Drake is the voice of a generation. It’s time someone came out and admitted it, for better or for worse. There is no artist in music today who represents the contradictions and insecurities of Millennials quite like Aubrey Drake Graham.
Initially, the rap blogosphere mocked Take Care-era Drizzy for appearing “soft.” Prominent rap maven Big Ghostface once dubbed Drake “the human croissant.” However, with vicious singles such as “Started from the Bottom” and “0 to 100,” somewhere along the line Drake made us listen. Perhaps the turning point came when he released his third album and definitive victory lap, Nothing Was the Same. Devoid of the filler and monotonous ballads that plagued Take Care, Nothing Was the Same showcased Drake peering out from rap’s Mount Olympus, thunderbolt in hand, ready to wreak havoc with his polished sound. Drake the celebrity may still be worthy of derision, but for people still questioning his artistic acumen, the joke is on them.
If Nothing Was the Same symbolized the moment that Drake seized hip-hop’s throne for himself, his most recent mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (IYRTITL) finds him pausing to consider the journey. As the notes of Ginuwine’s “So Anxious” unfurl during album opener “Legend,” Drake’s thesis statement runs in a similar vein, “If I die, all I know is I’m a mothafuckin’ legend / It’s too late for my city, I’m the youngest n*gga reppin.”
While these boasts from a younger Drake often appeared trite, on “Legend” they sound utterly confident and triumphant. After a falling out with collaborative partner The Weeknd, whose influence on Take Care was unmistakable, Drake has found a new Toronto-based R&B comrade in the form of woozy singer PartyNextDoor. PND, who produced and co-wrote “Legend,” as well as “Preach” and “Wednesday Night Interlude,” exerts a similar influence on IYRTITL. While Drake’s raps are as focused as ever, the soundtrack cultivated by PND and in-house producer Noah “40” Shebib is part glittering and seductive, part alienated and nomadic.
It’s fitting then, that in a time when Drake was most isolated on top, he decided the time was ripe for a homecoming. While IYRTITL isn’t Take Care—a bloated ballad disguised as an album—it is Drake’s truest declaration of love, an ode to his hometown of Toronto, or, as he refers to it, “The 6.”
These dueling sentiments of detachment and an almost patriotic affection are never more evident than in album standout, “Know Yourself.” Amidst an initially sleepy instrumental, Drake explodes with the “Worst Behavior”-esque chant of, “Running through the six with my woes!” IYRTITL is rife with Toronto slang (woes meaning working on excellence) and nods to the various area codes and districts that Drake and his crew navigate. “Know Yourself” features a self-aware Drake who has come to terms with the scorn from haters that frustrated him on earlier tracks such as “Lord Knows” and “Shot For Me.”
“N*ggas want my spot an’ don’t deserve it / I don’t like how serious they take themselves / I’ve always been me I guess I know myself.”
What makes IYRTITL so compelling and allows Drake to steer it away from potential pitfalls is the creative freedom of the mixtape format. Without the pressure to produce a perfectly cohesive concept album, IYRTITL is bursting at the seams with hard-hitting bangers that provide enough Instagram captions to last a lifetime.
“Energy,” the album’s most commercially successful single, is Drake’s response to entertainers such as Chris Brown and P. Diddy who have thrown rocks at his throne. It’s his most lyrically efficient assault on his haters to date: “I got enemies, got a lotta enemies / Got a lotta people tryna drain me of this energy.”… “I got rappers that I gotta act like I like / but my actin’ days are over, fuck them rappers for life, yea.”
“10 Bands” and “6 God” are thundering anthems reminiscent of “Started from the Bottom,” where Drake narrates the gritty details of his rise to fame, “the safe house nights out in Calabasas.” If Drake were a professional athlete, the second verse of “10 Bands” would be the moment rap’s Barry Bonds locks in and crushes a 500-ft home run with mechanical precision and ease.
“I’ve been on a mission, haven’t left the condo / This that OVO, that SZN, this that new Toronto / I get boxes of free Jordan like I play for North Carolina / How much I make off the deal, how the fuck should I know?”
IYRTITL cohesively meshes two aspects of Drake’s persona: the self-proclaimed fearless rap god and his more sensitive side. However, he’s most effective when he drops both veneers and grasps for honest introspection. Since each of Drake’s albums features a song dedicated to his mother, (Take Care’s “Look What You’ve Done” and Nothing Was the Same’s “Too Much”) his coronation as a hometown hero would not be complete without another conversation, albeit a decidedly one-sided one, with his dear mom.
“You & the 6,” IYRTITL’s crowning achievement, is the existential crisis that any mother faces when she realizes her son is out of her control, when all a single mother can do is sigh and confess, “You’re your father’s child, man, thank God you got some me in you.” On “You & The 6,” Drake pleads for independence and for his parents to finally reconcile, but most of all, he begs his mother to stop worrying about him.
“Having conversations with mama, man, my life is a mess / Ain’t been returning the texts, so she been reading the press / She got Google Alerts, them shits go straight to her phone / She worry ’bout me from home, you know she raised me alone.”
Home. It’s where Drake comfortably resides on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. He’s gotten “back to that kid in the basement,” and has come to terms with the fame that tantalized him on “Successful.” As the scintillating chords of “You & the 6” fade into the distance, it’s hard to imagine he would want to be anywhere else.