Drake. Future. If you pay attention to hip-hop music in the least bit, these two names have been nearly inescapable in 2015. Future Hendrix is riding an incredible wave, one that was sparked by a run of mixtapes that rivals some of the most classic ever seen (think Wayne in '05-'08 or Gucci '08-'12) and solidified by an album release in DS2 that took over the Internet for a week. Meanwhile, Drake is hip-hop’s biggest star not named Kanye, a Billboard charts constant be it through retail releases (IYRTITL) or one-off singles ("I know when that..."). Even when it seemed he might take a fall at the hands of Meek Mill and ghostwriting accusations, he effectively Ja Rule'd his adversary on the way to coming out unscathed as an even bigger star.
While it made sense that the two stars might want to team up to cash in on the unbelievable hype that would result from a collaborative project, it still seemed impossible. I mean, how many supergroup projects have actually seen the light of day? Label woes (not the kind Drake's running with) would likely stall any serious effort, so when rumors ran rampant it seemed too good to be true.
Truly, What A Time To Be Alive is a fitting title then because, in the end, we got a full-length project with two superstars in their prime. Will it sound like a Drake tape featuring Future, or the other way around?
All that matters now, though, is how it sounds, so I'm about to dive into a 1 Listen album review. As per 1 Listen rules...I'm not allowed to pause or rewind the album, this is purely my stream-of-consciousness, gut reaction to the album as it plays in its entirety. I'll revisit the album in a few months when I can really measure its impact.
It’s 5:59. I’m tuned into Beats 1 Radio with the understanding that What A Time To Be Alive, the “Internet-breaking,” stock photo-employing collaborative project from the 6 God and Future Hendrix is supposed to premiere soon. I just ate Chipotle, so pray for me. Glancing at my timeline, I see a rapid transition from NFL-talk to exaggerated praise for both Future and Drake, hyperbolic anticipation (guilty) and an abundant number of memes (to my great enjoyment). OVO Sound Radio kicks off with a Drake-curated mix, so allow me to fade to black and enjoy the soothing sounds of grime as I wait for… you know… THE MIXTAPE TO END ALL MIXTAPES (or so I would assume).
Okay, Drake's back on, talking about how the project came together. Let's hear it one time for Atlanta, strip clubs, and Metro Boomin.
"Digital Dash" (prod. Metro Boomin & Southside)
Getting right in with Metro production, I haven’t been this excited since I thought the Dolphins were actually going to be good this season. I’m so interested in who’s style will be reflected more, and it sounds like FBG is heavy with this first track. Thank you, Future Christ. I should have waited for the uncensored version… edited music can fuck off. “I sell that dope to your mama,” Hendrix ain't fucking around. Drake coming in with the same flow just upped the anticipation, I had to adjust my volume upwards to properly vibe. No way he just said he’d take Quentin to Follies...
"Big Rings" (prod. Metro Boomin)
Is there any DJ cooler than Esco? Rhetorical question, no. Big rings, big teams, no strings, you get the sense this is going to be a very thought-provoking experience. "It’s a new season” is so damn true it’s not funny, the fact that this tape even happened is utterly insane. "WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE, I’M DRINKING LEAN, THEY THOUGHT I DIED." Did Future just throw shade at Meek? Pray for Meek, it was fun while it lasted. To think Meek was publicly backing Future just weeks ago. Yo…I’m going to play/hear this song 1,302,380 times before the year is over.
"Live From The Gutter" (prod. Boi-1da & Metro Boomin)
1 Listen reviews are even more fun when you’re simultaneously figuring out the track names. "Live From The Gutter" is a grimy name, and it sounds pretty fitting so far. This one is okay, but first two were better. I don’t really have much to say here, the record is just alright.
"Diamonds Dancing" (prod. Metro Boomin, Allen Ritter & Frank Dukes)
Wow! What an entrance. Is this going to be a ballad? "Diamonds Dancing" sounds like a name you would find on a fake Future/Drake mixtape tracklist. Definitely a ballad. It’s so nice of Future to let his bad little jawn push the foreign, but I guess it’s hard to drive yourself when you just finished pouring up. Future is so unapologetic, I think that’s where a lot of the appeal comes in. He doesn’t care about how much time his chick spent getting ready, he’s not paying attention anyway. This is a great time to say how amazing and spot-on the “Drake went from 'hey beautiful' to 'new phone who dis'" meme is. This outro is very long.
"Scholarships" (prod. Metro Boomin)
Scholarships? Hahaha. What an unexpected title, it's almost like this album is related to strip clubs. Production has been very murky the last two tracks. Nothing to see here outside of materialistic dependence. Future and Drake are so in love with the Rolly (Rolle? Someone needs to invent a rap spellcheck.)
