Toronto’s very own the 6 God, Champagne Papi, Aubrey Graham, better known as Drake has returned with a surprise mixtape, “Dark Lane Demo Tapes.” A terse 14-track compilation of not entirely new music per se, but rather a collection of demos and leaked tracks that have been floating around the internet in some capacity for some time now. If this sounds familiar it is because this is basically what Drake did last year with the “Care Package” project, a collection of extra tracks and resurfaced cuts that date back to some of his earliest records. It has been two years since the release of his last major album, “Scorpion,” and he has nourished his fans with two projects of essentially just leftovers. Kudos to Drake for being such a cultural force that he can put out anything and it will do numbers. For instance, when he released “Toosie Slide” it debuted at No.1 despite being one of his most demo quality singles ever alongside becoming a Tik Tok phenomenon.
With that being said, only so much credit can be given to Drake for how he decides to disperse his music. On one side of the coin, it is appreciated that Drake is honest enough to call these songs demos. By doing so he simultaneously gets fans to lower their guard on this record and not have such high expectations since this is not his most polished work. I did not go into this expecting the best production or engineering, but as long as the writing was on point I was able to keep an open mind. The Intro track “Deep Pockets” has a very woozy and airy production, as if you were driving through Toronto in the winter and the bass is bouncing off the windows. Thankfully, Drake’s narrative meditations on striving for a better life when he was younger are truly compelling, especially when he delivers sharp one liners like “I’m about to flip the f—- out like Fendi.” Drake finds himself reflecting over his tenured career along with looking back on his past with vivid imagery like “Back when my mama would interrupt sleep/ To tell me to hurry up ‘cause the bus leaves.’” Lines like these show the type of space Drake is in musically. This shows how Drake can be a really good narrator when it comes to his own life story.
We then get “When To Say When/Chicago Freestyle,” two songs that have been circulating for a while now and have been attached at the hip ever since; I was extremely excited to see these two tracks on the project as I was an instant fan of the two cuts when they surfaced. Above all, I really appreciated Drake paying homage to the greats before him by sampling Hov’s “Song Cry” as well as interpolating Eminem’s lines from “Superman” in his “Chicago Freestyle.” “When To Say When” features a glamorous soul sample hanging in the background. This is Drake essentially giving fans a poetic update on his current day, delivering the braggadocious yet introspective style which is nothing shy of what he has done before. He files through references to his son and his mother and his relationship with his fans with lines saying “I’ma tell you what you feel next like the weatherman” which I think is a pretty knowing line given just how many people’s emotions he is in control of through his music. Drake also peppers in some pretty questionable lines saying “Five hundred mil’ and I’ll fall back in the 6ix/ … Michael Jackson s—, but the palace is not for kids,” which I find odd considering the conversation surrounding Drake’s weird proximity to girls much younger than him. Drake addressing allegations against Michael Jackson while not being aware or addressing the controversy surrounding his own actions is odd.
We then have “Chicago Freestyle” which I felt was the better of the two tracks. I loved the eerie synth chords and the very sparse trap beat. The lo-fi hook feature from rhythm and blues singer Giveon who has a Sampha like tone in his voice was also enjoyable. The song revolves around Drake needing to keep a low profile. Alongside the paranoia about the people around him due to his mega stardom and having to sneak from one area to the next, this was definitely a standout moment on the project. After this, “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” goes downhill but manages to pick back up toward the end. “Not You Too,” is a cross-over track between Drake and Chris Brown where their vocal chemistry is pretty much non-existent. This track had so much potential but lacked all vocal chemistry, I felt it was absolutely egregious that Chris Brown’s vocals were not more apparent and in your face. You would think that with the amount of reign he had over Brown’s “No Guidance” that same energy would have been reciprocated with this track.
Another cut of the tape I was excited to hear in full fruition was “Pain 1993” featuring Playboi Carti where Drake is attempting to adhere to that minimalist trippy trap sound that Carti has helped popularize. I think he does a good job tributing it and does well on the song basically giving a nod to the growing sound. Drake essentially sets this up only for Playboi Carti to deliver one of his worst features ever. The voice is too baby and thin to the point where it is cartoonish and obnoxious. As a Carti fan, it was disheartening to hear him fumble the bag in the fashion that he did. The last two tracks tie the record up nicely, “From Florida With Love” is easily my favorite cut from the project that I had not heard before. From the fun production to the fluid flow, the song is crazy infectious. The second to last song “Losses” is Drake at his most introspective, speaking on betrayal and friendships that have been severed because of it. I found this to be a very relatable moment as I am sure we all know what it feels like to be betrayed by someone you kept so close and in such high regard, to not being able to look at them as they once were. Overall I felt this project was enjoyable for the most part, while this is only a demo tape it does set the tone for the anticipated sixth studio album coming this summer.
Verdict: This tape is a collection of loose tracks along with some new demos that will keep the average Drake fan more than satisfied. It is a precursor to what is in store for his next upcoming album. For the untrained ear this may be the same old surface level Drake that you have heard before and might not be your cup of tea, but I can assure that it is definitely worth keeping an open mind and open ear.