The first major blow in the battle for 2015’s rap crown has landed, and it dropped on a completely unsuspecting Internet. The mixtape responsible, entitled “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” comes courtesy of Toronto’s own Aubrey Drake Graham.
The title is fitting for a mixtape that took the Internet entirely by surprise. It is rare that a project by an artist of Drake’s caliber comes without fanfare. The only comparable release was Beyonce’s eponymous album that shut down the Internet at the end of 2013. Perhaps it’s unfair to say that it was completely unexpected; there were rumors of a Drake mixtape coming out for a few weeks, but putting a major artist’s tape out at 11 p.m. on a Thursday is unprecedented. Take into account the fact that he has an album (“Views From the 6”) due this spring, and Mr. Graham had little reason to put out a 17 track mixtape.
And yet here we are. The biggest full length rap release since J. Cole’s “2014 Forest Hills Drive” last December. And despite Cole’s best efforts, 2014 belonged to Drake. He didn’t release a full length effort, but the rapper-singer dominated hip-hop and rap radio with singles “0 to 100/The Catch Up” and “6 God” along with features on OB O’Brien’s “2 On/Thotful” and ILOVEMAKONNEN’s ubiquitous “Tuesday”, among countless other songs.
The joke with Drake is that he has a split personality. He either goes in on beats (see: the bitter, blustery “Worst Behavior”), or he goes soft (see: the smooth, thoughtful, romantic “Hold On, We’re Going Home”). You see it in his song titles. There’s a slash in “0 to 100/The Catch Up”! The beat changes halfway through, from a banger to a slow, introspective song. You never know which Drake will show up on a song, which makes listening to a Drake release for the first time an entertaining endeavor. And it’s not like you want one Drake over the other; both sides of him are equally talented and palatable.
“If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” seems to start with soft Drake. The beat is restrained, but if you listen to the lyrics of “Legend”, it’s like Drake has been replaced with Kanye West. “Oh my god, oh my god, if I die, I’m a legend,” he proclaims, “I’m the one…. 6 God, I’m the holy one”. Has he reached “I Am A God” level? Not quite. Drake recognizes and acknowledges his flaws, and he doesn’t hit the ridiculous highs that his Chicago counterpart hits on a daily basis.
The production on the entire mixtape is deceptive. Most of the beats are mellow; there isn’t a point where you have to turn your headphones down. But Drake undeniably goes hard on three-quarters of the tape. There isn’t a whole lot of “classic Drake” on “If You’re Reading This…” (that side of Drake makes an appearance on the latter half of the tape). One of the things that makes Drake unique is that he doesn’t depend on the energy of the tracks to deliver boasts and disses. His flow is almost better suited for the beats we see on this tape. Drake knows who he is. He knows his strengths as a rapper. And perhaps more importantly, his production team knows his strengths, and consistently gives him beats that he can kill.
High points on the mixtape include “No Tellin”, the previously released “6 God”, and the finale “6PM In New York”. On “No Tellin”, Drake calls out rappers everywhere over a simple six note synth pattern. With “6 God”, Drake exhibits a newfound swagger, unleashing a single cocky verse. It reads like a diss track, with Drake repeatedly taking shots at an unnamed “has-been” rapper. Finally, on “6PM In New York”, he’s claiming “the game is all mine and I’m mighty possessive”. Drake knows he’s on top, and goes so far as to challenge Kanye and west coast rapper Kendrick Lamar.
The mixtape is solid. It’s not a classic by any means. “If You’re Reading This…” serves to keep the status quo. Drake’s likely motivation for dropping the tape is to remind everyone who’s in charge. It’s more a primer for his upcoming album; a taste of what’s to come. The classic is going to come this spring. The classic needs to come if Drake wants to stay on top.
Up to this point in 2015, Drake’s “only” action was the hook and a verse on a collaboration with Big Sean and Kanye, titled “Blessings”. It’s a song “only” featuring the two biggest names in rap, Kanye and Drake, and Sean, one of the best up-and-comers in the game.
Along with Drake’s “Views From the 6”, Kanye, Sean, and Kendrick are all scheduled to release albums in 2015. By dropping his project first, the 6 God has started the fight on his own terms, and will be able to watch the battle unfold from his throne in Toronto. Based on his output over the last year and a half, perhaps a better title for his next album would be “Views From the Top”; after all, that’s where Drake currently sits.