A skills showcase. Comfortable. That's where we find Drake on these loosies. A career spent slaving away to be the biggest Music Star alive finally achieved and for the first time in his discography, Drake gets to enjoy that status. He sounds comfortable, it comes off effortless, he is in his pocket but honestly, he just sounds a little uninspired and bored. The project, Dark Lane Demo Tapes, is a showcase of all the skills his picked up over the years to become his generations defining hitmaker and how with that achieved, his at a loss for motivation. The skill set acquired is impressive, let's dive into it;
Drake came into the game with the goal to rap, sing and sing-rap at an elite level to open as many hit lanes as possible and the tracks on the album really highlight the chameleon like nature Drake's style had to assume to exist in all 3 lanes. Like Rihanna, he never tied himself down to one style and became a Rap-Pop styles savant, Drake did this to make sure he would have a pocket on any track and thus could hop on any hit or any sound. With clear premeditated reasoning, the main being to never fall off but equally as important, to establish a fan in the many subgenres of Hip-Hop and thus creating organically – a stupidly huge fan base.
The first 3 tracks lean heavily into his rap bag. “Deep Pockets” finds the Toronto native showing off the pen and ability that allows him to be as respected in rapper circles as he is. He shows the ability to tell a story, hit every rap point of money, women, drugs in a wavy way with an impressive flow, some witty lines mixed in with punchlines over sadly what is the weakest beat on the album. Thankfully, the next beat might just be the best. A soulful sample occupies the backdrop as the 6God continues to display his pen. “When To Say When”. Over the track, he displays the polished version of the introspective rap that largely occupies his earlier albums where he opens up about his life in that moment but currently he sounds more confident than before. The bars are better, the wit is still there, and his signature flow has over millions of reps of recording at this point to the extent where he even knows the right production to marry his voice and create what possibly may be the best listening experience on the album.
Drake's discovered more during those thousands of hours recording though and they're displayed over the beautiful, "Chicago Freestyle". Giveon chorus is tremendous and sets the whole tone for the song, much reminiscent of Sampha on early Drake. On this track, Drizzy walks us with an infectious flow and without much hassle, through a scenario of him landing in a city, looking for some company, enjoying this company, criticizing how this still isn't as comfortable as it should be and him leaving said City feeling more alone than when he arrived. He does this all while paying homage to one of the GOATs. It's a song, which at this point – he has made dozens of times in only slightly different direction but now, he’s mastered it. It's effortless now. Something he hasn't mastered sadly is his singing, he has never been a strong singer but has never let that stop him. On "Not You Too", Drake makes the 188th song where he centres a lady as his muse and through exploring their relationship, he can let off some introspective viewpoints about himself and his life (the previous one was entry #187). On this one, our Muse betrayed Drizzy thus "Not You Too" but she begins to represent something larger – Drake's inability right now to trust the people around him. He fears he will eventually be disappointed by the people he cares about, even those he thinks absolutely wouldn't let him down (just like our Muse here). She eventually follows what seems to be a trend and hurts the past decade’s signature lover boy and thus, "Not You Too" shows off a very polished skill that he wastes on more lacklustre production.
The first 4 songs deal with Drake's rap and singing bag, it's worth noting how “Chicago Freestyle” or “When To Say When” would be career defining hits for many other rappers and how with better production and in a better singer's hands, the introspective nature of "Not You Too" would also be a hit for many singers. For Drake, those raps songs are only mid level hits by his standards and the other can't even take off, it still so shocking that he has mastered the art of being appealing to such a mass majority of people to such a level that his throwaways can be hits, think about that?
"Desire" represents how the recent musical shift is perfect for Drake, he can't sing really well but hold a melody while rap-singing? Ain't many better. He links with frequent collaborator, Future, on what is clearly the reason why this is called "Demo Tapes". It's all there but unprocessed, there is a theme, some nice production but it feels like it came out the oven to early and wasn't fully there yet. This sentiment continues with "Time Flies", he is in his singing bag once again. Looking for some nice production and a wavy flow to distract a weak vocal performance, it's the 189th Muse centred self introspection track of Drake's career with shawty here representing longing for a certain slow life but not wanting to let go of his current fast life. He sees a nice slow lovey dovey life, acknowledges it but brings it back to the point where neither wants to change. And you can feel the vet status of this skill by how, even though it's not good vocals – you can still groove to it and connect. Those are the reps showing off he knows how to make a groove effortlessly at this point too. But… it's sadly half baked and could've been better if he focused in on his singing, but these are "Demo's" after all.
"Landed" is a trap anthem, easy to listen to and a clear banger on the aux. But the project sequencing sees the song follow “Time Flies” and as such, it sounds a little out of place. It does however signal the change in direction in the project. The music is more street inspired. "D4L" follows and creates a strong run. Young Thug, Future and Drake have fun on this Southside production which compliments all 3 well and they playfully switch flows, it sounds good, but it would be a certified bop if more time was spent ironing out the creases.
