Album Remarks & Appraisals:
2009 mixtape from the most anticipated artist to arrive on the music scene in recent memory. The actor, singer, rapper has released three mixtapes since 2006 and his most recent mixtape lead to signing with Young Money Records. This is what the fans have been waiting for. This previously internet-only release has been remixed and remastered. Features include Lil Wayne, Trey Songz and Bun B.
So Far Gone is the debut EP of Canadian artist Drake, released on September 15, 2009, originally released as a mixtape on February 13, 2009. It features only five songs from the mixtape, and two new songs. There are guest appearances by Trey Songz, Lil Wayne, Bun B and Young Jeezy. Its three singles are "Best I Ever Had", "Successful" and "I'm Goin' In" In April 2010, the EP won Rap Recording of the Year at the 2010 Juno Awards.
"Clearly, the concept of fame and wealth bringing equal amounts of pain and pleasure has been studied previous to 2009. But more and more, rappers in particular are speaking or spitting on the anguish associated with fame. Lupe Fiasco has said his next album - a triple-disc broken up into three separate records - will be his last. KiD CuDi only had mixtapes and guest features on his resume and was ready to throw in the towel. Some call it the Kanye West effect. Obviously, it's a reference to his last album, the somber, woe-is-me 808s & Heartbreak. Feelings on that album aside, it is interesting to see how emcees have adapted to a world where you get the fame first and then release an album. Few know that feeling better than our host for the So Far Gone, Drake.
The seemingly straight-to-the-top rapper/singer has actually been around before your girlfriend was blasting "Best I Ever Had". Prior to dropping the very solid So Far Gone mixtape earlier this year, the former Degrassi actor (affectionately known as "Wheelchair Jimmy") released a couple of projects many traditionalists believe show just how talented he can be. Those were Room for Improvement and Comeback Season, more hip-hop-centric efforts when compared to Drake's latest work. And yes, they were noteworthy, full of reasons to wish he would stop singing so damn much. But they obviously weren't full of hits like So Far Gone, a mixtape packed with enough gunpowder to make even the most average rapper blow up. Drake isn't average, though, and that could be what has led to his feelings of overwhelming popularity. It seemed like just this past January when I was reading Twitter comments about how this "new" cat was co-signed by the likes of Lil' Wayne, Kanye West, and Jay-Z, ll of whom Drake has worked with in one capacity or another.
Now, many months later, we have the condensed EP version of his acclaimed third mixtape. Musically, there is really only one weak link on here: the annoying-as-hell "I'm Goin' In". It might feature some solid bars from Weezy and Drizzy, but damn, that hook is like nails-on-a-chalkboard times infinity. While the true new cut, "Fear", is definitely worth hearing, you can find that on legitimate blogs as a free download. With a snazzy beat from relentless hitmaker DJ Khalil, "Fear" is very much in line with what makes Drake appealing: his honesty. Perhaps it's the fact that his singing voice is so, for lack of a better term, genteel. Or maybe it's just his lyrics, which sometimes ride a fine line towards being corny and superficial. But, for some reason, you are able to feel a sense of pain and desperation in the hook from "Successful", another huge single. Trey Songz assists Drake in expressing that they want "the money, the cars and the clothes, the hoes." Sounds typical right? Well, it is. Then you hear, "I just want to be, I just want to be... successful," sung in a way that oddly leaves you cheering for Trey, Drake, and Lil' Wayne.
The rest of the EP is essentially more of the same. "Uptown" is easily the strongest track on here in a traditional hip-hop sense. Bun B and Weezy assist in making the already-stellar cut even better, as they all rap their asses off over a beat straight from Texas. "Best I Ever Had" has been played to death at this point, but if it's new to you, then congratulations. Have fun listening to it until every bar is stuck in your brain and you wonder why the hell you have played it so much. "Houstatlantavegas" is Drake showing off how he could have murdered every track on 808s & Heartbreak. Over a sparse, albeit engaging, beat from Noah "40" Shebib, Drizzy expounds on an exotic dancer who is stuck at her gig in a city of bright lights. He endearingly waxes poetic on her daily life. And just like him, she's more than just fame-hungry. Although she embraces the lifestyle, she is torn. It's a bit strange to hear him put himself in the shoes of a stripper, but, again, it's all in the execution. That also goes for "The Calm", which is backed by another mild beat from Shebib. Drake spits more soul-bearing bars in his almost-awkward, somehow-fitting flow about how the fame continues to hound him. His sentiments are perhaps best summed up by the lines: "They love it when you smile / unaware that it's a strain / It's a curse you gotta live with when you born to entertain."
