Drake is having a great year. In February, he dropped his unannounced mixtape, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” to much fanfare and critical acclaim. He followed that up by entering a bitter feud with rapper Meek Mill that resulted in the diss tracks “Charged Up,” “Back to Back” and another single, “Hotline Bling,” which dominated the charts. Future is also having a good run this year, with two mixtapes, “Beast Mode” and “56,” and a critically acclaimed album “DS2.” Now, after teasing the project for a few weeks, Drake and Future have dropped their collaborative mixtape “What a Time to be Alive.” It seems these two are unstoppable, and the album’s hype is unreal. While this mixtape isn’t exactly on par with some of the other albums that have dropped this year, like Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” or Dr. Dre’s recent “Compton,” it lives up to everything a Drake and Future mixtape ought to be: pure bangers.
While the album is lyrically shallow, and a number of songs are just not good, “What a Time to Be Alive” is full of throbbing bass and kick drums. Executively produced by Metro Boomin, it follows trap music song structure, with nearly every song having heavy bass, 808’s kick drums and sped up snare and hi-hats. The difference is that the best of these songs still sound remarkably unique. Often, the mixtape feels more like a Future album with Drake featured on the song, since Drake usually sings all the hooks. When he does rap, his verse always follows Future’s, except on the “30 for 30 freestyle,” where Future is entirely absent. However, the chemistry between these two is great, and both of them meld their individual styles exceptionally well, with Future’s husky verses about trap lifestyle, and Drake’s introspective lyrics about fame and relationships complimenting each other. Gangsters got feelings too!
The standout track so far is “Diamonds Dancing,” perhaps one of the best produced songs on the mixtape. It begins with slow synths which picks up with a low bassline underneath. Future opens up the track, rapping,”Sippin Don Perignon for no reason / poppin tags upper echelon for no reason.” The song then quickly moves into the chorus, with both Drake and Future singing, “Diamonds, Diamonds, Diamonds, Diamonds on me dancing.” As soon as the chorus hits, the drums kick in, and the hi-hats start hitting. Surprisingly, this song is downtempo and is layered very intricately, with various sounds that play off the opening synth beat.
Moreover, “Live From the Gutter” is more typical, lyrically and sonically, of trap music, but it’s also surprisingly introspective, opening with a slow, piano melody, over which the bass and snare are layered. “While this track’s production is much less intricate, the best part is that both Drake and Future’s verses are vicious: “I watched my bride give up on me like a marriage / I went back inside the attic and count it up and laughed … hah,” referencing his breakup with fiancée Ciara.
The lyrical highpoint of the album is the ending track, “30 for 30 freestyle,” which finds Drake rapping over a slower, more soulful beat. While this year has seen Drake pack on a harder edge to his persona, this track reminds us that introspective Drake is still around, with him musing on everything from his recent feud with Meek Mill to his responsibility as an artist. Speaking about the recent spate of police violence, he raps “Kids are losing lives, got me scared of losin’ mine / and if I hold my tongue about it, I get crucified.” The placement of this track at the end of the mixtape is also very refreshing. It’s a relieving change of pace after listening to so many club bangers and party anthems. It reminds one that the earlier vapidity is a conscious decision.
This mixtape is the kind that will definitely wear off in a few weeks. A majority of the songs are
decent. This mixtape does deliver on what one would expect of a mixtape that the duo allegedly recorded in six days. By the time this mixtape wears off, hopefully we’ll be listening to Drake’s much anticipated album “Views From the 6.”
Rating: 3 stars