Drake's back catalogue varies from exceptional recordings, to pathetic attempts at hip-hop music - the variance often relies on the producer, or a guest artist. He's never really been listened to as a standalone product, even his early mixtapes were dominated by others like Nickelus F and Trey Songz. Then there's the actual musical content; at its best when the samples are originally, the best - "Take Care" for the Jamie XX creative touch to Gil Scott-Heron's genius voice / "Started from the Bottom" relying on an ambient sample / "The Catch Up" for James Blake's soft touch, and of course "No Tellin'" from If You're Reading This It's Too Late for Riber Tiber's "No Talk". Though there are of course some exceptions such as Drake's best - "Hold On, We're Going Home" - but for the most, he's pretty reliant on what his producers create for him.
That being said, If You're Reading This It's Too Late really pushes Drake's vocal and lyrical capacity to the limit. It's not considered an album, and yeah, Drake was going to put this out as a mixtape - all the semantics around this don't really bother this review, that's something for the hardcore Drake fans who think they're paying for water... though to some, Drake music is basically water. But there's good and bad water - a little like every single Drake album to date, If You're Reading This It's Too Late is no exception. This tends to rest on the production, or the style of lyrical content / delivery. For example, "Know Yourself" instantly stands out as the best track due to its slow, excruciatingly slow build-up and refrain repetition: "Running through the six with my woes," / "You know how that should go." Though spoilt through the use of gunshot and siren sounds, well meme'd by 420blazeitnoscope videos. It's hard to remember that these pointless sirens and gunshot sounds were a staple mark on mixtapes of the past - Drake uses it as a nostalgic reference to this past.
Some of Drake's best material is drenched in this nostalgic referencing - "Energy", for its radio styled introduction - though in all honesty, "Energy", like the opening track "Legend", can be summarised quite simply through saying 'Drake-esque' - typical slow speaking tracks, unnecessary use of post-fame bragging makes me skip (same reason why it's becoming increasingly difficult to sit through Kanye West and Jay Z albums.) Drake is now incredibly famous all over the world, he was even five years ago - so these self-loving, self-referencing tracks only put off the more, cultured, hip-hop listener. "Legend", "Energy", "6 God", and "6 Man" are the worst offenders of this: "I'm making millions to work the night shift," easy lyrics, makes these tracks void from my care. Again... there's an exception - "Star67". He Drake's: "Brand new Beretta, can't wait to let it go," in a different style of vocal delivery to Drake's norm. It's a stark contrast to the almost 'in yo face' "Legend", on "Star67" Drake pays credit to various sauces - including Notorious B.I.G with a shout out, and a more sophisticated way of saying he's now rich and famous: "My nigga Biz said the first mill gon' change you." He does this by referencing his past, his persistence to get known out of the six - and eventually, take it.
There are moments of pure musical attraction, such as the backing track to "Preach" - Henry Krinckle's "Stay" makes "Preach" bearable. Though like so of Drake's back catalogue, the dumbing down removes all originality from the content. PartyNextDoor is the reason why "Preach" suffers; just like his artist name, auto-tune is incredibly lame. Drake recovers "Preach" on his verse, but the damage is done. The same applies to "Used To", which is by far the weakest track on this mixtape musically and lyrically. The production is off, Drake's lyrics are not at all fearsome as intended - and the inclusion of Lil Wayne just makes me switch off personally... that, and it opens with the lyrics: "Sound, sound, sound," like a 90s Geordie rave. But If You're Reading This It's Too Late prides itself on special moments of quieter, more acceptable tracks where the smooth music takes control - "Wednesday Night Interlude" / "Madonna". Then there's the musical attraction, and lyrical attraction - "You & The 6" / "Jungle". The former being a lovely Drake track, perfect for Mothers Day, but more so connected to the city and world engulfed by the six - Toronto. The latter closes If You're Reading This It's Too Late, and it's of the top production quality, utilising piano and sampling to the best they possibly could.
If You're Reading This It's Too Late - Drake's mixtape / album which never quite lands softly on its feet. Sure "Know Yourself'" and the latter half of "No Tellin'" are Drake tracks to remember well in to his future, but there's just far too much mediocrity here for this music to be considered anywhere near as good as R&B contemporaries The Weeknd / Frank Ocean / J. Cole. Lyrical content has to mean more in Drake's music. He perfected "0 to 100 / The Catch Up" with its intelligent quips and references, not to mention the quality musical production. There are moments on If You're Reading This It's Too Late which deserve to be questioned, the vocals on "Preach", the repetitiveness of "6 God", the aimless "Madonna", and the production throughout - which doesn't raise Drake's bar at all. After "0 to 100 / The Catch Up", excitement was really brewing to what Drake was putting out next, and that excitement still exists because If You're Reading This It's Too Late is only a small part of Drake's musical releases this year - if anything it could essentially be a bunch of b-sides and shelved material wanting to get out of that record deal he has with Young Money - but as mentioned before, let’s leave the semantics out of it. "Know Yourself", "No Tellin'", "You & The 6", "Star67", and "Jungle" are worthy tracks. Sure, that's only a third of the album with any real clear intention and musical quality, but apart from the duds and the filler, there's some standout Drake tracks, where he doesn't just rely on samples to carry his voice and lyrics. Drake's lyrical work can be improved if he stopped telling people how many millions he's made in the past year - the key around this is to start taking up a line either politically, or culturally. See Nas on Life is Good, or Kendrick Lamar on his latest effort To Pimp a Butterfly. The dumbing down of lyrical content is in part down to pop culture and fame, which is typically poorly received due to the nature of showing-off: "Black Benz on the road boy, already had a Rolls Royce, sold a couple Bentley last week, them were my old toys."~Eddie Gibson