Review Summary: Drake's first mixtape is mostly hype, but there are still a few great tracks to be heard.
I intend for this review to be an honest review from somebody that loves hip-hop and respects it as an art form. I am largely a fan of lyricism, but no good song can exist without a solid beat (See AZ as a prime example). If you disapprove of my rating, feel free to throw some comments up, but this is largely how I feel the mixtape rates;
Very often entertainers tend to overstretch their abilities. A fine example is Drake, who after having a successful run on television, decided to give his hobby of rapping a shot. Looking at the set list for his first mixtape, you see a plethora of well known artists that are hugely influential in the hip-hop scene including; Lil' Wayne and Bun B. It's kind of strange that Drake being from Canada, appears to be gaining support from largely southern artists, who historically are very tightly bound to one-another and support only their own.
Now normally I wouldn't mention such a thing, but it appears as though Drake is being marketed as the "next big thing" and has all these artists vouching for him, but nothing to back it. Normally when artists are given huge amounts of credit, it is because they have a solid underground following (KiD CuDi, Lil Wayne, T.I., Tech N9ne, etc.). Drake never had such a following, he was kind of thrown out into the media with a lot of big names backing him and before the release of "So Far Gone" almost nobody had heard of him.
Now upon my initial listen through of the mixtape (I go through the whole thing multiple times as any good reviewer should) I was pretty disappointed. I had heard that Drake was a super talented lyricist who was a breath of fresh air. After listening to a majority of the tracks all I really felt was that Drake was covering up mediocre flow and monotonous lyrics with very deep CuDi-esque beats. It was also as much a hip-hop mixtape as it was an experimental R&B and Pop mixtape.
The mixtape starts out with "Lust for Life" which has a very hollow sounding beat that leaves you wondering what pace the mixtape is going to take. The beats as a whole bounce between slow and somber, and boring. They have a very distinct electronic feel to them, that I guess is supposed to rival the new craze that I have dubbed the "KiD CuDi Sound". Whether or not you admit it you know the style I'm talking about, a catchy baseline with a distinctive laid back feel (Day'n'Night, Make Her Say, Pursuit of Happiness as examples). Anyway, I could write all day about the similarities between the two.
The second song on the mixtape is "Houstalantavegas", which other than having a really lame name (who hasn't done the whole mulyi-city-names-combined thing at this point), is a really confused track. The track starts up and concludes as a strange half-sung R&B song with a stretch of rapping in the middle and a really laid back beat underneath it all. I do like the beat in general, and think it serves as a better example of the high-quality production that goes into Drake's songs.
After that we're treated to "Successful (ft. Trey Songz & Lil Wayne)". Now this song I actually really liked, despite the fact that it has some of the cheesiest and confusing lines on the mixtape, it is also the most enjoyable. Drake's first verse in this song is pretty good. I say it's only pretty good because it starts out really weird; "Yea Trey I ***in feel yuh". I have to be honest and say when I first heard that I kind of laughed because it seemed like he was really into his friend. The second verse kicks in with almost as much enjoyability as the first, but then there's a weird inexplicable breakdown (for a lack of better words) that includes a voice mail message. The third verse has Drake giving himself a really goofy nickname (Shopping-Bag Drizzy), and following that in this exceedingly long song, is a short stint from Lil Wayne. This is Weezy's first appearance on the mixtape, and although hardly his best work ever, not a bad showing.
Following one of my personal favorites is "Let's Call It Off (ft. Peter Bjorn John)". This song is yet another confused hip-hop/R&B/Pop fusion where Drake abuses auto-tune and sings monotonously over a good beat. There is about 45 seconds of solid rapping in this song, and it's mediocre at best, other than that the instrumentals and catchiness carry the song. It's lacking real depth and is fittingly on a mixtape, If I heard it on an album I would be sorely disappointed.
Following "Let's Call It Off" is a "November 18th". I don't know whether to like this song or hate it to be honest. It starts out with really lazily rapped lyrics, and for the most part keeps that tempo the entire song from the opening lines to the ramblings at the end. Another aspect of this song that I'm indifferent too is the slowed down deepened voice that Drake implements to sound like one of the deeper Southern Rappers (almost like Bun B and/or Slim Thug). Overall the song isn't bad, but it's not fantastic.
Next up is "Ignant *** (ft. Lil Wayne)". Now this is probably the best song on the mixtape. Drake starts out going really hard, but hits a train wreck somewhere by literally saying "my song is your girlfriends waking up ringer. . . or alarm or whatever". Before and after that line Drake murders it. This is probably the only example of Drake having sick flow as well, throughout the entire mixtape he has a lackluster amount of enthusiasm and energy, but this song is definitely the opposite of that. As a testament to how good Drake does, even Lil Wayne can't compare. His second half in the song is a good showing by Weezy, but nowhere as driven as Drake's despite it being quite a bit longer. Lil Wayne's inability to compare is probably due to a huge amount of really lame lines ("I'm so high I could vomit on a comet" and "my gun go crazy like it's re-tard-ed" come to mind).
After the most impressive song on the mixtape, comes another cliche pseudo-love song loaded with Auto-tune and Drake's singing; "A Night Off (ft. Lloyd)". But this one features another R&B singer in the form of Lloyd, who is a much better singer than Drake is and uses about as much Auto-tune. Basically unless you're trying to seduce your girlfriend, this song should be avoided because it lacks substance and enjoyability.
