Another surprise in rap music came this past week, as rap superstar Drake released an unannounced album, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. These types of surprise releases have become a popular, and surprisingly successful, tactic for artists. From J. Cole’s powerfully unexpected 2014 Forest Hills Drive to Beyoncé’s groundbreaking self-titled album, these recent albums have raked in nothing short of positive reviews and sizable paychecks.
Both 2014 Forest Hills Drive and Beyoncé debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 200— J. Cole’s efforts sold 371,000 copies in its first week of release and Beyoncé’s record landed her 828,773 copies sold worldwide in its first three days after launching. Beyoncé’s record even went on to become the fastest-selling album in the history of the iTunes Store, but that’s no real surprise.
Drake’s newest efforts will likely follow alongside the massive successes of his fellow entertainers— with first week sales at 535,000 purchases. Regardless of numbers, the interesting part of this album’s release is the hidden motive behind the endeavor. There is a good chance that Drake may have decided to drop this unannounced album due to the successes of past surprise albums. On the other hand, some fans don’t think it’s that simple. Many believe the album is strongly tied to the controversy surrounding Drake’s label Cash Money Records.
Although the terms of Drake’s contract with Cash Money Records are unknown, it is likely that they are similar to that of colleague Lil Wayne. Wayne has publicly shared that he is under a four-album contract. Ironically, if Drake shares this same contractual obligation, If You’re Reading This Too Late will complete the terms of his Cash Money Records agreement. Also, Wayne has publicly shared that he hopes to take Drake, as well as fellow Cash Money member Nicki Minaj, with him when he leaves the label.
Adding to the chaos surrounding Cash Money, Wayne is in the process of suing the label, with a $51 million lawsuit. Wayne claims that CEO Bryan “Birdman” Williams failed to pay him money earned by his unreleased album Tha Carter V. In light of these alleged crimes, Wayne has requested that he be removed from the label. Even if Drake’s involvement in the feud is unknown, the timing of this unexpected album seems suspicious— not to mention Drake’s exclusion of Birdman from the long roster of “thank you’s” at the end of the record. Nobody could overlook the seemingly obvious shade thrown at the Cash Money CEO in the bold “Star67” line “Brand new Beretta, can’t wait to let it go/ Walk up in my label like ‘Where the check, though?’”
Putting all the drama aside, the success of this album will be guaranteed. Since it has been over a year since Drake has released an official album, fans are itching to hear some new material. Unlike his last album, Nothing Was the Same, Drake’s new release seems to feature some more forceful songs. In the past, Drake has received flak from listeners, regarding how “sappy” some of his songs are— the running joke in the media seems to be that listening to Drake’s music is a sure tearjerker. If nothing else, this album proves that perception wrong. There’s no need to worry though – Drake isn’t ditching his smooth sounds altogether.
From the opening single of the album, it’s clear that If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is off to a somewhat different start than Drake’s last effort. While Nothing Was the Same featured a mixture of sentimental lyrics and slower beats, these new recordings have generally kept the slower beats but mixed in some brash lyrics as well. The first track on the album, “Legend,” leaves listeners with a clear understanding of what to expect from the following tracks. The song is lined with themes of fame, money, and women.
Not so far off from this dauntless number are the sounds of “10 Bands” and “Know Yourself.” Of course, in usual Drake fashion, there are some epic collaborations too. Perhaps the most epic of the bunch, Lil Wayne and Drake joined forces for “Used To,” which was also featured on Lil Wayne’s most recent mix tape Sorry 4 The Wait 2. Drake brought Travi$ Scott into the studio for the forceful “Company” collaboration. PARTYNEXTDOOR even made an appearance on the album on back-to-back songs “Preach” and “Wednesday Night Interlude.”
Moving on through the album, tracks such as “Energy” and “6 God” feature very strong beats, which suggests that they might be some of the lead tracks. Interestingly, there aren’t many blatantly leading tracks, unlike Nothing Was the Same where “Just Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “Started from the Bottom” were shoo-ins for the record’s hits. Overall, the other tracks on the album seem to stick with Drake’s typically slower beats with varying speeds of rapping.
“Jungle,” the most sentimental of tunes on the record, seems to suggest strong themes of relationship turmoil. A short film for “Jungle,” released hours before the announcement of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, is a blatant reinforcement of these themes. From poetic imagery to flashbacks of an adolescent Drake, there is no sentimentality lacking in this 14 minute movie.
Despite debate over the album release’s purpose, it’s clear that this was nothing short of a success for Drake. Now that the record has made its way to iTunes, only time will tell how far up the charts the album will climb.
Liam McGurl, staff writer