Review Summary: "If You’re Reading This…" presents us with a man at the peak of his success trying desperately not to lose his grip.If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
might be the release that finally gives Drake the respect he’s sought since his inception. He never asked to be mocked by hip-hop purists for the emotional vulnerability dripping from his lyrics. He never asked to be the poster boy for endless memes or “Drake the type of nigga” jokes. He doesn’t resort to baiting journalists with one publicity stunt after another the way Kanye does to get attention. The guy can’t even miss a couple shots at Basketball without making headlines (I’m looking at you Pitchfork, shameful). His music has consistently reflected a constant drive to prove his self-worth since perhaps even before his breakout mixtape So Far Gone
was released in ’09.
Don’t get me wrong, Drake is probably interchangeable among the “big three” of highest regarded commercial hip-hop artists alongside Kanye and Kendrick. After all “his latest *** is like a greatest hits.” And the emotional and soulful introspection that he gets criticized for are in large part what gets him so much praise. But in true Drake fashion, “bein’ number two is just being the first to lose.” So on a late February evening, the same week we saw singles drop from Kendrick and Kanye (and the six year anniversary of the release of So Far Gone
), Drake dropped his most thoughtful and hard hitting project yet with no warning or promotion.
If You’re Reading This…
is 17 tracks of pure Drake. But it’s the Drake we’ve only seen in glimpses up to this point. The mixtape, half akin to last year’s venom-spitter “0 to 100” and the other half evocative of “Days In the East,” sees Drake fully embrace the trap aesthetics that he’s been dabbling in since Nothing Was the Same
. All over the tape, we get samples of blasting airhorns and gunshots firing, transitions that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Chief Keef or Future tape. The general atmosphere being portrayed is cold and gloomy much like a winter in Toronto might feel like. The production qualities are sparse and minimal with trap beats utilized throughout to give Drake an impressive new layer to his already unique sound. Drake does things with his voice here that he’s never done before, taking some risks that are ultimately rewarding and bringing a sense of depth to the lyrics that others in the genre rarely accomplish.
Here, Drake revels in less first world problems and instead presents us with a man at the peak of his success trying desperately not to lose his grip. No track encapsulates these feelings more than the closing track "6PM in New York" where Drake says "Last night I went to sleep, wanted more. / Tried to decide what direction I should go toward. / 28 at midnight and wonderin' what's next for me."
His lyrics are at his most aggressive and unhinged ever with lines like “Keep a blade with me when I go to check a bitch, aint no tellin.’"
On “Energy,” Drake talks about the enemies he's made and his reluctance to go online. We get brief glimpses of Drake’s label situation with tracks like “No Tellin’” where Drake is “hoping for a check again, ain’t no tellin’.”
“6 Man” reveals Drake has “Just got a new deal. / I am in the Matrix and I just took the blue pill,”
giving the sense that greener pastures may be just over the horizon, if he can just keep it together for a little while longer. If You’re Reading This…
is a fascinating moment in Drake’s career, exposing the loneliness, paranoia, and general insecurities of a superstar at the apex of his life.
If this album/mixtape/whatever-you-consider-it-to-be is Drake’s way of fulfilling his contract with Birdman, it was tactfully executed. Drake could’ve easily just compiled and repurposed last year’s non album singles and B-sides to fulfill his obligation to Cash Money. He could’ve given us something easy in the vein of Sorry for the Wait
and not even tried to be deep or introspective, opting instead for the same braggadocio we’ve come to expect. However, If You’re Reading This…
is not only Drake’s most personal and revealing project to date, it might also be his best. While I highly doubt that Views from the 6
will sound anything remotely like this (the closest we get to radio territory here may be the comparatively tame “Now and Forever”), i’m eager for more of the brash “don’t *** with me” Drake sometime in the future. If this mixtape proves anything, it’s that Birdman might have made the worst mistake of his career when he ***ed over his brightest star.