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Album Review: Drake's If You're Reading This It's Too Late

photo complements of wikipedia.org
Short review: Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is an introspective look into deconstruction and reconstruction, providing a refreshing change from many of the huge beats and brag-centric lyricism of contemporary popular hip-hop. Becoming progressively melodic and complex as it goes on, the fourth mixtape from the Young Money star is self-aware and deep with sterling production and mature flow. The first half of the mixtape gets repetitive after six or seven tracks of minimal beats and similar rhythms in filler tracks, but the second half makes up for it all as it restructures itself. Listen through a few times to understand it fully.

Full review: Beginning with a dark, sparse beat with deep bass and minimal melodic elements, the first half of the mixtape is a lot of the same style. The first half features a strong deconstruction of the typical hip-hop beat, stripping away all of the huge, dramatic beats with tons of brass, extremely broad chords, and all sorts of synthesizers all over the place, leaving the album with a simple drum beat, deep bass, and a muted vamp over the top to supplement Drake's flow. 

This pattern continues through the first eight or so tracks -- almost the entire first half of the mixtape. This gets to be repetitive and monotonous, and it seems like many of these first tracks are simply there for filler. A few filler tracks can be expected from a seventeen-track mixtape, however. The first half of the mixtape reminds me of the album art -- simple writing on a white background. Minimalistic, but still meaningful, for the most part.

The first standout track from the first half is "Energy," the breakout hit from the mixtape. The track showcases Drake’s flow over a dark, vampy piano riff. The beat is similar to the other tracks in the first half, but more punchy and aggressive. Drake’s flow is sharp and biting, setting this track apart from the mellower, R&B-inspired hooks from many other tracks on the mixtape. Drake's flow comes through like a steamroller. He enters the mixtape with guns blazing (aside from the machine gun fire in the beginning of the song), throwing up every middle finger he can muster to everyone but himself. Listen to "Energy" here:

"Know Yourself," another notable track on the first half of the mixtape, offers a slower, more lethargic beat, and features more of Drake’s R&B-influenced singing. The vamp in the second half of the song will stick in your head for days. This trac offers more dynamic contrast than the previous songs on the mixtape have. 

As the mixtape progresses, though, the beats and composition become progressively constructed and airtight, featuring other artists who are associated with Drake. The features from Drake's label signee PARTYNEXTDOOR on "Preach" and "Wednesday Night Interlude" were two of my favorite parts of the mixtape, despite the complete absence of Drake himself on "Wednesday Night Interlude." PARTYNEXTDOOR's soulful but spacey and effected voice provides a wonderful contrast with Drake's voice, highlighting the talents of both artists rather than showcasing one over the other.

Drake brings on his Young Money contemporary Lil Wayne for "Used To," a harsh, grating shot at dishonest friends and gossiping. Their respective flows complement each other so well that, if you aren't paying attention, you just might miss the transition between the two.

Later on in the mixtape, Drake brings on Travi$ Scott for a feature in "Company," a sharp return into the deconstruction that we saw earlier on in the mixtape. Spacey and atmospheric, the beat doesn't even enter the song until a full two minutes have passed by.

"You & The 6" provides some insight into Drake's publicized relationship with his mother. The lyrics speak of a turbulent, but loving relationship between the two in a subject that is not often seen in contemporary hip-hop. Drake discusses the influence his parents had on his personal and musical lives. Such a subject is quite a departure from many of the earlier tracks.

My personal favorite track on the mixtape is "Jungle." Jazzy and relaxed, “Jungle” showcases the soulful roots that Drake mentions in “You & The 6”. A very mellow beat accompanies a simple lyric in which Drake asks questions about a past lover. The question, “Are we still good?” is a lyrical motif that shows up many times throughout the song as Drake wonders whether there is still any chance at salvaging a relationship.

The closing track of “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” is a combination of all of the different attitudes seen through the rest of the mixtape. With some of the richest texture on the mixtape and a great set of dynamics, the beat highlights and accents Drake’s flow without being overpowering or getting in the way. The track becomes increasingly melodic and constructed, much like the mixtape at large, and Drake ends the long mixtape with an affirmation of his confidence. 

When Drake says that he has "decadent flow, and I still got a decade to go," he is right. If you're reading this, it's too late -- Drake has been making plays on his momentum, and this mixtape is proof that he's a step ahead of the game. Breaking his own record for the most simultaneously charting hits in the history of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart, Drake's mixtape is a lyrical and musical force to be reckoned with.

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