Drake – If You're Reading This It's Too Late (2LP)
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After a typically busy and fascinating 2014, Drake's 2015 started off much the same way. His chart-topping "album" If You're Reading This It's Too Late started off life as a free mixtape, but his label Cash Money stepped in at the last minute and changed it to a full-priced release. This move came amid reports that Drake was ready to follow his mentor Lil Wayne and leave Cash Money because of money issues. The album's number of references to not getting paid by his label shows that even if the rumors end up being false, Drake was plenty upset with Birdman and his business practices while he was recording this tape. Drake is also mad at women trying to play him for a fool, rappers who diss him, and people who think he's soft. Par for the course for a Drake album lately, but the difference here is that there are no pop singles to balance the claustrophobic rants. There are also no huge radio hooks, and most of the album sounds like it was cooked up (mostly by old mates Noah "40" Shebib and Boi-1da) during sleepless nights behind drawn blinds, with more dank atmosphere than the coach cabin of a passenger jet after an 18-hour flight. His raps sport the same snappy wordplay as usual, but Drake sounds like he's rapping to himself this time out, trying to work out issues and feelings instead of broadcasting to the world. He occasionally breaks out of the murk to make some noise, like on the strutting "6 God," but mostly he keeps his head down and the mood subdued. It makes for an album that's hard to love right away, but if you stick with it, is a rewarding listen. Especially at the end of the mixtape/album when Drake drops three songs that would have been highlights on any of his albums (or anyone's albums for that matter). The heartbreaking conversation with/ode to his mother "You & the 6," the slow-motion Prince-inspired R&B ballad "Jungle," and the swaggering "6PM in New York" sound like the core of what could have been his best album. As it is, they are a stunningly good coda to a very confusing detour in his career.