Drake: If You're Reading This, It's Too Late review

Drake’s surprise album release might be a stopgap, but it offers plenty to love with its fresh and fabulous experimental beats

On Thursday night, Drake did what is increasingly becoming known as “a Beyoncé” and dropped, without warning, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, the album that fans were expecting to be Views From the 6. That album is still mooted to be coming out later this year. Meanwhile, the follow-up to 2013’s Nothing Was the Same is this 17-track – that’s 17 tracks, not 10 tracks and seven skits – collection, with much of the production courtesy of Drake mainstays Noah “40” Shebib and Matthew Jehu Samuels aka Boi-1da. And if you liked the dolorous electronica they brought to bear on Drake’s 2010 debut Thank Me Later, you’ll love this dense, downbeat affair.

There’s a lot of music to absorb, and a lot of lyrics that, even for Drake, are self-absorbed and existentially wracked. If you’ve seen the video, Jungle, that accompanies this release, you’ll probably know that If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late isn’t going to be an album of party bangers.

Scored by 40, Jungle is a gloomy travelogue that has already drawn comparisons with Homer’s Iliad, if Odysseus had been a mixed-race Jewish rapper from Toronto. Whatever the scenario – being driven in a limo through the Hollywood Hills at night, wandering sad, dejected and alone through his home city by day – the mood is blue. Apart from when it all goes red at the end for a dream sequence in which a disconsolate Drake descends through a mist into what appears to be the seventh circle of hell.

In between, there is poignant footage of a young Drake singing with his dad and rapping the Fugees’ Ready or Not, and various scenes of him with old friends, who can only momentarily distract him from whatever it is that is troubling him, although at a guess the price of fame and the meaninglessness of it all are fairly high on his list of concerns. “The whole energy out here is changing, you know?” Drake reflects from the back of that limo. “It’s getting dark, quick … It feels like anybody’s a target – you don’t know where it’s going to come from … I’m drinking more, smoking more … I’m not losing it, though. I’m just venting.”

If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late features yet more venting that will make you wonder whether Drake is losing it, a feeling enhanced not a little by the album title, and its clear allusion to suicide. If he already seemed close to the end of his tether back in 2010 (“Man I couldn’t tell you where the fuck my head is, I’m holding on by a thread,” he claimed on The Resistance), here Drake is a beleaguered figure indeed. Sometimes he’s more belligerent – on Energy, the former child TV star comes out fighting, amid machinegun fire, complaining about everyone from his peers (“I got rap niggers that I gotta act that I like/ But my actin’ days are over”) to his family – but he convinces more as the original sad rapper.

No one moans more captivatingly than Drake, and on If You’re Reading This … he doesn’t disappoint, with complaints including his dissatisfaction with socialising (“I’m making millions to work the night shift …” - 6 Man), even his two mortgages, which we are told on Energy amount to a cool $30m. Lack of candour has never been his problem, and this is no exception. After the sensation caused by his “outing” of Courtney Janell, the Hooters waitress who was the subject of his affections on 2013’s Jhené Aiko team-up From Time, this album offers You & the 6, an open letter to his mother in which he alludes to the girl she tried to set him up with at her gym.

Intimate, intense, wistful, endlessly questioning, open-hearted Drake, backed by pristine machine beats, with aching chord sequences and lovely synth codas – longtime Drake fans will find much to appreciate here. If anything, the beats are more angular and experimental than anything he’s recorded since Thank Me Later (the chopped and screwed voices on the track Madonna nod to his Houston-loving roots), further adding to the sense of If You’re Reading This … as a stopgap. Still, with mixtapes of this quality, who needs official collections? There are a few tracks that have seen the light of day before – 6 God, Used To featuring Lil Wayne, which appears to have wandered in from another record entirely, and the gorgeous Jungle – but mostly this is as fresh and fabulous as an hour-plus of Drake bleating could ever hope to be. He actually steps aside for two of the best tracks – Preach and Wednesday Night Interlude – allowing his OVO imprint signee PartyNextDoor to swoon with his exquisite Auto-Tuned croon like a man in thrall to his own heartache: it is 3:32 of sheer billowing beauty. Miguel, Future, the Weeknd – deathlessly sorrowful male R&B has a new star.

As for Drake, “What’s next for me?”, he wonders on closing track 6pm in New York. “Longevity?” You can count on it, if he can keep converting narcissistic navel-gazing into music as complex and compelling as If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Drake scores most US chart hits ever
Oprah’s Bank Account becomes Canadian rapper’s 208th US Hot 100 hit, beating the record set by the cast of Glee

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

17, Mar, 2020 @9:53 AM

Article image
Drake warned by NBA over bad language at basketball game
Canadian rapper claims ‘I just said I liked the hem on his capris’ after verbal tussle with Cleveland Cavaliers player Kendrick Perkins

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

04, May, 2018 @9:31 AM

Article image
Drake review – the boy's got everything
The Canadian star crams an impressive number of hits into his Boy Meets World show, which undulates and shimmers like a spectacular art installation

Alexis Petridis

31, Jan, 2017 @1:38 PM

Article image
Drake: If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late review – grumpiness as an artform
Drake’s grumpy new album is compelling – and broke Spotify’s first-week streaming record

Killian Fox

22, Feb, 2015 @8:00 AM

Article image
Drake calls for Grammys to be replaced after snubbing Black artists
Singer’s demand follows absence of the Weeknd in all categories of the 2021 awards despite huge success this year and dismay at exclusion of Lil Uzi Vert

Laura Snapes

26, Nov, 2020 @1:19 PM

Article image
Shooting near Drake afterparty in Toronto leaves two dead
Three also wounded as violence breaks out around Toronto nightclub where Drake hosted afterparty for his Ovo Fest music festival

Guardian music

04, Aug, 2015 @2:40 PM

Article image
Drake publishes open letter in response to Alton Sterling killing by police
Rapper responds to the death of the 37-year-old black man, shot dead by Louisiana police outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge

Guardian music

07, Jul, 2016 @7:27 AM

Article image
Grammy nominations 2019: Cardi B, Kendrick Lamar and Drake lead the pack
Strong showing for female and hip-hop artists suggest renewed focus on diversity – but it’s a mediocre year for British acts

Laura Snapes

07, Dec, 2018 @4:31 PM

Article image
Loyle Carner and Drake: this week’s best UK rock and pop gigs
Catch the charismatic rapper destined for big things – and the superstar who has made it already. Plus: Two Door Cinema Club, Raye and INHEAVEN

Tim Jonze

03, Feb, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Drake review – rap's majestic magpie makes world domination look easy
In front of an army of acolytes, the sensual superstar delivers a high-density run of hits that draw from every corner of pop

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

11, Mar, 2019 @12:08 PM