Growing up a pro wrestling and sports fan, I often get accustomed to runs or dynasties. In the NFL, there’s currently the controversial yet successful New England Patriots. Same can be said for the 15-time WWE Champion John Cena, who has ruled on top of the wrestling promotion with an iron fist and to the contempt of many hardcore fans. The latter applies more thoroughly to one Aubrey Graham, who for the last seven years has made a name for himself as part of Lil Wayne’s Young Money collective. Since releasing his impactful mixtape So Far Gone in 2009, Drake’s grown into one of the biggest names in rap and an international star. He also grown into becoming one of the more divisive artists that fans and critics have bickered back-and-forth about.
When it pertains to him as a rapper and singer, Drake can be as versatile as he can ever be. Every song that he drops nowadays is sporadic but built with anticipation for his latest album. It is a formula that he has been using since his Thank Me Later years that also kept him relevant with each quality B-Side that hits the airwaves. So when he drops If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late on the sixth-year anniversary of So Far Gone in the middle of NBA All-Star Weekend, a week after the Grammys, and mere seconds after a Kanye West performance and Diddy concert, it raises more questions than answers.
For those that are keeping track with the Cash Money situation, Lil Wayne has sued Brian “Birdman” Williams for $51 Million requesting his out from the label and wanting to take Nicki Minaj and Drake with him as well. Aubrey has long had previous issues with the label when it came to music royalties ever since the release of Take Care, but kept himself majorly quiet up until this point. A lot of folks have suspected whether releasing a retail mixtape was his way of getting out of his Cash Money deal or not, or purely a thank you note to the man that gave him an opportunity and made him so much money in Birdman. No matter how many perceive it to be, Drake’s latest output is one of his most visceral and revealing to date.
Not bound by the obligations of making pop hits for the Billboard charts, Drake uses If You’re Reading This as a way to flex his rapping muscles on tracks seemingly looked at as throwaway tracks in his Views From The 6 album sessions. Maybe, that’s how Drake wants it to be with his methodical approach: a number of the records feel unfinished, but the track placement is entirely cohesive. It’s not rushed as the songs weave in-and-out, letting the beat breathe, but everything still feels abrupt. It’s impeccable Drake timing, leaving more for the heart to be desired when you think you know it all.
Aubrey gets in the matter of his label issues on If You’re Reading This, battling with fame and ‘running through the 6 with his woes’ on “Know Yourself”. He keeps looking through envelopes for the checks that never come on “No Tellin’,” further emphasizing that there are problems on deck all over the Cash Money ship. It’s not all rosy in paradise for the successful and famous, as Aubrey makes note of that plenty of times on his previous records and here. Instead of sulking over women and lost strippers he was looking to save, he’s looking to save himself from all the complications that come along with his rise.
There’s little room for ballads on the 69-minute, 17-track night journey, though much of its R&B influences is sprinkled through the production. Though Drake’s right-hand men Noah “40” Shebib and Boi-1da handle a good chunk of the beats, much of its ethereal vision is propelled by the youthful appearances of OVOSound’s PARTYNEXTDOOR, SykSense, Eric Dingus, WondaGurl, and Sevn Thomas. The startling “Preach” is the only track that can really give way to radio spins, acting as a well-done sequel to “Recognize,” and the “Wednesday Night Interlude” continues to showcase Aubrey’s recruit and the sole R&B-esque track on here. As he’s mainly rapping throughout, there’s a number of samples from 100% Ginuwine and Ciara’s “Body Party” buried throughout the record if repeated listens dig in the right place.
As hefty and introspective the album comes across, it is the closing bonus track and third of his rapping vent series “6PM in New York” that becomes his most talked-about song here in the long run. From telling fellow Cash Money labelmate Tyga to “act his age and not his girl’s age” to briefly reflecting on the police brutality incidents, Drake ties themes together without it sounding forced; it’s his best lyrical display of boxing in quite some time. His songwriting and rapping ability continues to be heavily underrated, and “6PM” further exemplifies his meticulously tenacity.
It’s like every other project Drake has released since So Far Gone has raised the bar of his sound. SFG was a moody introduction that hit at his pop sensibilities, molding it to an even grander and exhaustive version of those ideas on Take Care. With If You’re Reading, it goes back to what made him so great to begin with along with the broodiness of Nothing Was The Same fleshed out. One thing, for sure, is that Drake is on the throne holding the crown, and it’s going to take a hell of a lot for him to drop it.