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It’s a boon for the promoters of Future Music Festival that Aubrey “Drake” Graham should drop an album – or, rather, commercial mixtape – on the eve of his inaugural Australian tour. Today stealth albums are more than a novelty, they’re a marketing strategy for the digital era. But what if after ‘breaking the Internet’ the said product is crap, not cult?
Drake’s decent If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late isn’t the follow-up to 2013’s Nothing Was The Same, which is supposedly called Views From The 6. It’s actually a political manoeuvre, the Canadian’s means of fulfilling his four-album contract with Cash Money Records, with Drizzy having sided with Lil Wayne in his case against mogul Bryan “Birdman” Williams. That title, a farewell note, says much.
With 2010’s debut Thank Me Later, Drake and his chief studio cohort Noah “40” Shebib introduced their own take on the post-dubstep nightbus – an amorphous electronic urban genre known as ‘illwave’ now being recorded by everybody from Beyoncé to Tim Omaji (AKA Timomatic).
The MC/singer departed from the hip hop template in other ways. Drizzy’s lyricism would veer closer to that of UK trip hop pioneer Tricky than any thug rapper, his preoccupations emanating from the psyche, not the street. Drake is the King of emo-rap. If You’re Reading… references his hometown of Toronto (“the 6?), yet the theme remains (urban) existentialism. Drake is into interiors.
If You’re Reading… is ultra-subliminal, almost sedate, its bottom-heavy music is minimalist, abstract and with vapoury synths. There are few hooks. Much of the production comes from Boi-1da. If You’re Reading… is orientated to nocturnal listening – or cruising. Beyond that, Drake still laments money issues, the isolation of celebrity, and both fleeting romantic exchanges and dysfunctional family relationships in the social media age. Forget YOLO.
On the dark Energy, Drake lashes out at his “enemies” – not merely haters but emotional vampires. More intriguing, albeit ambiguous, is Know Yourself, an autotuned Drake flipping the Delphic maxim that heralded Freudian psychoanalysis, ruminating over melancholy new wave soundscapes. In Madonna he tells a (possibly self-serving) gal pal that she “could be big as Madonna”. The unexpectedly intimate song, graced by Shebib’s disembodied piano and sampling Ginuwine, is a sizzurp Justify My Love.
Drake’s R&B protégé PARTYNEXTDOOR contributes to a handful of numbers; one, Preach, nearly erupts into house. Weezy turns up for Used To, otherwise indistinguishable. Midway, If You’re Reading… risks emphasising the ‘mono’ in monologue. However Now & Forever, chronicling either the end of an affair or a deal, stands out on a collection of anti-epics as maximalist alt-R&B.
In Company (featuring Travi$ Scott) Drake confesses to being an eternal “dog”. Comically, it even has barks. The former child star of Degrassi: The Next Generation speaks to his “mama” on You & The 6 about growing up in the T-Dot and reconciling with an absent dad. It’s the most overtly autobiographical track. Jungle, again provided by Shebib, is fractured soul that will endear itself to fans of Hold On, We’re Going Home, Drake’s defining pop moment.
But it’s the bonus track, 6PM In New York, with its retro ’90s Timbaland triple beat, which raises the tempo, and ante. Drizzy, no soft touch, hits back at Tyga (“You need to act your age and not your girl’s age”) and slyly disses his hero Kanye West (!). If You’re Reading… isn’t on a par with Drake’s ‘proper’ albums, but let it creep up on you.