Looks like it’s Drizzy season again! Then again, when is it not Drizzy season? Drake is an anomaly in the way that he is able to constantly release music and avoid becoming oversaturated and overwhelming. He didn’t release an album, playlist, or mixtape last year, but Drake was still very active on the music scene. He dropped the Rick Ross-featuring “Money In The Grave,” remixed Summer Walker‘s “Girls Need Love,” and released “Mob Ties” as the final radio single from his record-breaking Scorpion album. He also guested on Meek Mill’s “Going Bad,” Chris Brown’s “No Guidance,” and PARTYNEXTDOOR’s “Loyal.” This year, leading up to Dark Lane Demo Tapes, Drake collaborated with Future on “Life Is Good” and with DaBaby and Lil Yachty on “Oprah’s Bank Account.” Clearly, the guy has kept busy, but with Dark Lane Demo Tapes aiming to become Drake’s tenth #1 title on the Billboard 200, the public is still here for anything he has to offer.
In many ways, Dark Lane Demo Tapes is similar to Care Package. The latter was a compilation of old leaked and unreleased Drake tracks that were classics in their own way. Songs like “Girls Love Beyoncé,” “Trust Issues,” “5 Am in Toronto,” and more were legendary on the YouTube scene and Drake finally gave those loose tracks a home in Care Package. Dark Lane Demo Tapes serves a similar purpose; the mixtape houses more recently leaked Drake tracks, rejects from Scorpion, and new recordings. In fact, for a surprise mixtape, the record flows surprisingly well. The mixtape shifts from the classic somber and contemplative rap tracks of Drake’s earlier albums to his fan-favorite R&B cuts, and then to his trap bangers before finally landing on his more recent drill-influenced records. Much of the mixtape draws from Drake’s Nothing Was the Same, one of the best albums of the last decade. At its best, Dark Lane Demo Tapes takes a conscious step back from the catchier commercial fare of Scorpion, More Life, and Views, and instead focuses on self-reflective storytelling over soulful production.
The first trio of tracks on the mixtape, “Deep Pockets,” “When To Say When” and “Chicago Freestyle,” all borrow heavily from that soulful and intense rap style of Drake’s first two studio albums. An unreleased track from the Scorpion recording sessions, “Deep Pockets” begins Drake’s process of self-reflection on his past relationships and decisions now that he has reached and remained at the peak of the music industry. The chugging production is fairly low-energy and allows Drake to look back on how he tried “keepin’ family out of East Detention/And out of Pine Hill Funeral Center/Spots we got no business enterin’.” The following two tracks, “When To Say When” and “Chicago Freestyle,” were released as a double single on Drake’s YouTube page earlier this year. The former samples Jay-Z‘s iconic “Song Cry,” which, by nature, forces Drake to focus on pushing his pen in a more mature fashion. Drake makes the smart move to avoid making a cliché song about romance over this particular sample, and instead crafts a track about the importance of making tough decisions and standing firm in those choices. It’s also crazy to hear Drake rap from the perspective of a veteran in the game: “How you gettin’ hype off one hit? Do that shit again/How you got a manager you met after you got the win?” Closing out the introductory trio of Dark Lane Demo Tapes is “Chicago Freestyle,” the track that shifts the record’s focus to romantic relationships and features an uncredited Sampha-esque vocal from Giveon.
From there, the mixtape transitions into its R&B pocket for a bit. “Not You Too” is a standout track about loyalty, love, and betrayal, and Chris Brown’s ad-libs complement Drake’s vocal performance nicely. Drake’s big bet on Tik Tok success, “Toosie Slide,” also makes an appearance on the record. The track is still harmless and fun, but it does disrupt the thematic flow of the mixtape. Nonetheless, it is a solid sonic bridge to the more trap leaning tracks that follow. At this point, Dark Lane Demo Tapes truly exposes itself as a mixtape of tracks that were clearly cut from other official records due to their general lack of quality. Simply put, the tracks sound tired. “Desires,” one of the mixtape’s two Future collabs, is completely forgettable and simply not up to the standards of the pair’s better previous records. “Time Flies” is also another bland track that seems like a blueprint of an unfinished ideas; the song could easily be elevated with a feature from Khalid and some reworked verses. There’s also “Landed” which is, again, another forgettable track that Drake has made before, but better. “D4L,” a collaboration with Future and Young Thug, attempts to be a tribute to the iconic Atlanta rap trio of the same name, but Drake gets overshadowed by the other two homegrown Atlanta artists. “Pain 1993” was a highly anticipated track and Playboi Carti’s verse has been widely criticized by fans. It absolutely deserves to be. Drake’s cadence is extremely catchy, but Carti is a complete and utter waste of space on the track; he’s practically incomprehensible and not in the mesmerizing way that he was on his self-titled album. This a five (arguably seven) track run of bleak tracks that seem to imply that Drake has hit a dead end artistically. This is a mixtape, so it’s not extremely worrying. Nevertheless, this section of the release does recall how redundant Drake’s sound and formula have become for his last few projects.
Recently, drill music has been bubbling just under the surface of the mainstream with the late Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke leading the charge. Fellow Brooklyn native Fivio Foreign and New York rapper Sosa Geek join Drake on “Demons.” Unfortunately, the song’s beat is too similar to Fivio’s own “Big Drip” beat, and Drake just can’t keep up with Fivio and Sosa. The two young rappers sound hungry and they sink their teeth into every pocket of every beat. It feels like Drake is trying to play catch up with them and instead of adapting his style to fit the typical cadence of drill music, he annoyingly floats in and out of a British accent. The mixtape ends on a similar note with “War,” another UK dill-influenced track that Drake released at the very end of 2019. Drake is an adaptable and versatile artist, but he may have met his match with drill if these last two track are anything to go by.
Dark Lane Demo Tapes is fine. This won’t be remembered as one of Drake’s more important or groundbreaking releases, but it does remind us that he can still rap and it shows his persistent willingness to adapt to new trends and try on new sounds. There’s something for everyone on here, even if the record very clearly sounds like the prelude to something much greater.
Key Tracks: “When To Say When”; “Not You Too”; “Chicago Freestyle”