"Plastic Bag" (prod. Neenyo)
I need another "Big Rings" here to hype me up. “Get a plastic bag, go ahead and pick up all the cash.” DAMN I LUV DEM STRIPPERS! I think Drake is actually commenting on the wealth gap between the upper and middle classes in the U.S., the plastic bag being an allegory for the struggle of those less fortunate and how they are forced to do the heavy lifting in the aftermath of lavish spending by the 1%. Or he’s just drunk at Follies.
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"I’m The Plug" (prod. Southside)
Yup, I’m with it immediately. For all the talk about Future and Drake, a lot of this project’s success is riding on the production, as is true for just about any Future project. Metro and friends (I think this one is Southside) are doing an outstanding job so far. Those not in favor with repetitive choruses might as well find the door if they haven’t left already. Drake and Future really are a great tag team, they complement each other well. Drake's voice and flows break up any of the blunted monotony that you might find with Future (I'm fine with it).
"Change Locations" (prod. Noël)
Did you think this project was going to be about anything other than spending money? This is my favorite of the calmer tracks so far, production is understated, this is some late night riding music. This is the type of song you throw on when you're fucked up and so you just call an Uber to drive you around while you listen to music. This is my new “damn I need to reflect on all my bad decisions while pretending my life is super dope” soundtrack.
"Jumpman" (prod. Metro Boomin)
Any Jordan reference adds 10 points. JUMPMANJUMPMANJUMPMANJUMPMANJUMPMAN. “Chicken wings and fries we don’t go on dates.” How is Future supposed to fund dates with such a strong addiction to opulent timepieces? Someone on Twitter the other day told me Metro didn’t deserve a nomination for Producer of the Year, remind me to tell him he’s wrong.
"Jersey" (prod. Metro Boomin & Southside)
New Jersey or wearing jerseys? I think Future just explained it but I’m not sure what he says. And yes, in case you were wondering, it’s very possible to be a card-carrying Hive member and at the same time having trouble figuring out what 72% of the lyrics are. This whole song is a clinic in word slurring. In fact, I’m not even really sure what’s being censored and what’s not. Is Drake even on this song? But really, was Drake even on this song? I have no idea if he was.
"30 For 30 Freestyle" (prod. Noah "40" Shebib)
This is Drake at his best, freestyle outros over 40 production. It's a "7PM in Atlanta," if you will. And he just mentioned seared scallops. It’s a wrap. “Flying over Chattanooga.” “GHOST LINES” - I'm loving Drake addressing the ghostwriter situation. Damn this might be the hidden gem in this diamond-covered album. “It’s like you went on vacation with no intention of returning” ooooh boy. This whole tape was Future featuring Drake, but this… this right here… is sensational. MMMMMOHMYGOD why can’t there be more of this? YOUNGMETROYOUNGMETROYOUNGMETRO.
And it's over.
One of the biggest questions going into the project was whose style would take a front seat, and it's apparent that other than the final track this was a Future project featuring Drake. The Atlanta influence is very real, and with Metro Boomin as executive producer, it should be mostly expected. The production, by the way, was superb, though the final track made apparent the need for more work from 40. Also, what's the single going to be? It wasn't immediately obvious which of the tracks could or will do well on the charts. I'm prepared to hear "Big Rings" a lot, either while out or because I personally play it a million times, but other than that I'm not sure where the radio success will come from. I could see "Diamonds Dancing" doing well, but doubt it becomes a smash.
As far as whether or not the album lived up to the hype, I think that would have been impossible. It's far from the greatest thing I've ever heard, and while I could certainly change my mind I think I enjoyed IYRTITL and all four of Future's latest projects more than WATTBA. Many were comparing this collaborative release to Watch The Throne, and while that album certainly has its fair share of detractors, it's the much better album. It's easy to get caught up in the social conversation and make bold claims (INSTANT CLASSIC) based on the artists at play - I'm certainly no stranger to unapologetic reverance—but it wasn't an amazing album. It had its high points and then it had some very mediocre points. It's a solid collection of wealth-fixated, hater-disregarding, Xanax-fueled bangers to carry you through any social situation, club night or bass-heavy ride in the whip for the remainder of the year.
What I love most about the project is the simple fact that it happened. Two of my favorite artists, in their prime, basically said, "fuck it, let's make an album" and then did it. Within six days. History tells us that when two star artists signed to different major labels (Cash Money and Epic Records accordingly) want to do such a thing, you might as well prepare for disappointment because there's no chance it's coming to fruition. Unless, of course, you're Drake and Future, who just added yet another chapter to their dominance of 2015 and the social sphere.
After witnessing the level of hype this partnership engineered, does it even matter if it's not amazing? It's a solid album from two of the hottest names in music, giving the fans what they wanted to hear.
What a time to be alive.
By Brendan Varan. He's about to go on Twitter and repost 100 Drake/Future memes. Follow him on Twitter.