Up next is "Say What's Real", and it re-establishes the feel of a mixtape by having a song that features a well known beat from another artist. This time it's in the form of a Kanye West song; "Say You Will". Sadly because 808's wasn't a very impressive Hip-Hop album this song is actually more fitting of the beat. The lyrics are pretty solid and at this point it should be apparent that Drake's "Thing" is going to be rapping about women and how fly he is, for those that were a little confused. None-the-less, this song is a good one, and I enjoyed it a lot more than the one before it.
Just when you thought this was going to conclude as a solid Hip-Hop mixtape, we're treated to "Little Bit (ft. Lykke Li)". Now I'm told this is actually just a cover of her song, but I cannot find any credible information. Regardless, this song is hardly for Hip-Hop fans. Simply put, Drake really brings the song down. The Lykke Li portions of the song are very good, and listening to the original song with the same name I must say him being added to the song was really unimpressive. Overall, this song is a definite skip and possibly the worst on the mixtape.
Drake's first single "Best I Ever Had" is the tenth track. It's actually one of the few songs that have a nice balance of rapping and singing on Drake's part. I must say though, I actually prefer the chorus of the edited version to that of the uncensored version found on this mixtape. For some reason "You the ***in best" doesn't roll off his tongue very well, but the chorus of edited version sounds very natural. Anybody who's reading this review has probably already heard the song a half a dozen times so looking into it too deeply is probably unnecessary.
Next is a remix of the song "Unstoppable" by Santogold featuring samples from the original as well as Lil Wayne. I am really indifferent to this song. It has very weird flow from both Drake and Weezy, and it's hard to say whether or not it's good. I would say this song could go either way, but I personally like the original version by Santogold and think this is a very sub par remix. Drake pretty much just spits as fast as he can and Lil Wayne goes for more "martian-style" auto-tune with a matching flow. It is becoming increasingly apparent that really every other song on this mixtape is great, but the filler tracks really bring it down.
Track number twelve is "Uptown (ft. Bun B and Lil Wayne)" and with the likes of Bun B and Lil Wayne you'd think it would be great, but unfortunately it's nothing special. Bun B's verse is probably the best but it is hardly on par for his best work. He has recently put out some great work, but this verse is not amongst his best. Weezy's verse is absolutely terrible. It's only rivaled by his work on Rebirth. This song is 6:15, and that is way too long for such a shallow and uninspired song, definitely one to avoid.
The third song in this increasingly painful stretch on the mixtape is "Sooner Than Later". This song is basically the definition of "filler" and is really unpleasant. It's more of the long drawn-out R&B side of Drake that really crushes his viability as a Hip-Hop artist. It could easily be written off as Drake trying to revolutionize the genre, but if he's revolutionizing it, why is it so unenjoyable and bland? The rapping segment of this is his typical flurry of lines about looking fly and picking up ladies. Really once you listen through the mixtape you start to realize that a handful of these tracks are interchangeable and could easily be swapped around due to how forgettable they are.
Track fourteen; "Bria's Interlude". Now apparently this is a track dedicated to somebody, but I'm not sure what was dedicated. This song has zero substance. Now I don't mean that metaphorically or lyrically, I mean it has nothing happening. There is basically a sampled chorus and beat looped with some arbitrary singing on behalf of Omarion and Drake. This track plays more as failed experiment than as a finished song. Even the good production of this mixtape cannot cover up for how sub par this track is. Normally I'm not so harsh on a particular song, but I see no reason why this song was even made, let alone put on this mixtape.
Number fifteen; "The Calm" is fortunate enough to follow a really lackluster track because it really does a lot to make the song seem a lot better than it really is. To say "The Calm" is a bad song is definitely not accurate, it's a good song, but if you were to listen to the mixtape straight through you may think it's a lot better than it really is because it follows "Bria's Interlude" which is pretty awful. Other than the slow section in the middle where Drake stops to preach, the song is a very solid song. The second half of the song is filled with some of Drake's best lyricism; "I'm why your girl's heart is in a slang, just call me heart-break Drake, I'm the hardest one to tame" and for once his lyricism is what carries the song, because the beat leaves a lot to be desired.
As the mixtape comes to a close, we're treated to the "Outro" which is actually the second to last track on the mixtape confusingly enough. I don't exactly know what to say about the Outro as it's just a 3 minute piano solo. I guess it serves as a slight introduction to the final song on the mixtape; "Brand New". "Brand New" is yet another mediocre auto-tune heavy faux-rap song (See "Sooner Than Later", "Let's Call It Off", and "Little Bit"). As with the others, it's also another pseudo-love song. Apparently Drake's ticket to success is to appeal heavily to the female demographic with a few catchy love songs and hope that when he does actually rap it's good enough to impress the rest of the audience. The only flaw with this is that it makes you seriously doubt if Drake is really the one behind all of his songs. I have seen various clips of him "free-styling" around where he's usually either reading lyrics off his cellphone or spitting lines that are very sub par.
Overall So Far Gone is decent at best. A lot of people are really backing Drake as a musical genius but as the voice of reason I must humbly object. He is very ambitious, but he is trying too hard to be a Singer and Rapper, but just cannot find a good balance between the two. I wish we saw more tracks with the deep lyricism of "Ignant ***" and the latter part of "The Calm", but unfortunately I think we'll have to settle for "Successful" and "Best I Ever Had".