Reflecting on the impact of Drake's 2015 mixtape, "If You're Reading This It's Too Late" on the fifth anniversary of its surprise release.
If you’re feeling old, just know you’re not alone. When So Far Gone marked its 10-year anniversary in 2019, it was a reminder of simpler times when mixtapes were readily available without a subscription. Lil Wayne was at the top of the rap game. Kanye had yet to marry into the Kardashian family. Things changed -- including the rap game -- when Drake's first tape dropped. He was a breath of fresh air when every rapper at the time was improperly using auto-tune and “ringtone rap” was beginning to phase out. He rapped, he sang; a former Canadian child actor that shied away from the rugged look to embrace an emotional vulnerability conveyed in a palatable fashion to the world.
The year is 2015 and Drake was two years removed from what some may argue was his best album, Nothing Was The Same, a turning of tides in the rapper’s career. But it was If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late that marked Drake’s transition from boy to a man, Lil Wayne’s protegee to OVO Boss, the birth of the 6 God. Even as the “surprise release” tactic became a typical industry practice following Beyonce’s self-titled 2013 album, Drake was among the few able to execute it successfully -- despite Demar Derozan lowkey dropping the ball on the album’s release months earlier. And since there were no set expectations, Drake was able to tread into whatever turf he wanted without the pressure of his fans.
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Sure, it was an exciting moment for the rest of the world but everything about If You’re Not Reading This It’s Too Late centered around Toronto. The dry, cold production that became known as the quintessential regional sound exceeded the standard it was built on. With 40 and Boi-1da leading the parade, they perfectly blended trap and R&B into a bone-chilling soundscape. The reflection of homegrown talent Drake called on for assistance on the project enhanced the sonic thesis: PartyNextDoor, Daxz, Frank Dukes, Sevn Thomas, Most High, and more only solidified the Canadian city as a hub for quality talent.
Drake created a project that finally brought the world into Toronto and not the other way around. “Know Yourself” opens up with a man speaking Patois, paying homage to the Jamaican dialect that’s informed the regional lingo of the 6ix. As Boi-1da’s production rings off, “Know Yourself” qualifies as Toronto’s unofficial anthem of sorts. Even if you’ve never been to Toronto, the idea of running through the 6ix with your woes became more enticing with each listen.
For better or for worse, this unapologetic version of Drake's Toronto put a different light on his name and the city. As the gun-related crimes began to escalate, songs like “No Tellin’” made Drake an immediate target in the eyes of local media and authorities. “Police comin’ ‘round lookin’ for some help on a case they gotta solve/ We never help ‘em,” he raps on “No Tellin," lyrics that would go on to haunt his hometown existence. Following the infamous 2015 shooting at Muzik Nightclub during the OVO Fest afterparty, Drake was placed under a microscope. But Drake didn’t fold, even as officials and media pressed him to speak up on the matter. Instead, he issued a PR-friendly statement hoping for peace in the city while mildly elaborating on his dilemma to talk on the situation. To this day, the media taunts Drake with these very lyrics.
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Even though 2015 became a year where Drake ascended into hip-hop royalty, it was also the year where his aspirations to become the biggest rapper ever became blurred by his radio-friendly inclinations. Already walking the line between pop and hip-hop, Drake embracing the streets, especially of his own hometown, and vice versa, finally gave him a certain level of certification he once was never recognized for. If You’re Reading This had Drake embraced across the board which only aided his cause to exceed predecessors like Hov and Wayne. Unfortunately, this album can’t be celebrated without the mention of the controversy that it sparked. Quentin Miller’s infamous involvement in the album's creation became a blessing and a curse; though he might have produced only a few defining moments, the fact that he was involved in the first place will be a constant reminder for as long as Drake continues to rap.
Although Take Care and Nothing Was The Same are often viewed as some of Drake’s best bodies of work If You’re Reading This deserves a space in that conversation. As elements of trap and R&B infused itself even further into the musical DNA of the album, Drake not only honed into the essence of Toronto but elevated into his position as both a cultural chameleon and behemoth. Even as Drake morphed into this street-centric rapper, taking notes from bubbling artists from Atlanta and Toronto, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is ultimately a celebration of those cold, dry Canadian winters.