Drake — ‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes’ Review

These days there is an unfortunate trend of critiquing music more than trying to find the good in it. To clarify, there is nothing wrong with being a particular consumer — you like what you like, you don’t like what you don’t like. You connect with something, or it falls short. That is the way the cookie crumbles. In the case of Drake, though, a large portion of people only care to express their qualms with him. The compliments are lightly sprinkled like sugar on bitter, lemony jabs. There is this feeling of people seeing being a fan of his as a demotion in their music expert status.

He gets it. “She can try to play it down now, but she was a fan” he asserts in “When To Say When,” fashioning a “Song Cry” sample from none other than JAY-Z. It applies to men and women. Everyone has enjoyed some of what Drake has given since the beginning, but few have enjoyed everything. When is that ever the case? If you are honest with yourself, your favorite artist has done things that have made you scratch your head or nod along like the popular Hov gif. You know the one.

Still, the misses seem to be a larger point of contention for Drake than anyone else. The stans (many of whom I, too, dislike) fuel the disdain toward him by blindly supporting everything, but the line has to be drawn somewhere. Often the backlash against Drake has little to do with the music itself, yet when checking end-of-year streaming lists Drizzy falls in a good portion of people’s top five to ten most-listened-to artists.

In 2019 he finally added classic mixtape So Far Gone to streaming services and collected almost a decade’s worth of loose singles for Care Package. Slowly, everyone came out of the woodwork detailing their specific memories associated with these gems. The story is it is only his nostalgia keeping him relevant for many, but the truth is there has been something for everyone through his entire tenure. He may allegedly pander to the kids on records, but there is nothing childish about “Chicago Freestyle” or “War.” Narratives and reality rarely seem to align.

It is okay to outgrow an artist. The personal relationship developed is unique and not to be understood by all. The issue lies in the attempt to universally label content a certain way as a result of one’s individual feelings. David Dennis, who wrote an insightful personal narrative associated with DLDT is not one of those people, to clear up any discrepancies. Otherwise, the line blurs way too often especially when the artist only grows in popularity despite many professing his days were numbered years ago. There’s a Drake lyric for everything. “Say my days are numbered but I keep waking up,” stated in January’s “Life Is Good” with Future.

With this in mind, Dark Lane Demo Tapes was likely doomed before it was a twinkle in his eyes. It matters not what Drake does because he will always be judged for what he did not do. Even when he “he wrote this with the Cartier pen” and questions whether he is sounding different, in “Landed.” Coincidentally, he raps on “Losses” about how an ex-lover wrote him off and never wrote back, and it directly articulates the opposite of what his biggest critics regularly do.

Write a bad Yelp review only to come back to the restaurant and hope for better. If you only focused on the opinions and not the accomplishments, you would think he is an abomination to music. The fact some people knew others would love DLDT likely made them pre-dislike it before even pressing play.

Long story short, the hysteria surrounding DLDT, before and after its release, would make the casual music listener think the most controversial collection of music to ever touch streaming services was put out. Spoiler alert though you have likely listened already — it wasn’t. It was a mixtape. DLDT was a 14-track mixtape made up of songs he had already put on Soundcloud, leaks, and music he previewed on Instagram Live. Many of these were songs that fans begged for. He quite literally said this in the Instagram caption, along with the album announcement for this upcoming summer.

For all we know, The Six God could have intentionally been letting these songs loose. In auditioning them for a full-length film, he settled for a documentary to hold fans over. The promotional language could have been a subtle attempt to move the goalposts, or…the reality of the situation.

The inclusion of OZ’s voice note at the end of “Desires” and his father, Dennis Graham, in “Losses” gave us some context as to the making of this project. It is not a lot, but they are cool tidbits to make this feel more special than simply a charity handout. It is a peek into the vault, but still not the grand gesture we may have expected. In terms of quality, the music is great. Not perfect, but very enjoyable and more songs click than not. “Losses,” “Deep Pockets,” “From Florida With Love,” and “Not You Too” not making any of his albums creates a lot of intrigue as to just what is coming. Are we ready?

Now if we want to judge DLDT as an album, let us do it. Remember you asked for this. *stretches* It was refreshing to see Drake deviate from his typical, long-album format. Dark Lane Demo Tapes is the most concise solo project of his catalog since 2013’s Nothing Was The Same; his personal favorite as told to Elliott Wilson and Brian “B. Dot” Miller during their Tidal Rap Radar interview on Christmas Day. Even in its 49-minute run time, the project gave us the many sides of Drake. Fortunate for some, it was not as overwhelming as 2017’s More Life, which I firmly believe people will fondly look back on in some more years' time if they do not already.

