We have a Drake mixtape. We have a Drake record without the crowd of guest features and without the massive production with crosshairs trained on the Billboard Hot 100. The prudent question is, can Drake still get by on stripped back production alone? Just on his own hooks and flows?
Oh my God, oh my God, If I die, I’m a legend. Oh my God, oh my God, If I die, I’m a legend.
It’s a dark day when your hooks rely on speaking about how far your work in the past has got you. The very first hook of the album sets off that worry for me. Maybe if you’re Kanye West these lines land with some gravitas, but not if you’re gentleman Drake. He’s a massive figure in the music industry for sure, but he just doesn’t have the legitimacy to be talking like this in my opinion. Drake is at his best when he’s personal, when he’s humble and vulnerable. That’s what he gets ripped for the most often in his rhymes, but if he cares as little about the haters as he says, why does he ever try to do anything other than what he’s best at? It makes you wonder.
The whole mood of the mixtape is downbeat, and that serves it well. That bombast-less production suits tracks like You & The 6 perfectly. This ode to Drake’s mama is hook-less, just two long verses that meander around like a reminisce, one of my favourite structures in hip-hop (see also Sing About Me by Kendrick). The lyrics here are some of the best on the tape; Drake effortlessly pulls apart his unique experience of being a hip-hop star out in Toronto with a white Jewish mother and a black father from Detroit.
Ain’t been returning the texts, So she been reading the press, She got Google Alerts, Them shits go straight to her phone She worry ‘bout me from home, You know she raised me alone.
It’s that perfect blend of deeply personal exposition and relaxed, effortless flow that kills me. This is the most poignant song on the tape, but it’s definitely a one of a kind on the release. I can’t help but feel that Drake is always too caught up with his reception. It’s epidemic in rap to be back and forth with your work and how it’s received by your fans and your competition, that feedback loop is part of the beauty of the genre. However, in Drake’s case, it’s a little more caustic because he’s so caught up with trying to tell us he’s above it all. “Somehow always rise above it”, he tells us on 6PM in New York. It’s questionable for sure.
I got enemies, got a lot of enemies, Got a lot of people tryna drain me of this energy.
In addressing these enemies, I always find Drake falls prey to the trap of the kid who pretends not to care about the taunts of his bullies, but is clearly pretty vexed. His responses always seem crude: he’s got cash (“I bought this one a house, I bought this one a mall”), he’s got women, and he’s even got political influence (“I got money in the courts so my naggers are free”). Bullshit, Drake. These dubious claims about having influence in the U.S. and Canadian court systems smack of that same bullied kid who lies about his Dad being in the FBI. It’s reactionary bullshit and it’s not becoming, to be honest. I’m all for flaunting what you have in hip-hop, but when you’re so transparently reacting to criticism so ineloquently it’s just embarrassing for everybody in the room.
The bonus track, ironically, is a real magnum opus for the tape. 6PM in New York has a laidback beat and a ferocious verse, but it’s delivered in a much more level way than previously on the release. I think this gives away the trick of addressing the haters: you do it by being great, not by telling them how great you are. In 6PM, Drake has humility and flow in equal measure. He talks about where he came from and the people that helped him get where he is today. This is always where the guy from Toronto shines, when he’s rapping about Views From The 6. Speaking of, I can’t wait to see what Drizzy brings to that album this year.