Album: If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
Label: Cash Money Records
Release Date: February 13, 2015
On February 13th, Valentine’s Day Eve, Drake broke the Internet. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was placed on iTunes without any announcement, promotion or radio single. Since then the release has gone on to sell 495,00 copies in its first week and occupy seventeen of the top fifty spots on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs. Although it was released on the sixth year anniversary of Drake’s seminal mixtape So Far Gone, and may not be as groundbreaking as that release was but it is a solid, albeit flawed, addition to his growing legacy.
Too Late opens with the brash anthem “Legend” produced by OVO Sound singer/producer PARTYNEXTDOOR. The song samples Ginuwine’s “So Anxious” and finds Drake openly musing about his current status in the rap game. Over trunk-rattling kick-drums and a subtle bass line Drake unapologetically declares himself as a legend who is far from done cementing himself in the history books. However, PARTYNEXTDOOR’s musical contributions do not end with the production on the aforementioned song. While his “Wednesday Night Interlude” may be a transparent and enjoyable diversion, “Preach” is certainly a mixed bag. Musically it is an infectious up-tempo groove designed to drive dance floors crazy. However, PND’s grossly over-processed vocals are more likely to drive people away from rather than to the dance floor. Even Drake’s impressive showing on his verse is not able to save the song from being mediocre at best. and unlistenable at worst. For reasons like this, among others, Too Late is somewhat of a departure from Drake’s blueprint up to this point in his career. The contributions of Noah “40” Shebib, crafter of the signature atmospheric OVO sound with his trademark muffled drums, are few and far between here. He is only credited with four tracks, one of those being the immediately memorable and moving, “You & the 6.” Co-produced by Boi-1da and !llmind, it is a heartrending ode to Drake’s mom that hits all the right musical and emotional notes.
“6 God” is a passable song that is hampered by surprisingly bland production from Boi-1da and Syk Sense. While Boi-1da has been responsible for some of Drake’s biggest hits to date, such as “Forever,” “Over,” and “Headlines,” along with a slew of top-notch production for other high profile acts like Eminem and Rick Ross, this is clearly not his best work. The beat consists of an unvaried, repetitive synth loop with sparse punchy drums. Drake for his part sounds rather uninspired alternating between bragging about his enviable lifestyle and contrasting it to the lives of rappers well past their prime with meager lines like, “I’m going to tell you a true thing/ I’m going to tell you a true thing/ You was poppin’ back when Usher wore a U-chain/ Goddamn you changed.”
“Star67” is easily one of the best songs on Too Late. Included in the song is a not so subtle jab at Birdman and a recap of an illegal phone scam Drake was involved in during his Degrassi years. It begins with an excerpt of a 2007 interview that finds Lil Wayne discussing how temperamental rap artists have become over the years. Drake is quick to separate himself from those being addressed by blurting out fierce bars as soon as the hypnotic beat drops. He saves the best for last however, as he concludes the song in epic fashion, “I’m mixin’, I am not Esco, but it was written/ I knew when they didn’t, I been had these visions/ Of the life I’m livin’ since I was Jimmy/ All I had to do was just go and get it, and now we (blowin’ up).”
While Drake could never be accused of being a monotone, one flow rapper, this is the most experimental he has ever been in his career with his rhyme schemes and delivery. Throughout Too Late Drake expertly varies his flow while using unorthodox rhymes schemes on songs like “6 Man” which ends in a brilliant, if not entirely random, interpolation of Erykah Badu’s chorus from “You Got Me” by The Roots. There is also “Know Yourself,” a bass heavy production that finds the Toronto native beginning with his familiar sing-songy flow, but when the beat transitions he switches to a rapid spit fire flow that abruptly starts and stops at his discretion to great effect. Listeners who are highly critical of Drake’s frequent forays into the R&B realm will be very pleased to know that he does a lot more rapping than singing on this project. However, when he does venture away from rhymes it is with impressive results. Songs like “Now & Forever” and “The Jungle” are expertly executed, sounding not the least bit contrived, forced or misplaced. Then there is “Madonna,” a brilliant yet brief R&B/Rap hybrid that only Drake could effectively pull off.
The project concludes with “6PM in New York.” It is a ferocious romp over a superbly produced beat by Boi-1da, Frank Dukes and Sven Thomas. Containing no chorus and few musical breaks, the song finds Drake saving his fiercest lines for last. So much attention has been paid to the song’s lyrical castration of Tyga that the song’s most poignant lines are often overlooked. Alluding to the rash of police brutality against unarmed people of color that led to nationwide outrage and the Black Lives Matter movement, Drake raps, “And I heard someone say something that stuck with me a lot/ ‘Bout how we need protection from those protectin’ the block/ Nobody lookin’ out for nobody/ Maybe we should try and help somebody or be somebody/ Instead of bein’ somebody that makes the news/ So everybody can tweet about it/ And then they start to R.I.P. about it/ And four weeks later nobody even speaks about it/ Damn, I just had to say my piece about it/ Oh, you gotta love it.” These lines hint to a depth of social concern that most in their wildest dreams would never expect to come from Drake. However, just as quickly as he calls into question the arrogance and vanity accredited to him he continues, “But they scared of the truth so back to me showin’ out in public/ That’s a hotter subject.” Lyrics such as these reveal Drake not to be the one-dimensional caricature many paint him as. Instead he claims to be a multi-faceted artist who is limited by the shallow demands of popular culture.
If You’re Reading This Now It Is Too Late might not be the best release in Drake’s catalogue, but it is nonetheless a much welcome addition. While far from a flawless project, what it does get right makes it a worthwhile listen and even its not so bright moments can grow on a listener over time. While being embroiled in various squabbles with other rap artists, serving as an executive for his hometown NBA team the Toronto Raptors, and juggling the responsibilities that come with various endorsement deals, Drake seems to be as committed to his craft as he ever has been. With rampant speculation concerning an imminent departure from Cash Money swirling overhead we can only hope October’s Very Own continues to somehow rise above it. Word.