Aubrey’s ventures into the UK sound, Dancehall and Afrobeats back then were innovative. At the moment, innovation cannot be fully understood or appreciated until seeing the lasting impact. Drill and Caribbean-influenced music have become more present among the mainstream and every artist tries to keep a few of those bops in their arsenal. If they have not released their attempts at those types of tracks yet, they likely will. This is not to say Drake fostered these sounds, pure disrespect to those he admittedly draws influence from. Undeniably, these forays were successful long-term, opening the door for everyone else to pay attention or tap in.

Thus, it should not come as a surprise he linked up with New York sensations Fivio Foreign and Sosa Geek for the frantic anthem “Demons.” While the bullet point jokes are hilarious, Fivi has a special way of spitting those fragments, and Drake molds himself to it like clay. All the demons are indeed looking moody. Now, of course, it’s wave-riding. The cat is out of the bag. Whoa! The biggest artist in the world has his ear to the streets and tried his hand at a new, popular sound. It is not a new act, but it might as well be when Drake does it.

He spoke on this in the aforementioned Rap Radar interview, admitting his travels and aspirations as an artist extends beyond the box we tend to place rappers in. He identifies with the rap genre but sees no fun in making the same type of songs over and over as a multi-faceted artist. Whether it is a different accent or a new beat, he has a hunger to create. He added how it is not enough to draw inspiration from new cultures, so he contributes to their communities and maintains good relationships with influential people within them. As far as we know or can assume, the relationships are pure and no one has anything bad to say. Sadly, the benefit of the doubt is not as fun as getting the jokes off.

Along with trying his hand at the drill sound, Drake once again brings along rising stars within it. Fivio Foreign and Sosa Geek got their biggest looks ever on a project full of Soundcloud leaks and throwaways. They became known to sections of the world who may not have otherwise paid attention to them on a “here y’all go, always asking for shit” mixtape. Think about it. Foreign sees it. “Viral, you ain’t never make a movie with Drake,” he emphatically says in his verse.

He previously joined Tory Lanez on “K Lo K,” which was also a nice look. In the interest of being a little spicy, we have to credit this as Drake getting Tory back after hijacking “Controlla” during Summer 2016. I don’t think his version is better, but I seem to be in the minority.

We sat with AXL BEATS-produced “War,” the sibling to his “Behind Barz” freestyle on Link Up TV, for some time. You either enjoy the accent or you don’t, but there are some loaded bars in there detailing his relationship with The Weeknd, idolizing Mayhem Morearty before his life took a turn, and how anyone he’s beefing with must be irrelevant as they are not handling their home properly.

While making these bold sonic endeavors, he still finds a way to bring it back to what people like from him. DLDT opens with a three-song run of “Deep Pockets,” “When To Say When,” and “Chicago Freestyle” featuring Giveon. These pensive, conversational records are the most clear-minded he has sounded in quite some time. He is still flexing his riches, taking women on expensive dates, relying on Chubbs, and plotting the next move.

He does refer to his baby mother as a fluke, which is an unfortunately cringe-worthy addition to an otherwise strong song in “When To Say When.” It brings me back to “You toyin’ with it like happy meal” from “U With Me,” more corny than problematic, but still a misfire among a track of straight heat. Content aside, this is the Drake many people love. The type of music he has delivered since the early days of Comeback Season and Room For Improvement…and So Far Gone and Thank Me Later…*checks notes* yep, Take Care and Nothing Was The Same Too…you can’t forget If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and…do you catch my drift?

What we received is what has always been there. It is simply a more refined and older version of the guy who uttered “First place is always the worst place/But fuck it, I love it here/I call it my birthplace” on the all-time great Drake record “Closer To My Dreams.” He has always given the backpack rap fans something to enjoy, but he has never been just a rapper. Thus, one should never expect a project of just bars unless they like to subject themselves to disappointment.

Drake came into the game a dual-threat and drew criticism early, but also garnered a vast audience. He spoke to Wilson and B. Dot about the one thing he demands credit for — consistently having to do two things at once, and delivering on it. All of the sounds he has added over his run were to strengthen his existing repertoire, but two things you know for a fact will be there every time Drake drops are the lyrical deep cuts and emotive, R&B riders. DLDT, while a mixtape of loosies, is still music made by Drake. He is never looking to not satisfy everybody, which is clearly a tall task and a losing battle. It may be to his detriment to some, but he loves it. This project is simply a truncated version of his usual album offerings.

Thus, shifting the mood from “rappity raps” to “Not You Too” featuring Chris Brown made all the sense in the world. While it was a pump fake and only featured sparse CB background vocals, the track was a standout collaboration from DLDT and another drop in his overflowing cup of deadly R&B. It not only captures Heartbreak Drake in one of his more progressive vulnerable states, expressing the desire to free his lover from her guilt by admitting what she did wrong to him, but it recalls the paranoia from 2016’s Views.

