Drake is at a rare point in his career, a precipice few artists ever reach. It’s a place that warrants Drake the power to give fans whatever he’d like and they’ll accept it. It’s been this way for the last 5 years. Drake releases a project and lowers the fans’ expectations by calling them “playlists” and “demo tapes”. When they are in fact albums and we should critique them for what they are. Unfortunately, with his last few bodies of work, the quality has been mostly underwhelming. The Canadian superstars light shines so brightly, the feeling to prove himself has long left him. Drake still puts together impressive records, catchy hooks, and will probably body any record he’s featured on, but that’s about where it ends. This shortcoming is apparent on Dark Lane Demo Tapes as Drake raps as if he’s on permanent vacation.
For example, on the first track “Deep Pockets” which I’d consider being one of the better tracks on the album. Drake raps “Whatever’s in me, it’s takin’ over, I gotta bust it down, break it open / Until somebody starts takin’ notice, then we rollin’” What? If anyone else said this, we probably wouldn’t let it slide, but because it’s Aubrey Graham, we give it a pass. We’re now looking at an artist whose popularity has surpassed his quality control. A collection of one-off singles, leaked tracks, throwaway fillers, and just passable cuts won’t cut it anymore.
When Drake announced this project on his Instagram, he described the project as bringing together “a lot of the songs people have been asking for”. In all fairness, a few records slap. Some parts of “Chicago Freestyle” give quality album vibes while records like ‘Landed’ show Drake still knows what the people want. Flexing with a rap cadence so nuzzled in the production, a recipe that works so well even Toronto’s finest wouldn’t dare change it. Regardless, it’s clear that Drake is still in control. On some records we catch glimpses of the IFYRITL Drizzy and then we get records like “Toosie Slide” that make you question everything. The problem with this latest release isn’t that it’s bad, more that it’s unremarkable, and frankly needless.
Drake’s biggest strength was always how versatile he was. He can be a rapper-singer-lyricist, he can be that boastful underdog emcee we all love to cheer for, he can be that soulful late-night crooner or the hit-making machine that will inevitably give you a #1 record on the Billboard Hot 100. But what happens when people are too aware of all the tricks you have up your sleeve?
So let’s keep it a buck, ‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes’ is business as usual for Drake, he’s playing it safe on familiar territory. “Deep Pockets” and “Desires” give off 2016 Views Drake vibes; while the Chris Brown-featured “Not You Too” track sounds like the second half of Scorpion; and “Time Flies” is a replica of “In My Feelings” from the latter album.
Although for me it’s deeper than the obvious recycling. There are some flops on this project as well: The first being the awful Playboi Carti collaboration “Pain 1993.” There’s no reason for this song to be on this project, while “Toosie Slide” was an obvious grab at TikTok virality. And how could Drake ever think he could cover Eminem’s “Superman” hook into “Chicago Freestyle” without sounding cringe?
Drake haters have called him a culture vulture in the past and have even accused him of genre-jacking, but Dark Lane Demo Tapes sonically is very Toronto — cold and dark, which is good. Honestly, with a few of the lackluster records removed, the project almost sounds like Drake’s out of his comfort zone and shifting gears a bit. On the record ‘D4L’ we find Drizzy teaming up with Young Thug and frequent collaborator and best bud Future for a trap banger. The records ‘Demons’ and ‘War’ feature New York and UK drill beats, respectively. While “When to Say When,” prove that Drake’s classic flow still resonates with listeners, especially when Drake sounds inspired. The question is, how long will we have to wait for inspiration to hit Drake again?
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