by Joshua Clarendon
Last week Drake, one of the few people on the planet who truly needs no introduction, released a surprise mixtape titled Dark Lane Demo Tapes, and all I have to say is, if you, like me, were patiently waiting for the return of 2015 mixtape Drake, you’re going to have to wait a little longer.
Now while I do recognize and acknowledge the fact that this project is a collection of work-in-progress songs that were not good enough for or didn’t fit into the scope of his previous albums, I still think it is worth noting that this mixtape is plagued with an affliction that can be seen in all of Drake’s post-If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late content. Simply put, it’s boring. This doesn’t mean I don’t like Drake’s hits, because when that man hits, he hits hard. “8 out of 10” is an instant repeat for me and I will still belt “Hotline Bling” in the middle of a crowd with zero shame. However, in between these oases of otherworldly hits, are vast deserts of playlist fodder. My interaction with around 60% of Drake’s songs post-2015 can be summarized like this:
First minute of the song: *Bobs head vigorously and dances when applicable*
After the first minute: *Skips song*
My interactions with this project were often no different. From the beginning of the album with the songs “Deep Pockets,” “When to Say When,” and “Chicago Freestyle” we can see this mixtape has not been spared from the plague, as Drake’s aversion to switching up his flow and inflections neuters three great instrumentals. The songs “War” and “Desires” both fell into similar traps, but instead of being boring they just outright sucked. The failure of the song “Not You Too” is a legitimate travesty as the addition of Chris Brown to the track gives the song two people that could literally diffuse a gun fight by singing.
Also, this is off-topic, but I would like to reiterate a point made by one of my favorite music reviewers Anthony Fantano: Drake has some quite sketchy bars all over this project. Drake, of all people, should not be saying, “Michael Jackson s***, but the palace is not for kids…”. I would have loved Tyler the Creator or prime Eminem to have said something like this, but Drake saying this after his sketchy relationship with underage actress Millie Bobby Brown has come to light, is a bit iffy no? Additionally, his lyrics on the song “Desires” give off straight The Weeknd “After Hours” vibes. The problem, however, is that The Weeknd was portraying a character, while Drake sounds like he himself is trying to emotionally manipulate his partner.
With that being said, there are some bright spots on this album. I thought the songs “D4L” and “Demons” were both legitimate slaps that could make me dance in the middle of a minefield, and Drake was good on “Pain 1993” even though Playboi Carti sounded like an old head who hates Playboi Carti doing a Playboi Carti impression. There is also “Toosie Slide”, which is fine but also a song I can’t really like-like, because it sounds like a worse version of “The Cupid Shuffle.” These brief moments of relief however, are overshadowed by the vast fog of “blah” cast over the rest of this project. I cannot talk about the rest of this mixtape partly because it would make this review more repetitive than it already is, but also because I literally cannot remember the rest of the songs.
Even though I have said a lot of negative things about this mixtape, I would like to stress that I do not think all of the songs are outright bad. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I added like 10 of the 13 songs to my playlist and I can see myself in certain moods grooving to any of them. Nonetheless, there are two reasons that I find the sum of this project to be less than its individual parts. First, though most of the songs are at least mediocre, I cannot listen to this mediocrity back to back. It eventually becomes mentally grating, and by eventually, I mean by literally the third song of the project.
Secondly, and admittedly this has little to do with the project and more to do with Drake, but I can’t accept this man’s complacency anymore. Drake is arguably the most popular artist of the 2010s and is one of three people whom you can argue is the greatest rapper of our generation, and, consequently, he still feels comfortable releasing multiple albums worth of skip-worthy content. Instead of pushing himself, it feels like he has put it in neutral for half a decade because he thinks he can release a hit once every few months and he’ll be fine, and he has been right so far. People always tell me, “Well, he’s a hit rapper, not an album rapper. He focuses on individual songs, not masterpieces.” Alright, cool, then make an album of hits. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late wasn’t some massive, introspective, world-changing concept album, rather it was a collection of hits, and it was still one of the best projects of the 2010s. I’d even be content with some more More Life-level content if the former level is wishful thinking. I’m not even going to mention the rest of his discography before 2015 because that would get even more repetitive. Instead, I will end on a good note, because it is important to leave things positively. So I will say that Dark Lane Demo Tapes does give me a bit of relief, mainly due to the fact that I have now gone through the worst of Drake so far, so his other projects by comparison should be that much better. For his worst though, it’s still okay and I’m still optimistic about his upcoming album.