Drake records never come from a truly dark place. He’s always had zero problem speaking about vulnerabilities and loyalty to his crew, but possessed enough charisma to win the crowd over at the end.
That is no longer the case. On If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake’s new demeanor should put to bed any quibbles about the semantics of this project. This isn’t an album. Nor is it a mixtape. It’s not even a song dump to fulfill his contract obligations to Cash Money so he can move on to better things.
It's a warning.
On IYRTITL, Drake hits the sharpest about-face since Shawn Michaels threw poor Marty Jannetty through that barber shop window. Aubrey Graham, that sweet young Canadian who lint rolls his pants and cracks jokes while guest announcing the Raptors lineup while riding around with his woes is now cold and emotionless, a vicious Canadian czar who hangs with bad crowds and attacks his enemies—not to mention his own record label— with a precision ripped out of [insert Robert Greene book here]. Long chided for being a simp, this new Drake still loves his mom but no longer has love for anyone else. It’s wonderful.
Long chided for being a simp, this new Drake still loves his mom but no longer has love for anyone else.
I like angry Drake a lot. He’s a natural heel, the snooty kid who knows he has more than you and has no problem admitting that he’s paying $30 million for two mortgages in a way that would be a humblebrag if he wasn’t actively avoiding being humble. He sounds like he let loose of whatever was truly keeping him from speaking his mind, from addressing the fact that he released a handful of loose tracks to SoundCloud and still had a better 2014 than a lot of rappers (on “No Tellin’,” “Yeah, I took the summer off to get it right/Yeah, I gave these boys a shot and they fuckin' failed/Niggas like 'You took the summer off? We couldn't tell'") to album bonus track “6PM in New York,” his immediately infamous Tyga diss. (His brutal "You need to act your age and not your girl’s age" line made me do this the first time I heard it.) A lot of times, beef tracks can distract from the overall work, and that’s the same case here, especially since the target of his anger isn’t exactly a foe that warrants a “final song on a Drake album” level of response. You’d think all he’d have to say was “Coconut Juice” and that would be the end of that.
This new attitude is on full display on “Energy”—a Boi-1da-helmed renewable power source disguised as a rap song—a tune kicked off with gun blasts that serves as a sneering list of things that Grind Drake’s Gears, from fake people to haters to women who want the wifi password so they can talk shit about their friends. It’s a wonderful song that, if played in the right circumstance, should promptly get you so wild that you risk significant jail time.
If this record were fully focused rage, then it would be a lot better as a cohesive work. Instead, the uh, energy is cut off at the knees. Production from new faces like Wondagurl, SykSense, and Eric Dingus alongside the usual suspects (40, the aforementioned Boi-1da, PartyNextDoor) doesn’t ever get too loud, giving the project a pace slower than molasses. It gets tiresome and disjointed toward the end, completely limping across the finish line.
If you’ve been paying attention to Aubrey “Drake” Graham since 2007’s breakout Comeback Season, you’ve seen his progression—former child actor, Next Big Thing, Rookie of the Year, Superstar, Guy Who No One Wants to Call an Icon Because He Isn't 30 Yet and That Makes People Feel Uncomfortable With Their Own Legacies. It’s not a stretch to say that the guy is multifaceted, able to switch the vibe and mood with little effort. That flexibility got him here and continues on IYRTITL. You won’t be listening to this one all the way through, but that’s perfectly fine. The release is more than capable of holding up his legacy until Views From the 6 arrives later this year. #StayWoke.
Ernest Wilkins is a writer living in Chicago. Follow him @ErnestWilkins.