"I’ll never do a straight rap album," Drake told MTV back in 2013. He said nothing about a mixtape.
Drake has always made Drake Music, a mixture of rapping and singing that completely shifted the kind of music that was acceptable for rappers to make. But after listening to Drake’s surprise new mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late you’ll notice this isn’t Drake Music in its most common form. Drake dropped Too Late the day before Valentine’s Day without a single love song, and it seems like that wasn’t an oversight. This is the closest thing we’ve gotten to a straight rap album from Drake, and the wait was worth it.
This is Drake's first mixtape in six years
Too Late is Drakes first mixtape since So Far Gone — still widely considered his best project — was released six years ago to the day. It’s what we’ve come to expect from a Drake album — a dark, moody, honest, retrospective, and emotionally vulnerable collection of 17 carefully crafted songs, largely produced by Drake’s best friend and longtime producer 40, and fellow Toronto-native Boi-1da.
Too Late opens with a sample of Ginuwine’s "So Anxious" on "Legend" one of the most upbeat songs on the album. Produced by OVO artist Partynextdoor (who performs on the excellent track "Preach"), "Legend" is a classic Drake beat with classic Drake rhymes filled with braggadocio, and it works well. But after "Legend" you realize the essence of Too Late is very somber and introspective, arguably the darkest collection of music Drake has put out.
This is the darkest collection of music Drake has released
On the Boi-1da produced "Know Yourself" we find Drake talking about purchasing a Bugatti "just to hurt." Drake admits to having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, saying he never gets "sloppy drunk but alcohol is problem solving" in "You & The 6" — one of the best songs on the album, in which Drake is talking directly to his mother, thanking her for raising him right, and asking her to turn off her Google Alerts about him. Drake has dedicated a song to talk directly to his mother on his last two projects, and Too Late is no different. The existential crisis continues on "Now & Forever," produced by Eric Dingus and Jimmy Prime, with Drake contemplating his untimely demise, rapping "I’m afraid I’m going to die before I get where I’m going." The good thing for Drake is he’s amazing at turning personal turmoil into professional success and excellent music, and Too Late is no exception.
This isn’t Drake’s best album, but then again it’s not technically an album, it’s a mixtape. But Too Late doesn't feel like every other mixtape rappers release on a weekly basis. It feels more complete, like there was a serious amount of planning an preparation involved in this project. It has album-quality production with album-quality lyrics that form an album-quality collection of music. And damn good one.
One of the few songs Drake sings on in Too Late is "Jungle" and it’s a slow-burning masterpiece. Produced by 40, using a sample of little-known Brooklyn musician Gabriel Garzón-Montano’s "6 8," "Jungle" is one of those ultra-quotable Drake tracks, with the Canadian rapper imploring a woman to cut back on her social media use. "Fuck what they talking about in your timeline/ That’s cutting all into my time with you." Internet Drake at his finest. Drake even drops some Erykah Badu at the end of "6 Man," singing the chorus from The Roots’ Grammy-award winning hit "You Got Me" featuring the Queen of Neo-Soul
This is a soundtrack for contemplation
The finale, "6PM in New York" is where Drake lifts the gloomy vibe and begins a lyrical exercise to show how much he has progressed in the last six years. It’s a booming, punchline-filled track over a Boi-1da beat that sounds like it was crafted for Jay Z. Drake even touches on social issues on the track, in his own way, something he has been hesitant to do:
"And I heard someone say something that stuck with me a lot/ about how we need protection from those protecting the block/ Nobody looking out for nobody/ Maybe we should try and help somebody or be somebody/ Instead of being somebody that makes the news/ So everybody could tweet about it/ And they start to RIP about it/ And four weeks later nobody even speaks about it/ Damn, I just had to say my piece about it."
Too Late is not party music, it’s a soundtrack for contemplation. It feels like a mental exercise at time to catch every reference and notice every double-entendre. You won’t catch everything after the first listen, and everyone won’t like it. It’s thought-provoking and can be emotionally intrusive. But that is what Drake does — he makes you think, and ponder, and marvel at his lyrical capabilities. Drake makes #feels music, with or without singing. If You're Reading This It's too Late is a mixtape that was released to suffice Drake’s fans before his next album Views From The 6 is released later this year, but it turned out to be much more than that. It’s Drake unfiltered, something that we rarely see. It may be Drake Music in its purest form. And that's what we need right now.