With 79 weeks spent on the Billboard Charts and double platinum certification, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” may be Drake’s most impressive project to date.
I’m a rare breed of Drake stan who can look at him objectively and pinpoint his weaknesses as an artist. While his accomplishments over the last decade have been monumental, his approach is very formulaic and predictable for the most part. We’re okay with it because the music is fire but not too many things are a shock. One of those few shocks in his career, that is making waves beyond what any of the OVO army had probably imagined is 2015’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
Sophomore year of college at Cornell wouldn’t have been the same without that project. February 13th, right as our February Break was about to begin. I stayed at school for that one and endured a crazy snowstorm. However, this mixtape and a whole lot of “studying” made life okay. The fact it was a surprise drop was one thing, but “Legend” as an opener followed by “Energy,” “10 Bands,” and “Know Yourself” was nuts. “Company” was the first time either Aubrey or Travis Scott got on the other person’s song and flipped the instrumental en-route to just completely snapping. “Now & Forever” and “You & The 6” are simply beautiful.
The R&B cuts are far less overwhelming than the songs with Drake in trap form, but by no means is that due to a lack of quality. “Jungle” is some of Drake’s best work if you’re looking to thrust yourself into your bag, and that 1-2 punch of “Preach” and “Wednesday Night Interlude” is lethal. PARTYNEXTDOOR truly shines and his chemistry with Drizzy here is more evidence as to why few duos in this era can parallel them. LeBron and Dwyane Wade? Or are they Trunks and Gohan when they fuse? Wendy’s Frosty and French Fries? Y’all stop me when I stop telling the truth.
This project is regarded as a mixtape but has a major album feel and is often ranked as such when people judge Drake’s discography. Lil Wayne shows up to deliver the typical impassioned verse on “Used To” but otherwise the album is anchored by “The Boy.” Boi-1da is all over this album, with Noah “40” Shehib, of course, having a hand in a few tracks along with Trav and Party.
There’s a real edge to the Degrassi star here and definitely one of the peaks in his “sicko” phase where he would just come for heads on wax. “6PM in New York” closes the album and he completely drags former Young Money labelmate Tyga, daring him to act his age instead of his younger girlfriend’s. Spicy talk.
It was Drake’s true entry into the trap game, mostly shedding his backpack rap skin for a new big boss layer. Over more drums and hi-hats than he’d probably ever used in his career up to that date, he employed his vocal chops and introspective lyricism to produce a cohesive, high energy record. He’d appeared on tracks with the trap sound previously but to adapt it for his own LP was remarkable and caused a shift in the rap game.
What he does, other rappers soon follow hoping to emulate. Though trap music existed long before Drake, the platform he has as a rapper with universal pop appeal shined a huge spotlight on the sub-genre. Now, it’s the route primarily traveled by those looking to break into the game.
Of course, there is controversy associated with IYRTITL. Drake was on an MVP campaign in 2015 but a threat to derail him came in the form of ping pong buddy Meek Mill. The beef between the two began after the Dreamchaser took offense to the 6 God not Tweeting his album, and he threw a dagger early revealing Quentin Miller had written multiple times for Drake. Those verses included the very verse contributed to “R.I.C.O” from Meek’s album Dreams Worth More Than Money that dropped that summer.
Obviously, the two are now pals again and everyone but Pusha T has gotten over the ghostwriting drama. However, it caused the project and Drake to be viewed differently. People now question what else he might have gotten help with. You get the mean side eye if you throw him on any top list, and the Hip-Hop purist demographic of Twitter often use him as a primary argument as to why the genre is in a bad state.
I won’t turn this into an argument with them, but I have a brief reply. The ghostwriting news bothered me too because he delivered countless iconic verses throughout his career. A lot of rappers have had help, but not a lot of rappers have reached the heights he has. Rap can be very pompous when it comes to the standards for being the G.O.A.T. Though I agree with all of them, I am confused by those who have certain folks as their G.O.A.T. or on their top lists when they too have been revealed to have a ghostwriter or stolen lyrics at one point in time. I’ll stop there.
All of that drama aside, this album shook 2015 up early. More importantly, it has withstood the test of time. Many tracks are still important parts of DJ’s sets at parties and Drake performs a good amount of them in his live sets. Though the rap genre wasn’t the microwave in 2015 that it is now, it was headed in that direction. This album is as relevant today as it was then, if not more. It’s aged like Tom Brady and Tim Duncan. It’s as cohesive as peanut butter and jelly. It’s hard to give proper appreciation to things when they first drop because you can’t predict the ongoing impact they’re going to have.
As we draw near the four year anniversary of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late‘s release, I’m here to start the conversation about it being deserving of the classic title regardless of QM’s hand in the sound. As far as the music goes, it’s amazing front to back. It’s Drake owning the villain within and putting it on full display en route to some of his most inspired-feeling work. He still delivers the vulnerable-lightskin-whose-Achilles-heel-is-falling-too-hard-in-love music, but rapping-wise he’s sharp as an Exacto knife. He’s contemplative, braggadocious, and isolates himself while simultaneously warping us into his bittersweet world.
You can diminish the work because of the assist, but when we’re still listening to this project 10 or 20 years down the road, you might have to do like they did in Frozen and let it go. It’s got to be really hard to try and remember you dislike everything Drake stands for while nodding your head to “No Tellin’.” It’s 2019, let’s be honest with ourselves about the things we like.