Doing a Beyonce the day before Valentine’s Day, Drake dropped a new 17-track mixtape with little to no fanfare, perhaps well aware that his own hype is on the cusp of bypassing his actual talent and wanting to course correct by letting the music speak for itself. Usual producing partner-in-crime Noah “40” Shebib is relegated to a supporting figure, with most of the production this time taken on by Boi-1da, who possesses the exact amount of elasticity that allows him to keep his hip-hop cred while work with Keri Hilson, Kelly Rowland and Nicole Scherzinger when he’s not writing beats for Jay-Z, Eminem and Rick Ross. It’s that type of genre-hopping that should speak to Drake, an artist who can flip-flop between hard-edged rap and radio-friendly R’n’B at the drop of a mic.
While his last album, 2013’s Nothing Was The Same, was both a critical and commercial success, hindsight can sometimes make it come across as “Rich Man’s Problems: The Album”, with Drake finding it difficult to acclimatise to the money, power and popularity, which doesn’t make for sympathetic listening. Anyone hoping that an album with a suicide-note of a title are hoping that Drake has finally lightened up are in for a disappointment.
Over sparse, airy and minimal beats, Drake hits the same existential notes as before, the same introspective worry, the same concerns that will keep him away from mainstream popularity for the time being. Album opener ‘Legend’ sets the mood with a chorus of “Oh my God, if I die, I’m a legend”, soon followed by ’10 Bands’ which would have us believe that he’s feeling claustrophobic by the amount of money and material goods his success has resulted in, while ‘Ain’t No Tellin’’ requests that “Please do not speak to me like I’m still that same Drake from four years ago”, but where are these supposed changes? Some might call it unique vulnerability, others will call it self-indulgent melancholy, and where you fall on that divide will dictate your enjoyment of the album.
Things pick up in tempo slightly as the record cruises along, such as the submerged 808 chorus beat on ‘6 Man’, or the hazed and confused, sex and drugs fog around ‘Madonna’, and with Drake’s protégé PartyNextDoor providing a shot in the arm on the calypso-tinged ‘Preach’, there is evidence of light at the end of the tunnel. Lil’ Wayne pops up on ‘Used To’ for a mandatory back-and-forth dick measuring contest that has very little of the likability of their previous team-up ‘The Motto’, but has a certain addictive menacing nature to it that still works.
While the entire project smacks a little of Kanye’s 808 & Heartbreaks album, right down to a song about his mother on the emotional highlight ‘You & The 6’, there’s nothing on here to bother on future Best Of compilation albums that Drake might be putting together. Even with the fantastic, paired-back production work, and even though Drake still knows how to put a killer couplet together when he wants to, it might be time for everyone’s favourite Canadian rapper to stop thinking about himself and start thinking about his fans having a good time.