Imagine Drake in a safe house in Calabasas. Imagine Drake riding in a Subaru hatchback. Imagine Drake way, way up.
These are the images painted by the surprise release of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Is it a Drake album? Mixtape? Experimental soundscape created by a rapper holed up in his loft for weeks? It is all of the above. What is clear is that this was released on Cash Money Records, and it brings Drake on step closer to fulfilling his contractual obligations to Birdman before he (potentially) takes flight along with Wayne to their venture. The rumors of an exodus from Cash Money are supported by the fact that Drake released the album both on iTunes and for free, subverting Birdman’s revenue stream while ticking another record as “completed” on his deal. Despite no promotion, the surprise project shot to #2 on the Billboard 200 and dominated my Twitter timeline for a good 48 hours.
The method to Drake’s madness on If you’re reading this… is up for debate. This project is designed to be a personal reminder that Drake is, well, still Drake. It gave the most devoted Drake fans a surprisingly candid glimpse into the mind of their favorite rapper. For less devoted fans like me, the album has a mix of skippable tracks and on-repeated emotional anthems, speckled with very quotable Drake-isms.
The opening track “Legend” starts off anything but humble, and the tone stays there. Repetition is Drake’s friend on almost every track – as if saying something enough will make it real. These songs feel like something the Czar of Russia would write just before he is overthrown. The one-line hooks state that Drake is legend, Drake is praying for you, and Drake will admit it. This is a creative technique that, like other tactics employed on the album start to become wildly apparent even when they are enjoyable.
The production on the album is, for the most part, a highly cohesive unit. Much of the album is produced by Drake’s inner circle – Partynextdoor, OB-Obrien and Boi-1da. The vibe is akin to a ticking time bomb in a dark basement shelter that is decorated entirely in black velvet Versace. Which, may be exactly the environment these beats were made in. Despite how appealing the Versace velvet aesthetic is, it is the songs that stray from this sound that are most appealing. While “Energy” may be the epitome of this new Drake, “10 Bands” – produced by Sevn Thomas as well as Boi-1da, picks up the pace a bit and is a song that would sound at home in a strip club. Many of the other key tracks such as “Know Yourself” are odes not to Drake, but to the people who have stuck by him. Shoutouts to friends and family abound, including a song dedicated to his mom.
This works great for the first 4 songs… then the album starts to fade into filler and skippable moments. The cohesiveness starts to feel one-note, and with the exception of “Preach”, the last half feels more like discarded practice tracks than an album. But maybe this is all part of Drake’s master plan to save the best cuts for when he is freed from Cash Money.
Personally, I enjoyed this darker, bromantic Drake much more than the Drake who pens poetic lines about Instagram models. Several of these songs seem to indicate Drake is willing to grow and push himself while staying deeply true to his core. This is not just a love letter to his fam – it’s a letter to his fans. Handwritten, and personal, in a way only Drake can deliver.