PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE Drake’s surprise release of “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” on Feb. 13 gave fans a pleasant surprise, though not revolutionary.
PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE
Drake’s surprise release of “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” on Feb. 13 gave fans a pleasant surprise, though not revolutionary.

★★★★☆

“Somewhere between I want it and I got it,” Drake told us on his last album “Nothing Was the Same.” His success is a hybrid, established and unfinished, embodied by his signature methodology of blending traditional rap cadences with melodic crooning.

It is the ambiguity surrounding this release that allows “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” to shine. Walking the line between singer and rapper, pop star and emcee, Drake succeeds in proving that he does not have to choose one in order to be at the top of the rap game. Unsure of whether to label it a mixtape or an album, fans erupted over Twitter at the Feb. 13 11 p.m. surprise release on the sixth anniversary of Drake’s first critically acclaimed project “So Far Gone,” another mixtape-turned-album. With no promotion other than a short film posted on his blog the day of the release, the mixtape touts itself as Drake’s response to Beyoncé’s self-titled surprise album back in late 2013.

The leading track of the project, “Legend,” sets the tone with chest-thumping bravado over an instrumental provided by label mate PartyNextDoor. Hard-hitting bass and trailing hi-hats surround an almost apathetic protagonist singing “Oh my god, oh my god / If I die, I’m a legend.”

It would not be a Drake project if it continued along the path of confidence. His more vulnerable side appears on “Madonna,” where a moody piano loop and muted drums create a hazy ambience for Drake to spout compliment after compliment as if over a drunk dial after a long night at the club. “You could be big as Madonna / Just get in the car and let’s touch the road,” he pleads.

The tone of each song seems to be dictated by the producer of the instrumental. Songs spearheaded by frequent collaborator Boi-1da such as “No Tellin’” and “6 God” bring out Drake’s self-assured persona, utilizing choppy horn samples and raucous percussion as a platform for arrogant, yet honest, couplets.

When sound engineer and longtime friend Noah “40” Shebib provides the beat, songs such as “Madonna” and standout track “Jungle” tend to be more reflective and toned down with low-key piano riffs and subtle drumbeats. “Jungle” tops the other 16 songs with excellent sampling combined with some of Drake’s best singing yet.

The guest verses on “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” are relatively sparse given Drake’s superstar status. Without the need to draw new listeners with outside acts, Drake is able to focus on putting out his own product. That said, the appearances of mentor Lil Wayne, mentee PartyNextDoor and first-time partner Travi$ Scott are just enough to provide some variety in the 17-song track list. On “Company,” Scott teams up with teen female phenom producer Wondagurl, and the outcome is a layered soundscape that caters to Scott’s autotuned lines and Drake’s singsong verses.

The songs flow well from one to the other, something Drake has always excelled at. The cohesion of “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” comes from smooth transitions between hyped up and slowed down songs, but the overall themes bounce back and forth between romantic woes, brags of success and homage to his hometown of Toronto. On “You and The 6,” he vents a tribute to his city and his mother, two major influences he cites in the successes he brags about in earlier songs.

The final track “6PM in New York” serves as a follow-up to past hits “9AM in Dallas” and “5AM in Toronto,” examples of bars-only Drake who skips the chorus altogether. All rap and no singing, he rides Boi-1da’s gritty synths and upbeat, confident drums to end the project on a high note. “Oh you’ve got to love it,” he quips throughout the song — a jab at his detractors because his signature sound drives the genre of hip-hop today.

“If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” is not the revolutionary project Drake’s sophomore full-length “Take Care” was. But the songs amount to a solid collection to be enjoyed until the arrival of his rumored spring release “Views from the 6.” The evolution of his skillset demonstrates a heightened awareness of his Toronto sound and a willingness to continue to define it.

Is it truly an album? Maybe not. Drake himself refers to it as a mixtape despite its $12.99 price tag. But 17 new Drake songs appearing on iTunes late on a Thursday night are nothing to complain about, and while it probably will not redefine its genre, it is the same high-caliber music Drake is known to put out. So maybe it should be treated as such – a care package to tide us over until the real gift arrives.

One Comment

  1. This album was great. cant wait for the official one

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*