While it may have been a surprise release, there’s really no surprise that Drake has been keeping his newest mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late under wraps. The interesting thing about this whole project is that we don’t really know what to call it, at least until Drake confirmed it’s a mixtape. Being 17 tracks, it’s certainly an album’s worth, but IYRTITL is a different beast than 2013’s landmark Nothing Was The Same. Many reviewers and critics are comparing the new mixtape to Drake’s debut EP So Far Gonesince it’s his first mixtape since that one, and IYRTITL released on the six-year anniversary of that first release. But in truth, this isn’t the same Drake from 2008.
Just as Drake’s sound and style has changed over time, so this mixtape is different than what he’s released before. At face value, the mixtape is not structured the way his past two full-length albums have been. It’s structured in typical mixtape format, with non-sensical sound effects and meaningless interludes in the middle of songs (“Know Yourself” is one of the most blatant examples). Comparing IYRTITL to NWTS, some tracks are similar, but the content isn’t nearly as powerful as what Drake did in 2013. “No Tellin’” features some of the better story-telling from the rapper, while other early cuts like opener “Legend” is just an excuse for Drake to call out guys who are coming after him, and how he’s already a legend at 27. It’s hard to believe (according to himself, too) that he’s accomplished so much in a simple 6 years.
While the story-telling element of hip-hop that was so strong on NWTS isn’t nearly as present on this mixtape, maybe that’s not the point. According to recent reports, IYRTITL’s commercial release (most mixtapes aren’t sold, they’re just released for free) may get Drake out of his contract with Cash Money and allow him to release his upcoming full-length Views from the 6on his own label or even independent. So what Drake might be accomplishing with a decent mixtape like this one is getting himself out of a label contract to keep the money he knows he’ll make. “Star67” features verses about cocaine and other hard drugs, and a call out to Cash Money to just “get me the check”, and the beat switches up halfway through, channeling NWTS personality. Eight tracks in, Drake switches the whole thing up and brings co-producer PARTYNEXTDOOR in for a solid verse and hook on “Preach”, with classic Drake short raps over it (ala Take Care). Additionally, the follow-up track continues the connection with PARTYNEXTDOOR, with more of an electric R&B flavor and touches on new territory for the Cash Money artist.
What surprised the most on this mixtape was Lil’ Wayne’s actual competency behind a mic. “Used To” features one of the few features for Drake’s record, and while Wayne’s flow is similar to Drake’s, it actually works for him and sounds better than most of the music he’s released in last five years. It actually has a good flavor of retro hip-hop but injected with the trap feel of today’s music. “Jungle” is a certainly catchy cut, with the muted heavy percussion and Drake’s smooth vocal over the beat, and the track toys with a little jazz feel to it as well. It might remind most listeners the most of Take Care, without all the production overshadowing things. If you want classic sounding hip-hop with Drake infused into it, go listen to the final track, “6PM In New York”. It might be a dis track, but it’s Drake at his realest, and that’s what we want, right?
The reason NWTS was so good was the mix of excellent production as well as strong lyrical content about what else but life. While everything on IYRTITL is fairly superficial (cash, money, girls, cars, etc), Drake shows glimpses of what he can really do, nothing more than “6PM In New York”. Similarly “You & the 6” takes a turn to words from his mother, and shows another glimpse at what might be coming from his next full-length. It’s Drake on the record for being real, and telling stories about his life. Words permeate and give another dimension to Drake’s character: “I used to get teased for being black /And now I’m here and I’m not black enough / Cause I’m not acting tough / Or making stories up ‘bout where I’m actually from”. Drake is a different beast, and while it may have worked for a while to gain popularity from Cash Money, what’s coming next will be even bigger. Production all the way through this mixtape is on point like it always is, with some heavy influence from Boi-1da and PARTYNEXTDOOR. So the bottom line, this is a worthy mixtape for fans, and might get him out of his contract, but it just makes those of us who look forward to stories and real hip-hop more hungry for Views From The 6. This will do for now, though.