Album Review: Drake—“If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”

By James Li

When Drake dropped If You’re Reading This Its Too Late, fans and critics scrambled to figure out what exactly it was. A compilation of stray outtakes? An official follow-up to Nothing Was the Same? A plot to get out of his contract with Young Money? Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by the ambiguity – this is a release coming from the rapper who “dropped the mixtape, that shit sounded like an album.” Album, mixtape, whatever you want to call it, Drake’s latest release is a love letter to Toronto above all.

It’s hard to believe now, but Drake and Toronto haven’t always been synonymous. Canadian labels were reluctant to sign him, and it was in Houston where he met Lil Wayne and started his rap career. He used to yearn for the composite city of “Houstatlantavegas.”But now that Canada’s embraced him, Drake’s taken to calling Toronto “the 6” – his attempt to rebrand his hometown, but also his bid to become Toronto’s ambassador on the world stage.

Album art for If You're Reading This It's Too Late

Album art for If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

Just one look at the tracklist for If You’re Reading This Its Too Late shows us that Drake’s not thinking of Houston, Atlanta, or Las Vegas – we have “6 God,” “6 Man,” and “You & the 6.” There’s also that now-famous refrain on “Know Yourself”: “I was running through the 6 with my woes!” Drake constantly makes nods to his hometown, especially to Toronto’s vibrant Caribbean community. Airhorns are a hip-hop staple, but they come from dancehall, after all. And Drake sprinkles in some patois – the kind you usually overhear at Scarborough Town Centre, but spoken all over GTA, even by Rob Ford.

The Toronto that Drake portrays on If You’re Reading This Its Too Late is cold, disorderly, and sprawling. Toronto is a fractured city: home to many first- or second-generation immigrants, with a social divide between the downtown core and the suburbs. Drake embraces it all. Drake, who is black and Jewish, is the poster child of Toronto’s cosmopolitanism, and he touches on that duality on “You & the 6,” observing how “I used to get teased for being black / And now I’m here and I’m not black enough.” And note how when Drake namedrops places, he’s mentions taking trips to “Sauga City” or having enemies living past Kennedy Road, places on the periphery of Toronto.

There’s also a distinct Toronto sound on the production. Commentators have long argued that regionalism is dying in rap, but If You’re Reading This Its Too Late has a murky and nocturnal atmosphere that Toronto artists like The Weeknd and PARTYNEXTDOOR favour. Nearly all of the tracks on the album are boastful bangers, but they’re not exactly aggressive. In fact, many of them sample sensuous late 90s jams – “Legend” and “Madonna” both borrow from Ginuwine’s “So Nervous,” and “6 Man” interpolates The Roots’ “You Got Me.” On an unrelated note, “6 God” samples Donkey Kong Country 2 seamlessly.

How successful If You’re Reading This Youre Too Late is depends on what you think Drake’s intent is. If it’s supposed to be a message to Young Money and label boss Birdman, then 17 tracks of mostly-consistent quality is letting them off easy. If it’s a collection of loosies before building up to Views from the 6, then it just raises questions – is this a new sound for Drake? Is he getting complacent? Has he already used up his best songs? But if the album’s an expression of Toronto pride, then it absolutely succeeds on that front. It’s not like every Torontonian will start calling their city “the 6” overnight, but no one represents Toronto – or any city – the way Drake does. (Cash Money)

Listen: “Energy”

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