A new Drake album is more than an album, it's an arrow pointing towards hip-hop's future. Whatever other titles we may or may not bestow on Aubrey Graham, he's indisputably hip-hop's most influential emcee. Whatever sound Drake lays down, that's the sound the rest of the music industry rushes to follow. So now that Drizzy's pulled a Beyonce and dropped his new album, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, out of nowhere, pressing play means previewing the sound of rap for the next few months, at least.
But that's all in the future. Right here, right now, we've got the actual album and a "1 Listen Review" ahead of us. I assume that most of you are already familiar with the "1 Listen" format, but for any newcomers lured here by Drake's gravitational power, here's the deal: I'm going to listen to the album straight through - no pausing, no hitting repeat - and write my immediate, gut reactions. No revisions, no going back, just a literal running diary of the first time I heard If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. (For a deeper look at the philosophy behind these reviews, click here.)
Enough talk, let's go...
Yup. I heard that first little flip and I let out an audible "yup." Drake's voice is kinda weird, but this beat is absolutely insane. Like, I'm in love. Fitting that the first song would remind me of that feeling when you were a kid and opened up a toy for the first time; this beat is that fresh. Okay, I need to chill a little bit. Wait? Was that Autotune? I don't really think Drake needs Autotune. To be honest I'm not feeling Drake on this record, but what's crazy is I'm still into it. I think more than being the best rapper ever, Drake's basement is pretty damn high. He never sounds bad - I can always deal with him - but he's only great in spurts. That beat though! I can't wait to see the production credits. [Update: I found out later this is a PND beat. Mind blown.]
Also if he did die, would he really be a legend? (*Note to self : Write that article*)
Woah. Drake angry. I want to know who these guys he's "acting" around. Name some names dammit! (Please god, let it be Tyga.) Again this beat is fucking bananas. Who ever mastered this "album" should get some love because it sounds so damn clean. We're only two songs in, but so far it's the production that's carrying this project. Does any one believe Drake has real "enemies"? I just don't really enjoy this side of Drake becasue it feels so hollow. At least when he's rapping about girls and falling in love with strippers you believe him. I don't really believe he wants anyone to run up on him; he's a send half-naked DMer not a fighter.
Shout out to Wi-Fi codes and calling an Uber for your one-night stand though.
Not feeling this record. I'm trying really hard to get into it because I'm excited about this mix-album possibly being great, but something's not right. Then again, I kind of thought "0-100" sounded off at first and now I love it. Sometimes Drake has to grow on you. Ew. I hate the way he says November. Stop that. Stop it now. This is all about my first reactions, but I'm not ready to have a second first reaction yet. I want some more time to digest this. I guess that's my first reaction?
Boi-1da is winning producer of the year by default on this album alone. Truthfully, I'd like a 40-produced cut right now to change up the vibe a little but this is kind of...interesting? It feels like Drake is trying to be everyone else instead of just being Drake. His best stuff always had so much color; this is a little too dark and it feels off. Woah. Won't lie. That little change up is nice. I really like the last half. That second small change-up with about 1:30ish left was really nice. For a relatively shallow song, this one had some kick. Hey look at that, Drake won me over by the end. Not my favorite and I won't really spin it much, but I didn't end up hating it like I thought I would at first.
Please God, don't let "my whoas/my woes" become a thing people say.
I could really use a change of pace here. So far it's been all bangers and it's getting kind of stale. They're all decent songs but there doesn't seem to be any cohesion or theme. I know it's the first listen but I'm not even picking up a scent, a hint, of a larger topic. It feels like five separate songs plugged into an album. Sure they're all bangers, but where is the extra layer? Even after he said he was going to switch the flow up, he didn't really change anything. It's still early, but truthfully, you're kinda losing me Drake. Plus, your little Rick Ross borderline pause line there didn't sit well with me; we make the Rick Ross jokes around here. Nice ending though.
Madonna is invading hip-hop, don't say I didn't warn you. Welcome to the party 40! What the fuck is Drake saying? You know I don't speak Spanish. Yeah, this is the Drake I wanted. Nice and corny, I'm actually being serious. Drake's corniness is one of his best attributes. I don't listen to him to hear how tough he is; I listen to get a chuckle from "I saw potential in you from the go." It's the same way I don't listen to Wayne for astute social commentary, I listen for vagina metaphors. Drake mumbling, then calling a girl Madonna, then coming over to her house unexpected - it's kind of creepy right? I want to like it, but I'm also a little weirded out. That Ginuwine sample is back, which I guess is a good thing. And...moving on.
Still knocks harder than the big bad wolf, but been there, done that. I guess it's nice to see how this banger fits in with the rest of these non-descript bangers? Shout out to Donkey Kong Country 2.
Is that Weezy on the sample? Ooohhhhhhhhh I like this. A really interesting beat. I feel like I'm walking through the courtyard of some 16th century gothic cathedral; it has a cool echo to it. Shit, I missed that whole first verse because I'm so into this beat. No lie, I'd kind of like to hear Makonnen on that. Ew. Did I really just say that? I wond------Woahhhhh.....Johan Santana-esque changeup!
Drake is so good at changing up flow and pacing. He's able to transition so fluidly. Oh shit, where do I know that sample from? This sounds so familiar. This is by far the best song of the album. All the samples, all the change ups, Drake's deeper steady flow, it all works really well. This one feels like a keeper. Is this the first time he's really sung? I'd like to hear a little more of that.
