Most of us who care that Drake pulled a Beyoncé on Friday and surprise-released a seventeen-track doozy on iTunes know that something about this record was different. The If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late Drake is not the same Drake of Thank Me Later, Take Care, or Nothing Was the Same. I wanted to see what Pitchfork, one of his most effusive admirers had to say about it but I was surprised to see the absence of a If You’re Reading review Monday morning. I did see what they had to say about one of the songs:
“Of all the middle fingers Tough Drake flips on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, “Energy” is the tallest, the most knuckly, the one that comes closest to popping out eyeballs. Worlds away from his days as hip-hop’s preeminent Mister Softee, Drake is now the supervillain you can’t help but root for—the raging kingpin perched aloft his Toronto penthouse, yelling at those sad plebs down below with a mix of pity and disgust. Like so many of the greatest shit-talking tracks, “Energy” is about everyone and no one: Drake is ushering wannabes into Ubers headed straight to Nowhere, he is putting a moratorium on saving other rappers’ careers with his hooks, and he is barking every word like his entire being is composed of indestructible titanium alloy.“
Drake has always been bitter. After all, I asked the majority of my colleagues at work today what they thought of him and the most common response was, “he sounds effeminate,” and “he doesn’t rap he croons.” But he is no fool and he knows what the haters out there are saying. Thus pinpointing his anger is not enough. It’s headed in the right direction, but fails to highlight the true significance of this new tape. Make no mistake, as much as people are using the terms album and mixtape interchangeably to describe the project, If You’re Reading is a tape. Why make this distinction? Because it ensures we know this release is not his hugely anticipated NWTS follow-up, Views from the Six and because it is important in the larger context of Drake’s deteriorated relationship with his record label, Cash Money.
Before I did all my research, however, I simply listened. In doing so I noticed that Drake’s tonal pallet on If You’re Reading is more varied than ever before. I had to do double takes on multiple songs and think to myself, “is that Drake or a featured artist?” His voice hits deeper notes, and he often raps at a raspier and higher octave than usual. This activated an alarm deep within me. “No way….” I thought, “he sounds…..scared?” This feeling solidified more with each listen, perfectly complimented by the nitrous, dark brooding production. Drake is wounded with his back against the wall, snarling at the demons pinning him down.
A wounded beast is still a dangerous beast, and he entrenches himself for the long haul by developing a plan: “If I die I’m a legend…You don’t know where you’re gonna go / I got this shit mapped out strong.” Whatever he is battling, however, is too much for him, and glimpses of a defeated Drake add to the mounting bafflement. On “Know Yourself,” he hits that raspier, desperate octave: “Running through the Six with my WOES!!!” Cue double take — No, he must have said hoes, right? Wrong. He DID say “with my WOES!!!!” The runner within my brother couldn’t help but sympathize. “He’s just like me! He’s running through his city with his woes!”
It gets worse. “I been in the crib with the phones off / I been at the house taking no calls…Drapes closed I don’t know what time it is / I’m still awake I gotta shine this year…Haven’t left the condo in a week now.” He is working so hard on this tape that he hasn’t left his condo in a week. This could be either depression or dedication, either way, Drake sounds exhausted, his voice fluctuating up on the words “week” and “time” in such a way that suggest manic sleep deprivation. Intentional or not, it’s a stroke of genius that highlights Drake’s deeply rooted emotional problems.
Again, what were those problems? I was shocked that he sounded hurt and depressed, but ultimately understood that only Drake–the most mainstream rapper who openly shares his raw emotions and as a result sounds most human–was capable of this. I was shocked with the motive and influence. There was no indication that his feelings were caused by a woman or women, as in the past. There was something I was missing.
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. The most logical target for such a title is the record label, Cash Money. Lil Wayne is currently suing the label saying he’s “a prisoner, and so is [his] creativity.” On top of that, Nicki Minaj turned away Cash Money co-founder Birdman from a recent party. These two individuals are incredibly important to Drake, and since they are both leaving the label as soon as possible, Drake is in danger of being left behind. “I don’t wanna miss the boat I don’t wanna sit in coach / I don’t wanna sit at home I gotta get where I’m going / I’m afraid I’mma die before I get where I’m going” (“Now and Forever”). For an only child who owes so much to friends and mentors like Lil Wayne and Nicki, this would be too much to bear.
Consequentially, Drake released what I think is his final contractual obligation to the label. “I had to knock down the wall / Yeah I swear to god that I’m gone.” Forget about digging a trench for a siege, he straight up clawed his way through the wall and out the back. “My ex ask me where I’m moving I said ‘On to better things.'”
The last three songs are a testament to Drake moving on. Early candidate for Song of the Year “You & the 6” is a magnificent tribute to his mother that simultaneously produces tearful joy and contemplative sadness. “Jungle” is a throwback to his talent as a sublime crossover artist and “6PM in New York” is just him rapping proficiently for four minutes with no hook. By the time he reveals what the last few months have been like for him and you slowly absorb the music and realize their weight, it’s too late. We’re running to catch up, his woes flying by us in the breeze.