As soon as the tracklist for Drake and Future’s rumored collaborative mixtape What A Time To Be Alive leaked on Twitter, the internet hype machine began firing on all cylinders. When Drake uploaded the cover art to Instagram, he catapulted What A Time To Be Alive from the shadow realm of hip hop fantasy into the bright spotlights of today’s social media. The 11-track mixtape premiered on and was released exclusively through Apple Music, which is clearly reaping the rewards of inking Drake to a $19 million dollar deal this summer. After it surfaced that the project was recorded at Future’s Atlanta studio in just six days, some wondered how successful it would be — that is, until every single track on the release charted within a week.
The majority of the mixtape’s production is handled by longtime Future collaborator Metro Boomin, whose instrumentals reflect the hazy Atlanta trap sound that Future has succeeded in bringing to mainstream hip hop. On the opener “Digital Dash,” an ode to dope, cash, and all things material, Future laments, “When I was sleepin’ on the floor you shoulda seen how they treat me/I pour the Actavis and pop pills so I can fight the demons.” Although Drakes touches on much thematically (he’s busy renewing his commitment to not committing to women), Future is at the top of his game lyrically, and vocalizes some wryly amusing imagery on the hook, “I send that dope to your momma tho/Out in the streets like thermometers/You rats will never be honorable.”
The crown jewel of the project is “Diamonds Dancing,” a sparkling Metro Boomin production featuring Drake and Future uniting to deliver an incredibly catchy hook (you guessed it: “diamond, diamond, diamond, diamonds on me dancing”) and splitting back up for hard-hitting verses. Metro Boomin again delivers a classic bass-driven window-rattler in “Scholarships,” which sees both rappers take a more confessional tone as they reprehend the intoxicating properties of material wealth and fame. Drake broods over his need for appreciation (“I need acknowledgement, If I got it then tell me I got it”), and a distressed Future reflects, “I wake up, and pray every morning/These demons, they callin’ my soul/I’m ballin’ out of control.”
The project’s ninth track, “Jumpman,” is undoubtedly a product of the Jordan/Drake business connect, and serves as the latest in a line of Jordan shoutouts to grace mainstream hip hop, a far more effective form of advertisement for Jordan Brand than any billboard or TV spot. That being said, “Jumpman” is the dream of every Drake and Future fan: both rappers grandstanding to the max, swaggering over loud 808s, glittering hi-hats, and gleefully repetitive rhyme schemes. The track “30 for 30 Freestyle” is perhaps the most out of place track on this tape, a solo effort that sees Drake return to a more emotional, earnest, and from-the-heart delivery about his personal life over relaxed production from Noah “40” Shebib, who sets the mood with lingering piano notes and muted vocal samples.
Although What A Time To Be Alive affirms Drake’s nature as an incredibly versatile rapper, there’s no denying that the project plays more like a Future mixtape. With the sole exception of “30 for 30 Freestyle” near the end of the project, every track could fit seamlessly on Future’s latest album Dirty Sprite 2. The mainstream exposure garned from Future’s breakout this year was what he needed to entice Drake into a collaboration, and he showed no signs of letting up at any point on this mixtape. That being said, it’s difficult to say if Drake was truly out-muscled on this project. At this point, one has to wonder if Drake might just be the most unassailable artist in the music industry. Objectively, Future brought far more to the table for this project with regard to emotion, sound, and lyrical content. Despite this, What A Time To Be Alive will be catalogued as the latest Drake release, with Future as his sidekick. As both an artist and a brand, Drake is so invulnerable that he can choose to collaborate with a much smaller artist, vacate the project’s driver’s seat, and still somehow come out on top.
Every possible critique of Drake has been thwarted by his unstoppable commercial and sonic appeal. Despite his shameless appropriation of other artists’ styles and sounds, ghostwriting allegations, and soft exterior, Drake has risen to the top of not only the hip hop industry but music as a whole. Aubrey Graham, of a privileged upbringing who rapped about “starting from the bottom,” Aubrey Graham, who starred in a Canadian teen drama and continues to rap about violently dispatching his many enemies, has somehow reached or perhaps surpassed the pinnacle of the music industry. Drake is arguably big enough to move past music à la Kanye West — that is, if he demonstrated any sort of the creative vision that West has shown in extending his brand beyond the music industry. That being said, Drake is Drake, and he might just be big enough that such a creative vision is superfluous. It’s easy to imagine him relaxing at the OVO headquarters, waiting for an enterprising corporation with an eager PR team and a ten-step plan to translate his Drakeness into mountains of revenue.
Perhaps the most astounding aspect of Drake’s massive success is how it has been accomplished without any real message. This is no accident, however. Drake has shown a keen ear and willingness to co-opt any sound poised to break into the mainstream — see ILoveMakonnen’s smash hit “Tuesday,” electronic music producer Maya Jane Coles’s original “Truffle Butter,” and most recently Virginia rapper DRAM’s “Cha Cha,” which was recast as the summer anthem “Hotline Bling.” After What A Time To Be Alive, we can add Future’s intoxicating trap sound to that list, easily accessorized via the mobilization of social media spheres through relatable, Instagram-ready lyrics just begging for memeification.
For Drake, secure atop hip hop’s throne, What A Time To Be Alive is a brief but refreshing interlude following If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, re-establishing his dominance while he puts the finishing touches his next studio album, Views From The Six. For Future, it’s just the latest in an onslaught of stellar releases that have launched him to the forefront of hip hop’s biggest players.
Between these two hip hop heavyweights, there’s just too much star power for this mixtape not to shine. What A Time To Be Alive is not a cohesive album, and will never hold up to the criticisms of those who view it as such. What A Time To Be Alive is a rare fellowship of king and bandit, a joint venture between Drake’s empire and Future’s rogue state, unlikely partners in an irresistible collaboration.
What A Time To Be Alive.