“Trust/Trust who?/Watchin’ my back even when I’m in the booth/Oh, trust who?” The most charming aspect of his crooners is the fact he is obviously not the best vocalist and we all feel capable of doing what he does. Simultaneously, he carries the notes just well enough to seep into our soft spots within. It is okay to admit it, bro. “When my album drops bitches will buy it for the picture/And niggas will buy it too and claim they got it for they sister.” Prophetic.

In a move similar to the back-to-back of “Jaded” and “Nice For What” from 2018’s Scorpion, he followed this emotional rollercoaster with the TikTok sensation “Toosie Slide.” Curveball. If anyone can find one person who did not think this would be the lead single and reason Drake’s upcoming album went platinum in a few days, my Cash App is prepared.

Sure, he is still “gaming streaming” by adding a popular single to this project of loosies. Set to sell 255k first week, this will be one of the best commercial debuts of 2020. A mixtape of loosies. We have to admit if DLDT did not happen, and “Toosie” found its way to the unnamed summer LP, it would have been one of the biggest factors used to diminish whatever success the album will attain. A desperation play, as many have already referred to it.

This move was as good for Drake as it was for us. There will probably be another big single, and we might still be putting our right foot up before the left foot slides come summertime, but potentially not in the middle of new album cuts.

From then on, we get some more of what we have already received before. Drake links up with Future for the crowd favorite “Desires,” and throws Young Thug in the mix for standout headbanger “D4L.” Who can forget the magic created on What A Time To Be Alive or Thugger’s scene-stealing verse on “Sacrifices?” Upon learning Drake had the chance to appear on So Much Fun, seeing this collaboration come together was relieving. The autotune lovers and trap music enthusiasts were served here. There is something about Drake’s energy on “D4L” that furthers my belief he is at his happiest when making trap music.

“Landed” and “Time Flies,” while solo efforts, satisfy those looking for the singing Drake on hard drums and gap-bridger between gritty lyricism and anthemic, arena-feeling bass. We also saw another new face (as far as Drake collaborations go) in the elusive Playboi Carti. “Pain 1993” is easily the most polarizing record from this mixtape, bridging the gap between Aubrey’s Angels and whatever Carti’s hive is called while leaving many in either euphoria, disgust, confusion or a mix of the three.

Drake brands a flow similar to Carti’s usual mutterings, adapting with ease and leading off the song before the baby voice shows up. Admittedly, Playboi Carti’s verse on this song has grown on me since DLDT released, but it was an acquired taste requiring patience and new understanding. The Carti world may not be for me, but I cannot say those melodies aren’t memorable. Still, it falls on the lower end of my feature hierarchy here.

“Losses” and “From Florida With Love” could not be any more different, but operate beautifully as yin-yang. “Losses” is a poetic confessional, recounting yet another failed relationship for Drake. This is also a regularity for him, but “Losses,” produced by OZ and Sevn Thomas, is a rap performance over a beat many would expect a “Jungle”-like showing. The bars hit harder with excess space to breathe. It feels surgical.

“I was wishin’ on a star when I was that;” “But I treated you like gold, I was all in/Spoiled rotten, they could smell you ‘fore you walked in;” “You sold me up a river but I rowed back/You put me on the road without a roadmap.” The bars go on, but the most significant is the twice-repeated “I’m not tryna make no song, these are cold facts.” It adds an entirely new layer to the feelings evoked and makes you wonder who exactly is the subject here. Time may, or may not, tell.

Even in just 14 tracks, Drake provides multiple versions of himself that have appeared over the course of his career. It was a highlight film. Every song may not be a hit, and judging by how aware he is of his formula, it is clear they were not intended to be that way.

As far as Drake the person, true, there may have not been any seismic shifts in his identity or subject matter. Remember, though, he did not have a child or baby mother to rap about back when he was new to the game. He did not have a new mansion or airplane named after him. He did not have 500 weeks of Billboard charting records to reflect on. Drake’s progression has been just that — his.

He has documented it in his own way, and is growing into this new phase of life at his pace. It may not be what is desired, but it is what has worked for him in reaching the heights he aspired toward. His goal was to be bigger than his mentor, Lil Wayne. When all is said and done, even with Weezy’s dominance through the 2000s, it would not be a landslide victory either way. Drake has accomplished more, but Weezy F Baby, the greatest mixtape artist of all-time, gave him the blueprint. He just wanted to be successful.

We have to wait to get the end of it all instead of treating the present as the future. The emphasis should be on fully understanding what is given as opposed to predicting what we will not be listening to in five years.

Unfortunately, popularity and a lasting presence can breed resentment. Those can blur the lenses critics use in viewing content and evolve into blatant hate. Like Drake said in the Scorpion standout “Emotionless,” the truth is he will not be fully loved until he is gone. Hopefully sooner than that.

Writer, editor, curator, podcast host, passionate overthinker of all things music and wrestling. Content — linktr.ee/armonsadler. Hope you enjoy!

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