In a world in which the boundary between mixtapes and albums is becoming ever more blurred, the title of Drake's latest album highlights its interstitial nature. That said, it is still a little misleading. There are tracks here that look like demos – Spanish James Blake-isms from Chicago Freestyle are audibly polished – but, for the most part, it's a way to collect leftovers and leaks, spare tracks he apparently has in the studio.
Those who are inclined to view Drake's career with a cold eye may be surprised that he has extra tracks spread around the studio, given the state of his latest album. Listening Scorpion, 25 songs, required a certain degree of mental toughness: you needed to arm yourself against the feeling of panic that you could die of old age before it was over. But it was not the sheer quantity that was the problem, but the quality of what was there. Scorpion had its moments, but it was so hopelessly uneven that it was easy to adopt the theory that its length was not due to the multiplicity full of fantastic ideas from the author, but to an attempt to unveil streaming services: more music means more streams, more streams means higher placement on the chart.
Scorpion was the second best selling album of 2018 and the most criticized album of Drake's career, which leaves him in an intriguing position. Do you listen to the critics and pull your artistic socks a little? Or do you archive them on your growing list of enemies and continue to raise money, manipulating the means by which the music is now distributed?
The successful single from Dark Lane Demos suggests that Drake thought the answer was not obvious. Toosie Slide was not really a song, just a bald attempt to incite a dance craze at TikTok: a load of uncommitted intricacies attached to instructions on how to do the titular move. On one level, you can't blame artists for responding to market forces – TikTok exposure helped make it successful with Lizzo's Truth Hurts and Lil Nas X's Old Town Road – and Drake, to his immense credit, sang the whole thing in a tone of bored disdain, as if he found it all a little humiliating. He's right: he is. Becoming a hit on Justin Bieber's Yummy, similarly focused on memes, looks like a harbinger of a new nightmare pop era in which all great artists feel compelled to reduce themselves to the level of a children's party DJ and keep up with their album with a dreadful ancient equivalent of the bird dance or Agadoo.
Fortunately, Toosie Slide is not the whole story. The material that Drake fished from his trash is occasionally fantastic (the D4L, produced in Southside, grows with guests Future and Young Thug doing most of the lyrical work; Demons is fiery raw) and occasionally fascinating, especially the Closing War , which not only features British drill producer AXL Beats, but also contains the deviation sound of a former UK rap supporter Drake becoming totally native: it's all "send" this and "finish" that. It is also extremely annoying at times, as in Pain 1993, which features Playboi Carti whose "baby voice" is an impressive trick, but a little bit of it is too long and there is a lot here.
Most of the Dark Lane demo tapes, however, are somewhere in between. Musically, it sticks largely with opaque washes of synthesizers and muffled loops. Sometimes it sounds atmospheric – in From Florida With Love, producer MexikoDro builds a spectral and strikingly abstract background track with ping and distortion – but most of the time it just sounds like a no-obligation shrug: the tracks come and go without leaving quite a sonic impression. This leaves the listener focused on Drake's lyrics, which is rarely one of the most exciting experiences in life. You know what to expect and understand: anyone in the market for a Drake bingo game must have the doorknob in the middle of the Deep Pockets opener – in which we find him "losing sleep dealing with envy" – and find themselves screaming "home" "at the time of Desires, where once again one of your relationships went up because, you guessed it:" I was very good with you ".
Complaining about a rapper bragging about being rich is like complaining about a Highland dancer wearing a kilt. But there is something about Drake's continued desire to juxtapose his crying with an irritating buzz that seems particularly offensive at this precise moment.
Drake evokes a dark universe of self-justification and guilt-sharing, where arrogant expressions of his eminence, wealth and superior understanding live alongside bursts of wounded anger that no one shows sufficient gratitude or respect for his greatness and an immortal conviction that half of world He is involved in a vast conspiracy to spread lies about him, while he remains a source of truth and honesty. Listening to demo tapes from Dark Lane occasionally seems like listening to one of Donald Trump's daily coronavirus briefings published on AutoTune, a very strange way to spend your block.
Obviously, Dark Demo Tapes are a stopgap measure. It may be that your next album will see you moving away from the rainy electronic haze and adopting a different lyrical stance. Then again, why should he? People are still excited: at launch, Dark Lane Demo Tapes content immediately dominated global streaming graphics. And Drake seems to inhabit a world where commercial success surpasses everything. It is not always a quality indicator that goes through it.