It had been coming. Whether it was fooling around courtside with NBA stars, appearing at Kanye West’s Roc City gig or even releasing his own short film, Aubrey ‘Drake‘ Graham had been everywhere this week.
Many called Drizzy’s surprise release of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late “a Beyonce” shortly after it’s 12am EST Friday (5am UK time) drop, but by the time we woke to the news in the UK two hours later, 700,000 copies had already shipped – compare that to Bey’s 800,000 in the first week and draw your own conclusions.
That fact rather typifies the unrelenting hunger the world of hip hop has for the Toronto-adoring, beef-attracting Graham and his work, but having waited zealously since October 2013’s “Nothing Was The Same”, none of his fans could have envisioned the audaciously experimental feast that this is. One or two of the 18 tracks have been tasted before, like “Used To” with our protagonist’s mentor, Lil Wayne, and “6 God”, the explosive declaration-packed statement of how long he’s been in the game and what’s changed.
‘Used To’, for those who didn’t catch it on Tunchi’s Sorry 4 The Wait 2 mixtape, probably doesn’t fit in with IYRTITL’s mellow, honest and intense tone. It’s a solid record in its own right though, and includes references to Skepta’s ‘That’s Not Me’: “Shout out to the Gs from the ends/We don’t love no girls from the ends” and the Diddy / 0 to 100 beef: “Real quick man, you couldn’t have hated that/Let’s be real nigga, you couldn’t have made it that”. Weezy doesn’t disappoint either, with typically aggressive bars making for gripping listening: “Going at a nigga throat like herringbone/Boy do I smell beef? Mmm pheromones”.
Mostly though, this is a fresh, innovative production backed by the ever-present and quickly growing immortal Noah ’40’ Shebib. The potential jibes and digs are there to be found in Drizzy’s bars, but to listen for them exclusively would be to shun the overall quality of an album that’s just about unparalleled in its somehow gravitating combination of downbeat, questioning sentiments.
Drake’s protégé PARTYNEXTDOOR was clearly very much on that wavelength on the second of his consecutive appearances, ‘Wednesday Night Interlude’. His passionate, emotional solo is a thing of pure beauty, utilising auto-tune and echo superbly in an invitation to his broken heart. “When I’m lonely, mix the Remy/little bit of Henny, I’m running on empty/I’m lonely’ he moans, in a somehow hard-hitting but deeply sensitive moment that cakes another layer onto the seemingly impossible depth of the album.
The theory that the obvious suicidal innuendos of this project, particularly in its name and artwork, are in reference to Drake’s impending departure from Birdman and Cash Money Records is gathering pace. While it’s widely known that the 28-year-old wants out of his deal, ‘Now & Forever’ is an understated farewell to the label that fired him into the limelight. “I don’t wanna miss the boat, I don’t wanna sit in coach/I don’t wanna sit in home, I gotta get where I’m going” he says, before alluding to his personal record, ‘OVO Sound’, when he spits “I know imma be alone, I know I’m out on my own” over the sample of Ginuwine’s ‘You Owe Me’. It’s also worth considering that this project was released on iTunes and while the debate is out as to whether it can be called an album, it is independent from the company.
Aside from the political connotations though, Drake has added another dimension to his impressive catalogue with tracks like ‘You and The 6’. The idea of a rapper addressing his mother in a song is hardly the brainwave of the century, but true to the rest of this project the ‘Take Care’ rapper presents a complex amalgamation of observations on life before success, his previously absent father and how he’s viewed now. Frequently cutting himself off while ranting to his Mum via phone, Graham’s determination and continued struggle shines through. In turn, his ‘open letter’ style creates an almost autobiographical viewpoint of his 28 years. “I used to get teased because I’m black, and now I’m here and I’m not black enough/Because I’m not acting tough or making stories up bout where I’m actually from” he says angrily.
The classy creation of ‘Jungle’, the track which accompanied the recent short film by the same name, completely typifies the mental scene Drake is illustrating throughout the project’s majority. It’s gloomy, self-aware and delicately paranoid, with endless rhetorical queries like “Are we still good? If I need to talk are you around? Are you down for the cause?”. This is Drake and 40 at their best, aching their way through a brainstorm of questions most rappers would deem inconceivable.
To summarise, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is the coldest, most paranoid of Drake’s projects to date, following his trend of asking more and more questions of himself, the rap game and those important to both. To say the record is self-absorbed at times would be the equivalent of calling an oven hot; for all his complexities this is still the same former child actor that will forever remain true to those concepts. The genius of IYRTITL, then, is the metamorphosis of those tendencies into something wholly sensitive and relatable; a group of tracks which consciously command empathy and demand reflection. Its surprise release lies in stark contrast to its blindingly apparent significance – less than a week old it is already being hailed as a defining moment for a genre frequently in desperate need of ingenuity. Ears will now await Views From The 6, Drake’s next release, which is still expected later this year and he has set himself a treacherously high precedent to follow.