The most popular artist in the world released a mixtape titled "Dark Lane Demo Tapes" on May 1 as a warm-up round for his sixth studio album to come later this year. This guy doesn't need a glamorous introduction — whether we wanted to or not, we've all become quite familiar with Canadian rapper Drake's music over the last decade. Smash hit records like "God's Plan" and "Hotline Bling" were force-fed to us anywhere we went due to the radio and department store playlists, or if you're like me, via the Drake stan in your social circle. Say what you want about his musical prowess and writing ability, Drake's music is loved by many and he's cemented himself among the greatest hip-hop hitmakers in history.
I'll establish something before we continue: Drake has hit records, but he doesn't make great albums. He hasn't had a high-quality album since Barack Obama was in office. 2018's "Scorpion" was an absolute airball and I'm fed up with taking the easy route of releasing mixtapes and playlists like "More Life" and last year's "Care Package," which was a hodgepodge of leaks that we had already heard. In my opinion, these releases look like an attempt to avoid the inspiration and diligence of creatively putting together a cohesive album that tells a message that is needed somewhere. In other words, I believe he drops half-finished projects so he can keep our attention until he is ready to make an album.
The mixtape opens on a good note with "Deep Pockets." Drake's main producer, Noah "40" Shebib created a smooth instrumental that Drake talk-raps over, discussing days in Toronto before he was ever signed by Lil Wayne to Young Money Entertainment, which would eventually skyrocket his career. "Deep Pockets" is a song I can't wait to hear in the background as raindrops hit my windshield on a solo drive. The follow-up is "When To Say When." Let's just say I already forgot what it sounds like. Next.
"Chicago Freestyle" was released in late February along with "When To Say When," as the songs were posted to YouTube. This third track features California R&B artist Giveon, who is the first voice you hear on the song. At first, he sounds much like Sampha — this is a compliment — and even more so with nothing but a piano joining him when he sings the chorus. When Drake starts to rap, Giveon's voice is still faintly heard and slightly muffled, almost as if he recorded his chorus underwater. "Chicago Freestyle" is definitely a bright spot here, and he also pays homage to Eminem by using his flow that the Detroit rapper used on "Superman."
Unfortunately, the next three tracks are all misses — especially "Toosie Slide." That song is already annoying and simply an attempt to go No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 due to TikTok dancers running up the song's streams. I cringe when I hear Drake instructing the listener how to do the dance that accompanies "Toosie Slide." Cookout classics like "Cha-Cha Slide" and the electric slide dance already exist and this song is not going to age like those did.
This paragraph along with the next are dedicated to the corniest parts of the project. On "Desires" Drake says "How you goin' vegan, but still beefin' with me again?" I shouldn't have to explain how weak this is. A few tracks later is "Landed" and Drake thought it would be clever to say that he bought a woman a shovel because she was a gold digger.
Drake's legal name is Aubrey Drake Graham, and on "Losses" he used his last name in one of the worst bars on this mixtape: "I do it for the Grahams, not the 'Gram." At this point, I was shocked that line made it past final cuts and editing, but then again this is the same guy who said, "Got so many chains they call me Chaining Tatum." I was even more appalled to hear Drake act like he could have been a criminal if rap didn't go his way: "I never thought I'd see awards in a glass case / I could've ended up in your crib with a masked face." Drake, stop. You and I both know you're not kicking anyone's door in to rob their house. Drake was a star on "Degrassi" before rap, and likely would have continued an acting career if it wasn't for the success of his musical one.
"D4L" is another highlight on "Dark Lane Demo Tapes." This track is produced by Southside and features Atlanta rappers Future and Young Thug, so you can probably guess how fast-paced and fun this song is. Drake is actually rapping at the level he's capable of on this one, and I'll likely be playing this for the rest of the year. I love this trio together, and Drake outshined everybody with his verse that comes in the middle of the song.
I'm going to anger a lot of people with this, but Playboi Carti ruined "Pain 1993." The song sounded better as the minuscule snippet that previewed when Drake went live on Instagram. Carti's so-called baby voice is becoming childish to me and I don't think he brings anything to this song. Speaking in sentence fragments and purposely pronouncing words inaudibly is stupid. I like a lot of Carti songs, too, but this verse should've stayed in the vault.
"From Florida With Love" is my favorite kind of Drake. Similar to "Do Not Disturb," the beloved, phenomenal outro from 2017's "More Life," Drake steadily raps over a beat without many moving parts. Drake shines brightest with simple beats consisting of a vocal sample, a hi-hat and drums. It was also cool to hear Drake disclose that Lil Wayne originally played his hit 2008 record "Lollipop" on a tour bus for Drake and the late NBA legend, Kobe Bryant. I predict that "I'm back, baby, where the love?" is going to be the most used Instagram caption of the summer. "From Florida With Love" is very solid.
The album ends with "War" and just like on "Behind Barz," we get UK drill Drake — the kind of Drake that pronounces "thing" like "ting." Even if he's pretending, this song is fun to listen to and he actually nails the drill flow better than most legitimate drill rappers can. This is a testament to Drake's versatility and why he has stayed at the top of the music world for so long — he appeals to many subgenres and audiences. On this song, Drake clears the air about people questioning the falling out he had with The Weeknd, but he insists that the two have fixed their differences and are on good terms.
I'm grateful for "Dark Lane Demo Tapes," and I am always excited to hear from one of the most popular artists on the planet, especially when it is an unexpected release, but this mixtape's bad moments outweigh the good ones. Drake, you are way too talented to be releasing projects compiled of a bunch of empty throwaway tracks. The storytelling of "Take Care" and the sensitivity of "Nothing Was the Same" are missed. Where did that Drake go? I hope he returns on the highly anticipated album of his that is releasing before the end of 2020.