"Preach" (feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR)
Ow! Man! What the fuck?! If you are going to yell at me, give me some kind of warning. I actually turned the volume up a little because I liked the beat then some kind of giant bird started yelling at me. This might be the first time I'm actually really listening to PARTYNEXTDOOR. Now I know what I wasn't missing. He sounds like one of those toys you would turn over and it made like a slurring noise. One of these. Drake better kill this...and he does. I like his part, and I dig the beat, but PND kinda ruined it for me. Dig that ending though, shit would be nuts live. I wasn't sure if it was the same song or a different one, had to check. I like when albums make me check.
"Wednesday Night Interlude" (feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR)
Oh great. More from the Canadian bird. Really like the spacy feel (may or may not be that joint I may or may not have smoked), but I'm still not a big PND guy. Drake always takes over cuts from other artists, so why is he letting PND pull a Drake on him? Is he pushing his own man that hard? Is this song seriously all PND? Shit. We went from Kendrick interludes to PARTYNEXTDOOR. Kind of kick in the balls.
"Used To" (feat. Lil Wayne)
Wait? Didn't...? Um? Didn't we get this for free on Sorry For The Wait 2? A Lil Wayne rehash on an album is just not a good look. Also, question - how does this song work in regards to the whole label situation? If I were Wayne I'd be kind of pissed my about-to-be-old-label cleared my song and put it on an album with me... as the guest. Or maybe he's cool with it because he's cool with Drake? I'm guessing I'm reading way too much into this. This one really does go hard though.
See. When you space out the bangers, the bangers' bang is that much more bangy. I'm much more into this record than "6God" or "Know Yourself" because there was a different vibe there for a minute. Yeah. Really feeling this one. I feel like I should hate this flow, but it works. No goosebumps yet, but Drake got me doing the white guy turnt up dance. OH SHIT!!!!! SHOUT OUT THE ROOTS!!!!!!!!! Crazy how he can go from a bizarre yet effective cadence to singing about The Roots in two seconds flat and it works. I love how "40" interpolated "You Got Me" there; really nice touch. Drake is at his best with "40" behind him. His beats knock as hard as anything by Boi-1da, but they always have more depth to them. I really want to run this one back. No. No. I must go on, but soon. "6 Man" again, soon...
"Now & Forever"
Yup. This is a hit. If I had to pick a single it would be this record. Though the gunshot in the beginning was a little tacky I'm willing to let it slide because this beat is awesome; so epic. I love how it sounds like a slow rolling train with the clanking. If I close my eyes, I can picture Drake on the train looking back at at some girl waving his handkerchief and letting out one single tear as he disappears into the horizon. All kidding aside, this is a really well done song. It doens't knock like those early bangers but it has much more weight. Good to hear him finally singing too. Also, tell me A$AP Rocky wouldn't sound dope on a remix of this cut? Best song yet. Eight songs ago Drake almost lost me, but I'm all the way on board (that train) now. The back half of this album would make Amber Rose jealous.
"Company" (feat. Travi$ Scott)
This is signature Drake. Some super corny, goofy lines and some crooning. As hokey as it is - "I NEEED SOME COMPANEEEEEEE" - he can can really sing. This is totally the song you'll skip when you are in the car with friends, but if you are alone and it comes on, you know you'll be singing. Woah. "0-100" real quick. And here comes Travi$. Don't really mind the rap, but the Autotune is terrible. This song would have been much better if it was just Drake, the features have been questionable at best.
"You & The 6"
This is what I wish he would do more often. A great beat, some personal (bordering on corny) bars and his stellar voice. This is his bread and butter and all that other trap stuff should be supplemental. Not the other way around. HA! I love this! That shit about the trainer?! Vintage Drake! That's going to be so weird for that poor girl. She's going to stroll into that gym tomorrow and her spot is going to be blown to bits. We are going to have another Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree situation our hands. Normally, I hate when rappers rap the same word over and over, but I don't mind it here. I feel like he's writing a letter to his Mom; it adds a nice personal touch. This is the "From Time" of this album. Sure it's not exactly "From Time," but it's definitely the most emotional track yet. Drake gets really personal and, some of y'all will knock him for it, but it's that personal touch that'll give this song some mileage. Bangers come and go, but this is the kind of shit that lasts. Give me this over "6 God" any day.
I have to tell you, after "Company" Drake was losing me - it's like 2 AM and this is a really long album - but "You & The 6" was quality and this record is even better. I love that beat; it feels sticky. Man, the production on this album has been absolutely stellar, especially 40's input. He made his placements count. At this point, I'm kind of done with the bangers. It's time for the cool down and this is perfect. I'm sure we'll get one more banger, but I like that he slowed it down a little bit again towards the end.
"6 Pm In New York"
Wooooooo! A nice balance between a banger and a slow track. The sweet spot. Yeah. This is going on the iPhone. I'm trying to type but I just want to nod my head. I love that this is the last song on the mix-album and its arguably his best performance. This is when rapping Drake is at his best. No trappy flows, no gimmicks, just a crisp, clean flow and passion behind what he says. The man just dropped the mic. (Shots fired at Tyga?)
Whew, I we made it! Maybe it was the way the project was released, but this felt more like a mixtape to me. It didn't really feel like an album, not the quality albums we expect from Drake. There's no narrative or anything. The "album" feels like a bunch of random songs, some quality songs mind you, but still just a bunch of songs that don't add up to anything larger. I'm sure I'll end up listening to these songs everywhere, by choice and because Drake is unavoidable, and I'll probably enjoy them on their own, but as an album, I feel like it failed.
This is only the first listen though. If Drake has proven anything it's that, like it or not, I'll have no choice but to hear it again. I'm just glad my next listen doesn't have to be at 2:30 AM. Now excuse me, it really is 2:30 AM.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]