"Pain 1993" showcases the chameleon style Drake is infamous for. He hops on this record, puts on an Atlanta triplet flow, makes the beat his home and rides it perfectly setting up a potential bop only for Carti to go 7 for 28. This would have been a bop for Drake in the trap community if he ironed it out and if Carti wasn't currently in a Harden-level shooting funk. Drake's ear for what's popular in the moment is one of his best skills. He’s never late on a sound, I'll admit he’s also never early – he’s just always seems on time. This skill means bandwagoners can never really truly criticize him for riding waves when they find him bandwagoning before them, he did it with new age Atlanta Trap and seems to be laying some connections to New York drill scene before it takes off for real with the mass audiences. Through the Fivio Foreign and Sosa Geek assisted "Demons", he can now claim to have helped put some artists on when he mimics the sound of that area (a là Migos or a là Giggs/Skepta ) so it's not mimicry – it's just inspiration (yeah, that's the "War" review – it’s a good song too). Those are industry politics and man knows how to play this game. "Demons" is a nice little bop with great grimey production with standout features from Fivio and Sosa who take their big shot chance well, while what seems to be everyone's least favourite Drake “British-Grime Drizzy” drops an acceptable verse.
While grime Drake has had a spotty reception, 3-5 minutes of just spitting Drake seems to still be high on everyone's list, that's my #1 Drake so "Losses" is my standout track on the album. It’s a leaf off "Do Not Disturbs" tree, where it's such a deep introspection into someone else mind and emotional state. It demands that you listen just a little more attentively. Over a beautiful sample, Drake shows just how polished he’s become with these Muse centred-introspective type tracks. On the 190th track of this nature, he effortlessly expresses regret, anger, longing, melancholy in such a beautiful way that it mixes into one feeling. He expresses this "one" feeling on something that takes the form of a "I miss you" conversation between Drake and his Muse, it should be just that, but he expands how this regret-based message represents a lot of situations in his life right now. He unravels this complex bundle of emotions with a great flow, witty bars and punchlines which all combine to create Drake's strongest rapping performance on the tape. Following this is "From Florida With Love", which is very easy to listen to. Drake floats, the flow ill and homage to a Lil Wayne’s chart-topping hit, “Lollipop”. A great shout out to Static Major, mentions of Kobe, the production marries the flows perfectly creating an almost nostalgic moment. It's so easy for Drake at this point.
On this album, Drake is polished. These skills above have been honed over 10 years now and throughout the project, Drake shows a mastery of them, which will only be truly appreciated when his not active anymore. When we realize he is the only rapper, who can wear so many faces, crack a smile and have it seem somewhat natural. However, he also sounds bored, these were real problems for Drake coming up, problems that he’s overcome and mastered and now, they don't even challenge him anymore. It’s probably why the music is almost predictable as far as sonic direction, but he has improved as a lyricist. He doesn’t have to put in much effort. He made a Tik-Tok song go #1 on Billboard, think about that? So many slave for years and not to discredit another great artist but I just want to highlight how Drake has developed a skill set with such mastery over the mass audience that he doesn't even have to put in effort to achieve other’s career goals. Meg Thee Stallion has a Beyoncé feature and still didn't go #1. She went #2 and that required a star power remix, crazy label and management support, extensive marketing and a viral Tik-Tok song. It's really hard but Drake makes this seem so easy. When you're young, the multiplication table gives you fits but then you grow old and past it. In music, you work to be as big as possible and Drake worked to be as big as possible and he’s reached that point and it's time to move past it. It's not a challenge anymore. He can roll out of bed and make a hit – that's how fine-tuned his skillset is to making music for the masses. So it's time to stop and while the Roddy Rich collab leaked and didn’t make the demo project, it lets me know it's possibly in the upcoming album. After that, it's time. It's time to stop chasing hits when you don't need to chase for them anymore. Drake has the perfect hit skill set and I know it's crazy to ask him to abandon it, just when he can finally enjoy it but it's time for him to think of himself first and not the audience for once.
He needs to take these skills and go make another classic, not another playlist or demo tapes in lead up to an album full of songs all meant to be hits. He should go actually unpack the emotions we get sparsely on every project in detail and drop something that's not meant for constant radio play, Kendrick didn't make "Peer Pressure" for radio or even to groove too, he had something to say and used music as the vehicle to get it out there. Drake obviously has a lot to say about modern culture and its effects. As not only a living icon, who exists in it but someone who greatly helped shape it and has lived to have enough stories to use to unravel these complex emotions he has – which for the first time, it shouldn't involve a Muse and even if it does, at least let's get an album of that explored in greater depths than 2 or 3 songs per album. We're not though, his status almost got derailed when Pusha T let some of his dirty laundry out and he worked really hard for that status and now that he’s there – all he wants to do is enjoy it. This album was a celebration of that, effortless, comfortable and in his bag but it's so effortless, comfortable and in his pocket that he seems bored but after 12 years of grinding and stressing to be the most talked about artist active – maybe he doesn't mind.
Written by Elijah Mwamba | Twitter @ElijahMWamba24
Edited by Dithekgo Mogadime | Twitter @DithekgoM