Drake and Future Shine Bright on ‘What A Time To Be Alive’
It's what we've all been waiting for ain't it? Two of the hottest and most influential rappers in the game right now coming together for a full-length joint album, a forward-looking Watch The Throne, a state of the union for hip-hop itself. There were rumors, hints, clues, mysterious countdowns and confusion on all sides as to when the project was coming out, whether it would be an album or a mixtape, whether it even existed at all. But when Drake and Future finally confirmed, then released, their new collaborative LP What A Time To Be Alive on OVO's Beats 1 radio show on Sunday afternoon, it confirmed what plenty of hip-hop fans already suspected: at the top of their games, Future and Drake are untouchable.
WATTBA exists almost entirely within Future's world; his soundscape, his delivery and his subject matter almost overwhelm Drake on first listen. But as the album progresses it opens up for Drake and he's able to take the lead in his own way as well. Drizzy shines on songs like "Plastic Bag" and "Change Locations," probably not coincidentally two of the three songs that Metro Boomin didn't touch production-wise. But elsewhere Future sets the tone, leaving Drake to ride shotgun and fire barbs towards Meek Mill (repeatedly, which will grab headlines for weeks), Chris Brown and all of Drizzy's perceived haters along the way.
Future, meanwhile, continues his own narrative he put forth so strongly on his latest album, July's DS2; that of a deeply flawed person trying to navigate his way through a world of women, lean, Xans and adderall in a desperate attempt to escape the pain of his past, or of his sober reality. "Live From The Gutter," in this case, serves as his best performance; the way his voice cracks with emotion when he delivers the line "I watched my broad give up on me like I’m average" is one of the clearest examples of why Future's brand of tortured-soul-warble is so appealing these days. He's unapologetically flawed, devastatingly real, vulnerable in a way that Drake used to be back in the days of Take Care, though still distinct to himself.
And that fundamental difference between the two MCs becomes the biggest takeaway from this joint album, that gap between what Future means when he warbles "I'm ballin' out of control" on the hook to "Scholarships" and what Drake means when he recites the same line. It's why Drake handles the hook to "Change Locations," with its anticipatory "Me and my friends we got money to spend" lyric, looking forward to a night of debauchery with strippers and waitresses, which Future immediately follows up by kickstarting his verse by rapping about eating too many Percocets and catching feelings. It's as if Future is living the high life almost by default, haunted by the underside and baggage that comes with money, success and fame; Drake, in contrast, doesn't even remember that underside exists anymore. Drake is sprinting through the finish line with blinders on, convinced that everyone is trying to take him down because they're jealous of his success. Future, on the other hand, doesn't really give a damn what anyone else thinks; he's too busy fighting the demons he sees in his mind's eye on "Digital Dash" ("I pour the Actavis and pop pills so I can fight the demons") and "Scholarships" (“These demons, they callin’ my soul").
The beauty of What A Time To Be Alive is that neither of the two MCs' approaches are more fundamentally valid than the other; in reality, they dovetail perfectly by taking opposite paths towards the same destination. It culminates in the final two tracks, Future's "Jersey" and Drake's "30 For 30 Freestyle," the latter of which could go down as an all-time great Drizzy cut. Drake and Future don't need each other, strictly speaking, in order to bring out the best in one another, just like Kanye and Jay Z didn't need each other on Watch The Throne. Instead, what What A Time To Be Alive achieves is success by juxtaposition. The project gives fans an answer to the hypothetical of what a full album between Drake and Future would sound like, right now, in 2015. It's cutting and honest and self-congratulatory and vindictive. It's fantastically decadent and brutally real at the same time. It won't be leaving the playlist any time soon. —Dan Rys