind about the future of hip-hop, but for anyone who isn't predicting the Hip-Hop Armageddon, it's an extremely enjoyable album that manages to mix elements from all facets of mainstream radio without muddying up any of them in the process. The mixtape obviously has an audience, and anyone convinced that mainstream radio is The Ultimate Evil will not enjoy it. However, for those who are willing to sit back and enjoy the ride, this might be the mixtape you fall in love with, if only a Little Bit.