What a time to be alive, indeed.
Rap superstars Drake and Future releasing a project together understandably set off shockwaves amongst music fans. Drake shared details about the project via his OVO Sound Beats 1 radio show before the album was made available via Apple Music, and the Web pounced. The two artists had notable summers; with Future’s well-received DS2 dropping this past July and Drake’s highly publicized beef with Meek Mill only bolstering his stature with fans and critics. Following up on collabs like Future’s Drizzy-assisted hit “Tony Montana” and this summer’s single “Where Ya At,” What A Time To Be Alive turns out to be an entertaining set of tracks culled from their recent time together in Future’s native Atlanta, and it’s a collaboration that both makes sense and actually warrants the hype that it’s gotten. On top of both riding a wave right now, Drake and Future—despite the bad blood between them back in 2013—have personas that complement each other well and both are adept at songcraft and hooks. Does the project stand as a high-water mark for either artist? Maybe not. But it’s a fun listen.
Things open with the ominous “Digital Dash,” Future firing first, before Drake walks in, bemoaning that “I don’t forget and forgive/Told myself never again/I don’t let nobody in” over the hypnotic Metro Boomin production. It’s a great way to establish the tone of this project, but it’s the second track that really picks things up. “Big Rings” wins with Future’s boasting (“You’re just a battle rapper/I’m an official trapper”) and turns an awkward hook into the album’s most anthemic moment. This is the kind of song you want these two to churn out without trying too hard.
The melancholy drone of “Diamonds Dancing” is an album highlight and the best showcase on the album for Future Hendrix, who nonchalantly sings on the chorus that he’s “sippin’ on Don Perignon for no reason” and acknowledges that he might let his joint push the whip “if she’s worth it.” It’s a great, druggy track with Future in peak form: “I don’t want no liquor cuz I been drankin’ that dirty.” Things remain laid-back and murky on “Scholarships,” the “My life is so great, I can’t be bothered” subject matter is well-worn and when Future croons “I’m ballin’ out of control,” even he sounds bored. This is probably the most phoned-in moment on WATTBA. The Ne-Yo-produced “Plastic Bags,” which is a hazy strip club anthem that somehow manages to epitomize both Future’s penchant for croaky club anthems (“Magic City on a Monday, worship this like a Sunday”) and the quasi-introspective odes to sexy dancers that have long been Drake’s raison d’être.
After slowing things down to a crawl, “I’m the Plug” livens things up again, with Southside injecting some much-needed energy and Future doing what he does best here—not to mention it’s the first Drizzy verse on the project where Drake flexes his muscle a bit rhyme-wise. “Y’all shoulda seen this shit coming in May, We doin’ three hunnid records a day. Who really thinkin’ they can get in the way?” It takes a long time, for sure, but it’s good to hear Drake not coasting on infectious hooks and production—which carries most of WATTBA—and bringing his A-game. “Change Location” is a dope 4 a.m. song and another slower moment on a project dominated by them that again features everything you’d expect from these two: Drake moaning about late-night unrequited love alongside Future’s monotone boasts about “60 naked bitches.”
Metro Boomin returns with another one of the catchier moments on WATTBA, with Jordan references—and Mutombo, for good measure—and demands like “Tell her stay the night, valet your car, come fuck me now” and proclamations about chicken wings and fries. Who knows why this track works so well? But it does. “Jersey” is an almost-sequel, but features Future alone as he rambles about loving rocking jerseys and loving the smell of burning money. The fun in Future is the melodicism and flow, but he’s better elsewhere here.
Drake’s “30-For-30 Freestyle” closes things, with Noah “40” Shebib showing up to let Drake stretch out lyrically again, closing the album with his distinct stamp. When he rhymes “When the higher-ups have all come together as a collective, with conspiracies to end my run and send me a message,” you wonder if he’s referencing Meek or the strained relations with Cash Money Records. But he immediately follows it up with a missive that puts all the rap drama in perspective: “I got bigger fish to try. I’m talking bigger shit than you and I. Kids are losing lives, got me scared of losing mine. And if I hold my tongue about it, I get crucified.” On an album that mostly centers on spending money, Percocets, and strippers, Drake brings the curtain down with flair.
Despite that great closer, it’s not hard to view this as more of a Future-driven project—with FBG production dominating the album, as well as Future’s persona getting so much of the attention on the tracks. But that’s not to say Drake doesn’t make his presence felt; he’s just enjoying the party a bit after the aggressive confrontational tone of If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late and his Meek-targeting summer singles. This doesn’t sound like the most inspired work from either artist, but there isn’t a wasted moment on What A Time To Be Alive. If your expectations aren’t too high, this ride is a helluva good time.