Drake decided to surprise his fans (and his critics) by dropping a 17-track midnight mixtape. If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late hit iTunes on Thursday, immediately became the top trending topic on Twitter, is set to end Taylor Swift’s 11-week reign at the top of the Billboard charts, and was on the mind of every music fan the following morning. Drake fans have been waiting patiently for his Views From the 6 album, and amid turmoil in the house of YMCMB, that project appears to be on hold until some issues can be worked out. With Wayne making it known that he’s ready to break from Cash Money, Drake can’t be far behind. But with all of that drama—Drake decided to release this album—with some fairly obvious statements of purpose that could be interpreted as him offering the public commentary on the state of his career and his precarious label situation.
“If I die, I’m a legend.”
The opener, “Legend,” features an inspired and brilliantly distorted Ginuwine “So Anxious” sample with Drizzy’s auto-tuned rhymes about himself and his legacy punching through the grogginess of the production. “I just can’t pretend—seen too much. It’s too hard for me to let new people in,” he raps—which starts If You’re Reading This… off on a promising-but-redundant note. It feels like we’ve been here before.
The production on “Enemy” is just as dark as the opener—which sets the tone for the rest of the project. The unadorned beat feels perfect for Drake’s flow—which has a hint of ‘80s staccato a la DMC as filtered through his understated rhymes. “6 God” was first released months ago, and it’s still a solid track even amongst the best stuff here, offering a much-needed bit of semi-kinetic energy on an album that can sink into lethargy in spots.
“10 Bands” is a highlight—even if it does feel like a “Started From the Bottom” sequel. He spends most of the song once again reciting his history and accomplishments, so once again, there’s no new ground being broken here. But it’s a winner on the strength of the star’s charisma and the infectious production. But the real champ is “Know Yourself,” a pulsing groove that sounds like the perfect soundtrack to a cold night in the city of Toronto. “Pray the fakes get exposed,” Drake raps moodily—again referencing the paranoia that has become par for the course for Drizzy. “My city too turned up, I’ll take the fine for that,” he continues, before reminiscing about his less-successful days tearing up his hometown with his “woahs.”
You know how that shit go.
And “6PM In New York,” a spiritual sequel to “5AM in Toronto,” is Drake at his most direct and a great closer; with Drake announcing that “Lil Wayne couldn’t have found a better successor.” But he calls out estranged labelmate Tyga explicitly: “I heard a lil homie talking reckless in VIBE—quite a platform he chose, he shoulda kept it inside.” With salvos like “Calling my name on the world stage / You need to act your age and not your girl’s age.”
Ouch. Tell ‘em how you feel, Drizzy.
“No Tellin” gets a bit lost in the mix of the entire album—it’s not a bad track, but doesn’t do much to set itself apart on an album that gets a bit monotonous on its second half. “I had to switch the flow up on you niggas, shit was gettin’ too predictable.” History is repeating itself, tho, Aubrey. “Madonna” features yet another distorted Ginuwine sample (from the same song, no less.) It’s hard to tell if that’s to give these songs the illusion of a thematic link—or if the OVO camp is just really into chopping up “So Anxious” these days. “Star67” is another song that sonically ups the ante a bit, with the production switching mid-song. The sonic detour is creative, but the second half of the song fails to measure up to the first half. The sound that 40, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Vinylz, Most High, Boi-1da and the rest of the crew have put together is meant for late-night listenings. This sounds like the album you throw on when you’re driving home from the club, angry at how much money you spent and wondering why you’re meeting up with somebody you didn’t even like all that much once you sobered up a bit. This is not the sound of the “turn up,” its music meant for the emotional crash afterwards.
Overall, the songs here build on the darker vibe of Nothing Was the Same Drake, and despite reports that the rapper dropped this project as a stop-gap between Nothing… and the highly-anticipated Views From the 6—a clever ploy to wrap up his contract with YMCMB and free him up to possibly go elsewhere—this feels like a fairly cohesive project. Both aurally and thematically, it’s purposeful project, as opposed to a contract-filling tossed-together compilation. The downside is that it tends to run together, and not in a thematically-linked sort of way. A lot of If You’re Reading This… sounds like it came from a specific time in Drake’s life and career, but it doesn’t have the kind of bold vision that made Nothing Was the Same the best album Drake’s released since his early mixtapes.
If Drake is really planning his great escape, though, this is a better offering than the most recent releases from his mentor Lil Wayne—who seems content to churn out uninspired product for his still oddly-devoted fanbase. If Reading… lacks variety, it definitely isn’t a lazy release—whatever it’s history. But it’s so relentlessly downbeat that it all becomes a sea of moody grooves, with Drake alternating between his mopey side and his paranoid side—or merging them in typical Drake fashion. Here’s hoping Views From the 6 is a little less monotonous, but as fans wait, this is a pretty good pacifier until whenever that project sees the light of day. “Commercial mixtape” or album, a fan has to be happy with that. As long as they’re okay with accepting that there’s nothing new here.