Drake is the king of loosies. It’s the reason ‘5 AM in Toronto’ and ‘How Bout Now’ are as highly revered as ‘Tuscan Leather’ and ‘Jungle’. It’s also the reason why a compilation album of said loosies can land at the top of the charts with minimal promotion. Drake’s loosies and leaks provide an untethered view of his artistry in the moment and while it’s proven exploratory over the years, this time it proves watered down and rote on Dark Lane Demo Tapes.
Drake’s made a career off reminiscing: every broken heart, every trip to cheesecake, every flight to Atlanta, every plate of calamari, every conversation with his mom is documented in his songs. Couple those bars with slow moving, melancholic ambience and you have most of Dark Lane Demo Tapes, specifically ‘Deep Pockets’. The sampled Stetsasonic voices help guide Drake down memory lane while he bounces from designer clothes and old phone scams. The trip is filled with scatterbrained pit stops without a destination. When all you have is memories to rely on, the details that should be filling out these songs become murky.
And when lyrics become murky, flows become janky. Scatterbrained bars typically used as an escape for MC’s paint Drake into corners on DLDT. It’s a big flex when Drake asks, “wrote this with a Cartier pen, do I sound different?” on ‘Landed’ but it sounds jumbled in a chorus with brief bars. In projects past, frequent Drake-collaborators 40 or Boi1da’s production would mask these flubs but DLDT is packed with producers toting only a handful of Drake collabs. Tracks like ‘Toosie Slide’, ‘Time Flies’ and ‘From Florida with Love’ feature ethereal synths and trap high hats (Drake staples) but lack the dynamism of tracks like ‘No Tellin’’ or ‘9’. This lack of cohesion leaves DLDT with a drab, simplistic production and where Drake would typically sound laidback, he now sounds borderline bored.
Between the underwritten screeds and two-dimensional production rest a few gems though. Focusing on depth versus breadth is where Drake comes to life. Whether it be the play-by-play mistakes of ‘Chicago Freestyle‘ with Giveon’s Samphian hook or the lamentations of ‘Not You Too‘ aided by Chris Brown, Drake’s sadness bleeds through his lyrics. If you let Drake tell it, there’s never been a girl that didn’t break his heart. He’s been down these paths before on every album prior and yet his ability to breakdown heartbreak is still unparalleled.
When Drake finally steps outside of his established realm, he finds limited success. Brooklyn drill is a creeping undercurrent of hip-hop today but Drake’s smoothness doesn’t translate to the genre. Drake’s “TD Bank is on what? TD Bank is on Kylie” but hit slickness doesn’t cut it in a genre where authority dictates songs. His steely delivery on the hook of ‘Demons’ barely makes up for him constantly playing catch up to drill’s tempo.
Dark Lane Demo Tapes is a collection of retread sounds and subjects. Everything Drake’s done here (save two drill songs) he’s done with better production, better cohesion, better songwriting, better singing or better delivery on projects past. While there are a couple songs that might make a sad boi or workout playlist this summer, there’s little on Dark Lane Demo Tapes that will survive past his next release this year.