There are two obvious catalysts behind this once-free project hitting shelves now. The first is for monetary reasons. And who can blame Drake for wanting to get some more of that "magazine paper", based off his never-ending hype and buzz? "Best I Ever Had" remains a gigantic single, even after it has bounced around the web and radio for many moons. Based off just that track, this EP is going to easily move units, though it's likely most fans at least purchased it via iTunes or other digital retailers. Or they grabbed it for free when So Far Gone dropped in February. But when you consider the kind of following Drake possesses, you know people will rush out to buy this.
If you are somehow not aware of his buzz, I can give you a prime example. Drake traveled to my alma mater, the University of Rhode Island, this past spring to perform at a reasonably-sized hall/auditorium. I didn't know what to expect for the night. I rarely listen to the radio so I was unaware of just how often DJs were spinning "Best I Ever Had". I figured a skilled newcomer with a trio of mixtapes and a successful (no pun) single would draw a moderate crowd. I could not have been more wrong.
Before arriving, he had a security team sweep the entire building while I, the other performers, and their entourages waited outside. And when he did show up, his security kicked most of us out of the performance space so he could do his sound check in peace. That easily lasted 30 to 40 minutes. The show was slated to begin at 9 p.m. By that time, no one with a ticket had made it through the front doors, which were guarded by more security. You would think this level of "prima donna-ness" would have upset his fans. I think the only people it pissed off were my friend and me. We left after filming a local emcee's set, which was reduced to six minutes. Drake's loyal followers, many of whom were shivering because their warm-weather clothes were no longer applicable, flooded the auditorium and drooled in anticipation for his set.
Luckily for me and anyone else not in attendance, a relatively local blog filmed part of his performance. You would have thought Jay-Z or someone at his level was onstage. Everyone in the building appeared to know each and every lyric. "Best I Ever Had" turned into an epic sing-along. Females swooned. Dudes were likely jealous, but you couldn't tell from their equally giddy behavior. Drake, from what I heard, killed it. And his hype, which some have likened to a conspiracy, continued to grow.
That is exactly why this retail release of So Far Gone is somewhat laughable. It is essentially useless. One of Drake's best lines in "Best I Ever Had" mentions his buzz being so big that he could get away with selling a blank disc. And, in a way, that's exactly what he has done here. Hell, he should have just sold a CD-R, Sparklehorse & Danger Mouse style, with a link in the liner notes to download the mixtape. Not only could it be done cheaper and perhaps further propel his hype via a clever publicity stunt, but more of his fans would know about the superior version of this product. Instead, you get a greedy sampling of just why Drake is undeniably talented. It's his skill that makes it impossible to dismiss this completely." - PopMatters
"On the one hand, it's heartening that something like this can still happen: Relative unknown creates mixtape with a few friends and uploads it to the Internet, and then, within a few months, he's maybe/possibly dating Rihanna and fielding seven-figure offers from broke major labels. Except in this case, the relative unknown in question was a star on the Canadian teeny-drama "Degrassi: The Next Generation", and the friends in question are Lil Wayne and Trey Songz and Chris Paul. Even weirder, the main overarching theme of Drake'sSo Far Gone seems to be the stresses and travails of fame, even if he recorded the damn thing when he wasn't famous in any meaningful way. And now the tape has made him good and famous for real. I don't know how this kind of thing happens; I just watch it.
Drake's calling card has become "Best I Ever Had", a likable, breezy summery pop song that's managed to ascend to Hot 97 omnipresence without any sort of label backing, a very serious achievement. It's a Nerf-heavy declaration of lust with a nice sentiment behind it, Drake telling the song's second-person subject that she's prettiest with no makeup, that she's the fucking best lay he ever had. It also contains the one and only slick punchline Drake offers on the whole hour-plus mixtape: "When my album drops, bitches'll buy it for the picture/ And niggas'llbuy it, too, and claim they got it for they sister."
