Widgets Magazine

Album review: Drake’s ‘If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late’

This past Friday, rapper Drake made music-industry waves when he unexpectedly released a full-length album to digital retailers. Fans rushed to download the unheralded “If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late,” resulting in projected first-week sales of over 500,000 copies. Released on Young Money/Cash Money/Republic records, the album’s defiant lyrics and pared-down sound make it clear that Drake stands at the threshold of a new era, personally and musically. But the 17-track effort still retains much of what we’ve come to expect from him throughout his wildly successful career — a combination of angry bravado and self-conscious introspection, resulting in a musical self-portrait rich with contradictions.

The album opens with the swaggering “Legend,” a down-tempo self-elegy that samples Ginuwine’s “So Anxious.” It’s clear from the first few bars that this is not the slick, lushly-produced Drake with which listeners are familiar — see, for instance, tracks like “Headlines” or “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” On the contrary, “Legend” is bass-heavy and stripped down, relying on consistent, addictive rhythms and unapologetically self-confident lyrics. The song is a perfect opener — simple, distilled and full of an infectious pride that makes you feel as if you are also “a motherf***ing legend.”

Drake sustains this combination of bare-bones production and bravado throughout the rest of the album, particularly on tracks like “Energy,” “10 Bands” and “6 God.” Each song features aggressive, self-aggrandizing lyrics over a formulaic background of repetitive melodies and heavy bass. The tracks feel like quickly-sketched self-portraits: familiar vignettes of self-assurance, success, and hard living, delivered in a no-frills style. The swagger is the same, but the sound is undeniably different.  And so, it seems, is the artist himself. Towards the end of the song “No Tellin,” he emphasizes personal change, requesting: “Please don’t speak to me like I’m that Drake from four years ago/I’m at a higher place.” Clearly, he sees himself as having evolved through experience, elevated in both identity and method.

As the album proceeds, it begins to lose momentum. The deeper cuts begin to blend into one another, and repetitive anecdotes of excess and female exploitation fall flat. It takes a lot more than self-glorification and thumping bass to hold a listener’s interest. I re-connected with the music during sensitive, introspective cuts such as “Jungle” and “You & The 6,” which evoked, well, “Drake from four years ago.” When he sheds his self-conscious egotism and explores his relationships and doubts through emotionally-nude, narrative-centered flows, he comes closest to true artistry — or, at the very least, authenticity. As he continues his musical evolution, I hope he remembers that sensitivity is one of his strongest assets.

According to industry rumors, the atmospheric simplicity of “Too Late” may not be an entirely stylistic choice. Some speculate that the album’s Spartan production is because it was hurriedly recorded and released in an effort to fulfill a contractual obligation with Young Money/Cash Money records. Drake has made no secret of his dissatisfaction with the label, so it’s possible that this surprise release could be his ticket to freedom. Despite its shortcomings, “Too Late” doesn’t feel like a hurried excuse for an album. Instead, its stripped-down swagger feels like a purposeful portrait of an artist in transition, one that will thrill and satisfy legions of fans. And if Drake really is striking out on his own, there’s no question that the industry will eagerly anticipate forthcoming independent projects. The world awaits the next chapter in his musical and personal narrative.

Contact Clare Flanagan at ckflan ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Clare Flanagan

Clare Flanagan is a desk editor and writer for the Music beat. A former band geek, she specializes in popular music and new releases. Clare is a sophomore from Edina, Minn. considering majors in Psychology or English. To contact her, please email ckflan@stanford.edu.