This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.
Hip-hop fans have been blessed this week. Kendrick Lamar surveyed the world with “The Blacker the Berry”, the second release from his upcoming album; Kanye’s new record, which features Sia and sees Vic Mensa riding a biblical hook into his imperial phase, premiered at fashion week; then Drake endowed music with his new full-length. If rap lexicon is to be believed: we’re all feasting tonight. Few artists have the heat to set the internet ablaze, and if the hasthtags and hot takes are anything to go by, a new record from Drake is monumental. You knew it was fire before opening the link. But there’s more to #IfYoureReadingThisItsTooLate than lack of punctuation, a raised heart-rate, and a scorching bubble of unfounded excitement on first listen. The record—which was originally planned as a mixtape—has been released as a paid album, the last in Drake’s rumoured four-album deal with Cash Money: the label owned by rap-mogul Birdman, who Lil Wayne, Drake’s mentor and idol, is suing for $51 million.
From the offset, one thing is clear: #IfYoureReadingThisItsTooLate is not only fire for the fans, it’s a politically-fuelled inferno, siding Drake with Lil Wayne – who plans to leave Cash Money with Drizzy and Nicki Minaj – and freeing Drake’s forthcoming proper album 6 God from any Cash Money influence. Drake’s looming departure from Cash Money not only seems evident in the record’s release, but also in the album’s content with Drake putting the label on blast. Just take a look at these select lines, taken from “Star 67”, “Energy”, and “No Tellin’”. “Brand new Berretta / can’t wait to let it go / walk up in my label like where the check go?” “I got niggas that’ll still try fuckin’ me over / I got rap niggas that I gotta act like I like / But my actin’ days are over, fuck them niggas for life, yeah” “Please don't speak to me like I'm that Drake from four years ago / I'm at a higher place” In 2011, Drake released Take Care, his second album, and in 2012 a lawsuit emerged which stated, despite shifting in excess 5 million units for Cash Money, Drake hadn’t received royalties for album sales. Four years later, and stood on top of rap’s triumvirate looking down on Lil Wayne’s current feud, it seems he’s setting himself free. As new track “Now and Forever” states: “It's over yeah it over yeah I'm leaving I'm gone”. The title, #IfYoureReadingThisItsTooLate, furthers the break-up theory. The record was originally released on Soundcloud before later being sold on iTunes, suggesting it could have been called #IfBirdmansReadingThisItsTooLate. It seems likely that Birdman saw an opportunity to make everyone happy. If Drake released the Soundcloud tracks - which were originally put out on Octobers Very Own and published on Drake’s blogspot—as a full album then Cash Money would make, well, cash money and Drake could be released from his deal. In doing so, Birdman’s making the easiest money of his career with almost no promotion, radio-play, or marketing - it’s all profit and no work. Even though there’s a plethora of disses toward him, Birdman spent yesterday evening rubbing the sweet smell of the Benjamins between his hands. This is much deeper than rap.
#IfYoureReadingThisItsTooLate also came with a handwritten thank-you letter. The list includes: Skepta, the Toronto Raptors, Riff Raff, Madonna, Genuwine, Travis Scott, Chief Keef, friends, and a studio. No Birdman or Cash Money though. Business talk aside, the record continues to cement Drake’s position as 2015’s living meme and millennial spirit guide. Where other rappers dine out on a wealth of high-end or outdated references, Drake connects with a worldwide audience. Nike fuel bands, Uber, girls “askin’ about the code for the Wi-fi / so they can talk about they timeline”— in every reference, Drake’s further distancing himself from old modes of rap, something he’s done for most of his entire career. “Preach”, featuring PARTYNEXTDOOR is reflective of 2014’s break-out stars – Makonnen, Rich Homie Quan, Young Thug – with heavily vocoded vocals and murky purple-tones. The instrumentals at the end of “Legend”, “Now and Forever”, “Company” sound like the sort of computer-orientated music that’s flooded Soundcloud in the last few years, blends of Jersey Club, trapped-out Boomin’ beats and PC Music.
Elsewhere, you see Drake consistently positioning himself as one of rap’s leading artists and it’s the record’s closing track, “6PM in New York”—a follow-up to “5AM in Toronto” and “9AM in Dallas”— which provides the most concrete foundation to Drake’s claim. The track features the following lyrics:
“The game is all mine and I'm mighty possessive / Lil Wayne could not have found him a better successor”
“I wanna prove that I'm number one over all these niggas / Bein' number two is just being the first to lose”
“Yeah, boy you rappin' like you seen it all / You rappin' like the throne should be the three of y'all”
The mention of The Throne, Kanye West and Jay Z’s joint project, suggests Drake now sees himself not only on the same level as Lil Wayne, but as rap’s emperor, Jigga. Elsewhere, the track also offers a harsh critique of the industry. Tyga—who dissed Drake in an interview—is tackled with the bar, “I heard a lil lil homie talking reckless in Vibe / Quite a platform you chose, you shoulda kept it inside / Oh you tried, it's so childish calling my name on the world stage / You need to act your age and not your girl's age”. Shots are then fired at rappers who “call the paparazzi to come and get ‘em”. And Drake says “his piece about” the state of social media in the wake of celebrity gossip and Ferguson, stating all people do is tweet “about it”, start to “RIP about it”, and four weeks later not even “speak about it”. Finally, he addresses the accusations that his music has become “so aggressive lately”, after last year’s release of “0-100”. The track is, essentially, the equivalent of Nothing Was The Same’s “Tuscan Leather” or Take Care’s “Over My Dead Body” —tracks in which Drake assesses his own career and reasserts himself.
#IfYoureReadingThisItsTooLate is similar to the release of “5am in Toronto”, “The Motion”, “Girls Love Beyonce”, “Jodeci Freestyle”, “Versace”, “Over Here” before Nothing Was the Same. It puts Drake back in the spotlight—which, interestingly, was chosen at the same time P Diddy set a stream of his concert live on Revolt TV, furthering the pair’s personal feud after clashing at a Miami Club in 2014—and gives fans a chance to feast on a buffet of new material. This is how rap works in 2015. The days of Lil Wayne’s mixtape game may be dead, but those on top know how to keep the thirst going, and Kendrick, Kanye and Drake’s releases this week are all proof. The important thing: will this #IfYoureReadingThisItsTooLate be blasted on repeat for an indefinite amount of time? *Drake voice* - Y’know it!
You can find Ryan Bassil on Twitter: @RyanBassil