"Jungle" tour co-stars Drake and Future find a way to make their differences gel on the relatively brief "What A Time To Be Alive."
In terms of rappers from different area codes that join forces for a mixtape, Drake and Future are one of the strangest pairs we've seen in a minute. Chance The Rapper and Lil B may hail from disparate locales, but their based enthusiasm considerably closed the gap between them on Free Based Freestyles; similarly unrepentant lotharios Chris Brown and Tyga could pass for brothers on their Fan Of A Fan series; Wiz Khalifa and Ty Dolla $ign may have different respective sounds, but on their recent Talk About It In The Morning EP, it became clear that their two main subjects of choice (weed and women) were identical. Even by their own collaborative standards, Drizzy and Future are an odd couple-- they're not nearly as regionally and stylistically linked as Future and Gucci Mane were on Free Bricks, nor as familial as recent tourmates Drake and Lil Wayne. When What A Time To Be Alive began coalescing earlier last week, the question begged asking: what will be the connecting thread here?
On one hand you have a Canadian former child actor who delivers precision-oriented barbs over icy soundscapes, on the other you have an Actavis astronaut who, to paraphrase the man himself, "you can't understand [if] you're too soft." It's inaccurate to classify Drake and Future as good guy/bad guy-- the former's too conniving and the latter's too pathos-heavy-- but any attempt by one (especially Drake) to mimic the other would almost assuredly come off as disingenuous. What they do have in common is concurrent, iron-fisted grips on the hip hop world, and that's exactly what What A Time To Be Alive focuses on, as its celebratory, opportunistic title might suggest.
For the most part, the tape revels in the fact that these two somewhat unlikely stars are at the top of their games, but this topic splits time with the obstacles they've had to overcome and the challenges still facing them to this day. While Future and Drake are able to vibe seamlessly on the champagne-glass-clinking side of things (including nods to Serena Williams by both of them on the first two tracks), it's places like Drake's mid-verse rundown of Atlanta's Zone 6 on "Digital Dash" where things feel a little forced. "Kirkwood, they know it's a body," he raps, sounding more like Noisey's Thomas Morton than a local authority on the area's crime rate. Elsewhere, Drizzy fails to match the emotional heft of Future's rock bottom stories, and his complaints start to seem like #firstworldproblems. Minutes after Future recounts seeing "hell everywhere" when he was on welfare on "Live From The Gutter," Drake is rolling his eyes at a woman who's "tripping off yay" and dishing dirt on all of his contemporaries. The rap game is by no means a "who really came from nothing?" competition, but the contrast here is a little too drastic to brush under the rug.
When the duo do manage to find common ground, though, they're just as unstoppable together as they have been individually in 2015. The mid-tape run of "Diamonds Dancing," "Scholarships" and "Plastic Bag" is one of the finest stretches we've heard all year, and unsurprisingly, it's due to both dudes finding that sweet, sweet overlap in their artistic Venn diagrams. If there was an overarching theme between Drake's If You're Reading This It's Too Late and every Future project since Monster, it's been this: fame isn't everything it's cracked up to be, but I'll be goddamned if I'm not making the most of it. This path is one strewn with drugs and women, rivals and naysayers, luxury on luxury, and perhaps most importantly, slight pangs of regret and boredom.
"I'm at a stage in my life where I feel like I can conquer anything and everything," Future says to open up "Diamonds Dancing," but it's delivered over minor-keyed synths, foreboding bass and down-in-a-hole electric guitar. He's got a "bad little jawn" who's perfect, but both he and Drake are dealing with girls who either want to call the paparazzi on them or complain about how little time the rappers spend with them. It all comes to a head on the hook, where "diamonds on me dancing" sounds less like the figure of speech it was on previous tracks by Gucci Mane and Riff Raff, and more like the disoriented observation of an inebriated clubgoer. On paper, a song called "Diamonds Dancing" by two of the most popular rappers in the game should sound like a post-championship locker room. In reality it sounds like drowning in a sea of codeine, to borrow a phrase from one of its stylistic predecessors.
Future's somewhat aligned himself with psychedelia for his entire career (you don't call yourself Hendrix unless you're at least a bit trippy), but that influence on his music has only recently become dominant. If he "just tried acid for the first time" on DS2's "Percocet & Stripper Joint," he's really feeling it on WATTBA, and must've slipped some to Metro Boomin as well. The tape's executive producer is credited on all but four tracks, and almost without exception, he's on his trippiest tip yet, letting tons of ambient noise bleed into the mix and taking radio-ready trap music almost as far off the Lex-Luger-circa-2010 beaten path as we've ever heard it. The aforementioned claustrophobia of "Diamonds Dancing" and unconventional 6/4 bounce of "Plastic Bag" (actually produced by Neenyo) are the clearest outliers, but weirdness creeps into almost every track. If it only consisted of the piano loop and beat, "Live From The Gutter" would fit on IYRTITL, but there's weird tones popping up everywhere, from the sustained note that opens the track to those clamorous horns that sound like semi trucks whirring past you on the highway. Boomin just turned 22, and after four years of prominent beatmaking, he's looking like the least formulaic mainstream trap producer around.
With Drake's OVO production stable getting considerably less looks on WATTBA (One track apiece for Boi-1da and 40), this thing was almost inevitably going to sound more akin to Future's recent work than his, but the degree to which that's true is almost absurd. Not only could most of this fit on any Future tape, but Drake's time on the mic is dwarfed by Future's. Let's put it this way: you couldn't make a "Drake only" version of this tape, as some genius did with Future. The project's stronger because of that, with the out-of-character moments few and far between (almost always courtesy of Drizzy), but this isn't the best of both artists' worlds. Not by a long shot.
99 percent of the time, a collab mixtape with Drake would seem like a favor to the other rapper involved, as he's one of the most recognizable dudes in the game, worldwide. Here though, it's almost impossible to shake the feeling that he's riding on Future's coattails, as he's done in the past with so many artists. Drake's become famous for putting his stamp on buzzing tracks by smaller artists via guest verses (which often mimic the original's flows), and WATTBA feels like an album-length continuation of that trend. Future hasn't just had one big track in 2015-- his whole presence, catalog, streak has been huge, vaunted to no end by tastemakers and fans alike-- and just like "Versace," "Tuesday," "My Way," you name it, Drake wanted a piece of that buzz. He's made a name for himself as internet-age rap's most cunning trend-spotter, but he's starting to wear out his welcome when he spends nine tracks riding passenger in a whip filled with drugs, guns and zeitgeist that aren't his. Future didn't need this. Drake, desperate to maintain relevance in the interminable gap between IYRTITL and Views From The 6, did.