Drake Reaffirms His Status on ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’
If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is as curious a title as any, but if Drake’s actions up to this point are any indication, the reasoning behind it must lie in the music itself. Ever since his ascendance from television personality to worldwide hip-hop icon, Drake has captured the attention of audiences mostly with brutally honest confessions. Despite the fact that most will go their entire lives without ever experiencing a sliver of Drake’s lifestyle, he turns back at every turn to confirm that his fans are not only following his movements, but experiencing them vicariously. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is the sound of a man reaffirming what the world should already know in somber language.
Drake typically utilizes the intro song as a moment of clarity, and “Legend” is no different. But here, aware of his place in the mainstream consciousness, he appears less anxious and timid than the artist represented on previous project openers like “Fireworks,” “Tuscan Leather,” or even “Lust For Life.” “Legend” foreshadows the content to follow, a poignant reflection of Drizzy’s mind state, evenly straddling the line between self-praise and anguish. “Know Yourself” is an anthem of triumph and a throwback to his pre-fame insecurity. “Woes” is a double entendre denoting Drake’s feelings of pre-fame insecurity and an acronym for his “working on excellence” crew, achieving the effect simultaneously.
Drake is most effective when he is able to play jazz impresario, fusing two songs together for a multi-tempo aggregation of different sentiments, such as “0 To 100/ The Catch Up.” Much of the album’s content features Drake oscillating between unapologetic bragging and cooled meditations. “Star67” is grounded in a morose ambience, opening with brazen braggadocio but veering off into his trademark candidness. The impact is stream of consciousness, as if Drake feels his successes are constantly marred by his mistakes.
The same juxtaposition is demonstrated on “You And The 6,” but much more severely. In a conversation with his mother, Drake appears both humble, acknowledging his weaknesses, but wholly defiant in his practice. Unlike the Drake of yesteryear, there are no apologies for his actions or state of mind, extending his newfound take-me-or-leave-me wisdom to his mother as well. The breaks and pauses in his voice ring true as unfiltered off-the-dome disclosure.
For all his subtle lyrical techniques, the Drake experience at full throttle is only achieved with the aid of his criminally underrated usual suspects; Noah “40” Shebib, PartyNextDoor and Boi-1da dominate the instrumental duties. But rather than the soaring soundscapes of Nothing Was The Same, most of the tracks here feature a more minimalist feel. Most of the time the effect achieves its purpose, allowing Drake ample room to move between emotions, but other times it isn’t enough. On “Used To,” featuring Lil Wayne, a repetitive Wondagurl instrumental looped with punch-line-happy boasting does nothing to distinguish it from tiresome tropes. “Preach” is manned by PartyNextDoor behind the boards as well as vocals. Like “Crew Love,” Drake appears sparsely, letting the beat do most of the talking along with PartyNextDoor’s harmonizing.
There is a further degree of severity in the music this time. Not even the moody, tantalizing spirit of Take Care compares in tone. On “Jungle” Drake unveils his feelings for a lover without the hokey drunken rambling of “Marvin’s Room.” Fittingly, the album concludes with the brash, coded “6PM In New York,” a full-circle realization of the supremely eager, “scared for the first time” artist presented on “9AM In Dallas.” It's the culmination of all these ruminations, and if one is ignorant of who the artist really is, they are much too late to the occasion. —Kellan Miller