It is crazy to think that only five or six years ago, the highest paid and most popular hip-hop artists at the moment hadn’t even released their first LP’s yet, but instead were releasing strings of mixtapes for free. Since then, these same people have come into millions of dollars and fans through the continued support of their wide album releases. J. Cole did it, Nicki Minaj did it, Logic did it, Big Sean did it, and Drake did it.The reason they were able to maintain and grow a following of dedicated listeners was because of the high quality and consistency of the music they made. If you look in the headlines now, you will see some potentially true and undeniably sad claims about Drake. Apparently, he has been using a ghostwriter (someone paid to write an artist’s songs for them) to write the songs he records, performs and releases.
The fact that one of the catchiest hook-makers and overall most enjoyable artists may be only creating a fraction of his music is incredibly disheartening. As I mentioned earlier, Drake wasn’t always as successful as he now is. As a matter of fact he used to rap about his strong desire to achieve success in the rap game. In early 2009, he released a mixtape called, So Far Gone to major acclaim. It was then turned into a remastered and altered seven song EP by the same name later that year. Being that this was Drake’s first foray into this area of the industry he likely didn’t have a ghost writer yet and his music was completely authentic. It definitely sounded like it.
From the very beginning we are greeted with a crooning singing voice from Drake and he is addressing a situation that involves a woman he loves and can’t be with. In-house producer 40 comes through with a soothing synthed-out beat with drums that sound like they are exiting a long drowning tunnel. By the time the four minute and fifty second mark hits we are well aware of Drake’s ability both vocally and with a pen (assuming it was him). Next, snappy snares provide the rhythm Drake needs to explain his shot at success and why he deserves it. Trey Songz on the chorus and a verse from Lil Wayne fail to dwarf Drake which is impressive considering the level he was at, at the time. It is a great juxtaposition of where he is at now compared to then is perfectly conveyed in this song when Drake describes life on a tour bus. From tour bus to what I imagine is now an excessively large private jet, Drake has definitely achieved that goal.
The third song is no doubt, the biggest, most important songs on the album and possibly of Drake’s career. ‘Best I Ever Had’ is the epitome of a radio smash: catchy-hook, simple yet memorable beat and a grocery list of quotable lines. It was great, plain and simple. From there, ‘Uptown’ gives Drake some time to show us his braggadocio skills. The instrumental just drips with class, naturally, as it samples Billy Joel. Drake lays down a chorus that rivals and potentially overtakes ‘Best I Ever Had’ in terms of its catchiness and effectiveness. There should have been a one-second track called ‘Sigh’ inserted between ‘Uptown’ and ‘I’m Goin In’. It is a sad transition from a very original song in terms of production to a song that sounds like it was manufactured by dozens of people specifically for the radio/club. It has Lil Wayne, Drake and even Young Jeezy dropping some potent punch lines which are the only things that allow this song to retain some of its surrounding material’s value but overall could have been replaced by a far better song from Drake’s musical catalog.
The last two songs, ‘The Calm’ and ‘Fear’ are most foreshadowing of Drake’s musical direction for the next few years. Very introspective and personal, Drake even cuts the rap on ‘The Calm’ and has a short rhetorical conversation with the listener about forgiveness. He ad-libs in “Damn” a couple times after a few of his deeper bars which only reflect how literal Drake is being. His music on this EP is noticeable electronic, but that is just his style, and a good one at that. On the last track ‘Fear’ he raps completely free of electronic voice-alteration and points it out trying to put himself at an open and vulnerable place. The chorus is a vocalization of his fears and the verses fortify his insecurities. Track-to-track, concepts jump around, but they eventually culminate to a few songs that sit comfortably next to one another and show Drake for who is is, rather than who is trying to be. All of the music sounds great on one level or another, but the instances where it all comes together show clearly why the mixtape is one of the most successful in the history of the internet and warranted a far too short but more refined EP.