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Review: Drake’s ‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes’ Are Solid, But the Same

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Nothing excites the hip hop world more than when chart-topping artist Drake releases music. This reigned true on May 1 as the king of rap right now released his mixtape titled “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” on all streaming platforms. Drake dropped the tracklist and cover art for the tape just hours before the release, but the excitement and buzz around it were as if he’d promoted it weeks before.

The tracklist seemed stellar. It includes huge features from other big artists like Young Thug, Chris Brown, and Future, contained great songs that fans were only able to stream on the Soundcloud app like “When To Say When,” “Desires,” and “Chicago Freestyle,” and also included the leak that all fans have been trying to hear for what seems like months now, “Pain 1993,” featuring rapper Playboi Carti.

I was excited as well. However, once I sat down and made my way through the album, I could not help but feel underwhelmed. Did the album sound good? Yes, it did. But did I feel like I was getting the exact same Drake that I had been hearing for the past three to four years? Most definitely.

Let me set the record straight. By no means am I saying that “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” is a bad record. I actually believe it’s Drake’s most solid body of work since the release of the “More Life” playlist. However, as the rap game gets more competitive and saturated and more rappers start to come into the mix aiming to dethrone the king, it’s safe to say that fans are expecting more from Drake. It’s in his best interest to further separate himself from the rest of the pack and give the fans new material that will keep them interested for the long run.

2020 Drake cannot come with the same flows as 2016-2017 Drake. His moves have to be different.

When Drake finds new flows, he shines on this tape. He benefits from the aid of rappers who are masters in the flows that he’s trying to get into. For example, Drake pays homage to the New York/UK drill rap movement with the song “Demons” where he incorporates features from New York rappers Fivio Foreign and Sosa Geek over a hard trap beat. Not only does he ensure longevity by trying out a flow that’s taking over the rap game right now, it’s something new that fans can get into. He shows this again with “Pain 1993,” where he actually outshines Carti on a beat from Carti’s primary producer, Pierre Bourne.

Aside from the beyond disappointing Playboi Carti feature on “Pain 1993” and an underused Chris Brown on the song “Not You Too,” the rest of the features on the tape are true highlights. When Young Thug, Future, and Drake all hop on a song, you know it’s going to be hard. They showed this on “D4L,” which could be the best song on the tape. “D4L” is basically everything you love about trap music, whether it be the beats, catchy hooks, or the feeling you get as Young Thug spits absolute nonsense into the mic and it somehow becomes the hardest thing you’ve ever heard put it into one song.

Drake also shows his sensitive side with “Chicago Freestyle” featuring singer Giveon. Giveon’s soft crooning on the hook as well as the influence from Eminem’s hit song “Superman” make this one of my favorite songs, and definitely my favorite feature on the tape. 

Where Drake misses on the tape is the solo songs, which, perhaps, are the most important. Either they sound like every lyrical Drake song we’ve heard before (“Deep Pockets,” “Losses”), sound like he’s just at the lunch table rapping with the homies (“Landed,” “Time Flies”). Standout solo songs include “When To Say When,” which has a killer sample and was released on Soundcloud previously, and “War,” which copies a UK drill flow. 

Along with the release of the mixtape, Drake has announced the release of his sixth studio album sometime in the Summer of 2020. While I may have been disappointed by this release, I still am excited about what he has in store for us this summer.

One thing is for sure though: Drake, for the first time in a while, has something to prove. As one of the biggest artists in the world, everyone’s going to listen when you drop music. However, it’s your job to connect with your audience, showcase your versatility, and provide listeners with a perfect balance of nostalgia and new sounds that keep them interested and coming back for more.

For the past couple of years now, we’ve been experiencing too much of the same and not enough newness. If Drake can regain this balance as he has in the past, then we’ll be in good hands.

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