Drake, "If You're Reading This It's Too Late" (Cash Money)
For as long as Drake's been around, almost everything about him — his Mr. Sensitive image, his sweater collection, his cheesy photos with various professional athletes — has been the subject of a never-ending stream of Internet memes.
Still, Drake and his talent are no joke, and the Grammy winner's surprise album, "If You're Reading This It's Too Late," dares critics to say otherwise. Released six years to the day that Drake debuted his super successful "So Far Gone" mixtape, the Toronto native's latest set finds him in a serious space, not asking for respect, but demanding it.
If the mixtape's previously released track, "6 God," wasn't warning enough, Drake is more confrontational these days. "Please don't speak to me like I'm that Drake from four years ago, I'm at a higher place, thinkin' they lions and tigers and bears, I go huntin', put heads on my fireplace," he raps on "Energy."
As usual, he's bragging about his crown (see: opening track "Legend") but brooding over its weight ("No Tellin'''). Compared to previous projects, though, "If You're Reading This" is darker and grittier, with a mix of lyrics and tone, that Drake, his longtime collaborator Noah "40" Shebib and crew have no doubt fashioned to match the brutal cold of Toronto, or "the 6," as they call it. (The name nods to the city's 416 and 647 area codes).
The set is as much about the rapper's hometown as it is about his hometown crew, whose Canadian and Jamaican accents distinguish the music and whose names are strewn throughout standout track "Know Yourself."
On another gem, "You & the 6," Drake credits Toronto and his mother for raising him. But the message is far from saccharine. "I got no friends in this, mama," Drake raps about the business. "I don't pretend with this, mama. I don't joke with this, mama. I pull the knife out my back and cut they throat with it, mama."
On the flip side, the very smooth "Company," featuring Travi$ Scott, and the sexy "Jungle" prove Drake still has a way with R&B.
There's no word yet on when Drake's tentatively titled "Views from the 6" will be released. But like any good mixtape, "If You're Reading This It's Too Late" lays down promising ground work.
Follow Melanie Sims at twitter.com/MelanieJoySims