See, Drake's not a great rapper. His delivery manages to convey confidence at pretty much all times, but it's still halting and awkward. Half the time, his lines barely even make sense: "I never get attracted to fans/ Cuz an eager beaver could be the collapse of a dam"-- huh? And even if the tape is mostly crammed with emo soul-baring, he still comes up with lines like this: "My delivery just got me buzzing like the pizza man." Ugh. In his four appearances on the tape, Lil Wayne just annihilates Drake. This wouldn't be news, except we're talking about circa-2009 syrup-fried Wayne here, and it's rarer and rarer that he gets the better of anyone on a song. And yet So Far Gone still scans as one of the most compulsively listenable mixtapes of a great year for mixtapes. Blame Kanye. Drake isn't just a post-Kanye artist; he's a post-808s and Heartbreak artist, possibly the first. On that album, Kanye drifted lazily from rapping to singing over a bed of rippling lush-but-sparse electro that still gets better every time I hear it. Drake does much the same thing on So Far Gone. He's a singer/rapper in the Missy Elliott mode, and he even pays Missy tribute by swiping the beat from her "Friendly Skies" for "Bria's Interlude". When he swings from rapping to buttery teen-idol singing, it feels organic and effortless, like he's just doing whatever makes the most sense at any given moment.
Musically, Drake favors a very specific sort of sugary but spacious electro-soul; nearly every track makes heavy use of organ sustain and sparse heartbeat drums. He uses tracks from Swede-pop types like Lykke Li and Peter Bjorn and John, the sort of thing that seems forced and gimmicky when most rappers do it. In Drake's hands, though, those songs make sense in close proximity to, say, Jay-Z's "Ignorant Shit" or Kanye's "Say You Will". And it helps that he actually interacts with his source material. With "Little Bit", Drake doesn't simply rap overLykke Li's original. Instead, he structures it like a duet, he and Lykke slowly circling each other and admitting their crushed-out feelings. It's cute. My favorite track on the tape is the DJ Screw tribute "November 18th", wherein Drake pulls off something that I've never heard any actual Houstonians manage (sorry, Big Moe): He turns Screw's slow, woozy sound intoloverman R&B. The lyrical conceit is goofy as hell ("Tonight I'll just fuck you like we're in Houston"-- slow, get it?), but Drake's angelic falsetto floats beautifully over the smeared-streetlights track, and it just sounds right.
And then there's all that price-of-fame stuff. Again, blame Kanye, because somehow this comes out sounding slippery and interesting rather than petulant and unbearable. See, Drake's figured out that the way to brag backhandedly-- to brag without bragging-- is to complain about all the awesome shit that you get to endure. So here he is on "The Calm": "Look what I became, tryna make a name/ All my first dates are interrupted by my fame." Other rappers talk big about getting mobbed every time I hit the mall; Drake complains about those masses making his candlelit dinners a little bit more awkward. Or: "My mother embarrassed to pull my Phantom out, so I park about five houses down." You learn he has a Phantom, and you also learn that it's the source of some family strife that doesn't even make sense. Crafty. And now that Drake is really, truly famous, he should really have some shit to complain about." - PitchFork
Spin (p.33) - Ranked #9 in Spin's "40 Best Albums Of 2009" -- "[With] a mesmerizing sing-rap style that suggests 808S & HEARTBREAK has become THE BLUEPRINT for a new hip-hop generation."
Entertainment Weekly (p.129) - "For those unfamiliar with Drake's ambidextrous style -- crooning Auto-Tune love songs one moment, spitting clever bars the next -- it's a handy primer." -- Grade: B
XXL (Magazine) (p.102) - "The emotionally driven 'Say What's Real' adds depth, as the rookie exhibits uneasiness with his newfound fame..."
No doubt about it, Drake blew up big time in 2009. The one-time TV actor (from DEGRASSI HIGH: THE NEXT GENERATION) hooked up with Lil Wayne a couple years previously, worked the mixtape and collabo circuit for a spell and then suddenly hit with the song "Best I Ever Had." The song was taken from the SO FAR GONE mixtape and became the top summer jam of 2009. After a ferocious bidding war, Drake ended up signing with Universal Motown (while keeping his affiliation with Weezy's Young Money and Cash Money intact) and was officially introduced via the SO FAR GONE EP. The release included seven tracks from the mixtape and gave undeniable proof that the hype and noise surrounding the rapper were all justified. The productions (courtesy of members of Drake's Toronto-based crew) are nuanced and powerful, the hooks are huge and Drake has lyrical skills and vocal flow that make him one of the best young spitters on the scene. When an artist is as talked about and hyped as Drake was in 2009, it's easy to write them off as an industry creation or some kind of fluke. SO FAR GONE shows that Drake is for real and works as a tantalizing teaser for his first full-length record.
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