If you had asked me a few years ago if I had heard of Aubrey Graham, I’d say yes, I had- but only because he was one of the stars of one of my favorite TV shows from adolescence, Degrassi: The Next Generation. Graham played the character of Jimmy Brooks, and as far as I’d known, he was only pursuing an acting career through the teenage Canadian drama.
In 2006, Graham decided to drop his first and last names and go by his middle name, Drake, and pursue a new art- acting. By 2008, Drake was pretty well-known in the rap world after being affiliated with the Young Money label (which was founded by rapper Lil Wayne).
Since Drake was still not officially signed with the label (he since been signed with them), he released a series of underground mixtapes, including So Far Gone, which was also released on iTunes for digital download in 2009. Naturally, I was interested in hearing the “boy from Degrassi” rap, so I downloaded the mixtape not too long after it was released. I was skeptical at first about Drake’s talent- what does a Canadian boy from the suburbs know about rap music?- but ended up being pleasantly surprised, and, in fact, his mixtape is still on heavy repeat in my iTunes.
The mixtape begins with “Lust For Life” a silky-smooth track, with some of the best production on the mixtape. Drake comes in after a quiet instrumental, and his rap is so slow-paced and mellow, that it almost seems as if he’s singing. The track is one of my favorites on the mixtape- from the smooth, R&B sound, to the lyrics (“So what I tend to do is to think of today as the past/It’s funny when you comin’ in first but you hope that you last/You just hope that it last”). Overall, the song is a great opener to the disc and sets the mood for the rest of the mixtape.
One of the things I really do enjoy about Drake and his rapping is that he doesn’t write rhymes about the “typical” things rappers sing about. He begins “Successful” pointing these things out, saying “I want the money, money and the cars, cars/And the clothes, the hoes I suppose/I just wanna be, I just wanna be successful”. The song then transitions to a earnest plea for success in life which most anyone could relate to. Drake’s mentor and label-mate, Lil Wayne, also makes an appearance on the song, as well as singer, Trey Songz, whom is responsible for the singing during the chorus.
“Why do I feel so alone?” Drake says in the opening lines of “Say What’s Real.” The track is mostly highlighted by the sampled beat, taken from fellow rapper, Kanye West’s track, “Say You Will.” The song is another that features Drake pondering his recent fame and the juxtaposition to the life he lived prior. His rhymes are slick and clever (“And promoters try to get me out to they club /They say I’d have fun but I can’t imagine how /’Cause I just seen my ex-girl /Standing with my next girl /Standing with the girl that I’m f-ing’ right now “), and the song is, without a doubt, a high point on the disc.
One of Drake’s tightest raps on the compilation lies in “November 18th”, a sexy sounding track which samples late rapper, DJ Screw. From the opening lines (“I’m so high, even when I’m coming down…”), you know that Drake is ready to prove that he can rap just as well, if not better, than his contenders, but the track becomes particularly interesting during the second verse when he begins to sing. The best part is that Drake can actually sing, unlike most rappers that try to sing on their albums (I mean, I love you, Eminem, but you really can’t sing, sorry.)
Drake’s singing ability is one of the things that really sets him apart from his competition. He sings in a quite a few tracks on the collection, including “Brand New”, a sultry ballad which would sound perfect on an Usher album. Again, it helps that Drake actually has a nice voice, and I can see fans of R&B really enjoying this mixtape for the ballads.
I also greatly appreciate the fact that Drake’s collaborations and samples on the mixtape aren’t the stereotypical ones you’d expect from a rapper on the Young Money label. Of course, his label-mate, Lloyd, is present on “A Night Off”, a pretty standard R&B track, but that’s not what I’m referring to. I was more impressed by the fact that “Let’s Call It Off” samples the chorus from indie music darlings, Peter Bjorn & John’s similarly titled track. Drake raps during the verses, and then uses the sample of their song during the choruses, and the whole thing works very well, and is another stellar track.
Likewise, “Little Bit” features Swedish-singer Lykke Li‘s song of the same name. The combination of Li’s child-like vocals (which remind me more and more of Bjork) and Drake’s rapping is a winner. “Unstoppable” borrows from electronica singer, Santigold’s song, also of the same name, and is another treat. Seeing the music which Drake samples from explains a lot about his tastes in music, and also gives some insight into how his own music is so diverse.
There are a few dull spots, unfortunately. The first of which is “Houstatlantavegas.” The song itself isn’t bad- Drake sings more, and I always enjoying listening to his voice. But my main complaint is that the song (which is mostly just about sexy women and how Drake wants to hook up with them) is so stereotypical and derivative, and it’s a particular shame to see it placed amongst so many other strong points on the disc. The mixtape’s lead single, “Best I Ever Had” is another low point. Sure, I will admit that the chorus is extremely catchy (the simple refrain, “You the f-ing best, you the f-ing best…you the best I ever had” will easily get stuck in your head), but the song is typical rap/R&B fare, and doesn’t see Drake exploring anything new or even interesting. Besides, if I was the girl he wrote this song about, I’m not sure if I’d really be too pleased to hear him publicly proclaim that I’m the “f-ing best (he’s) ever had”. Whatever happened to flowery prose and romance?
Drake turns things classy again with the final track, “Outro”, a completely instrumental piece of soft piano music, which calls to mind some of the piano intros and interludes on Alicia Keys’ albums. The track is incredibly beautiful and relaxing, and not the least bit pretentious, as the idea of a rap album ending with a instrumental track seems like it would be. Again, the piece shows how diverse Drake’s influences are and really gives me hope for his future as an artist.
I really enjoyed Drake’s mixtape, So Far Gone. I’d like to call myself a “casual rap fan”- meaning I’ll buy the occasional rap album, and will greatly enjoy it, but I wouldn’t call myself a “fan” of most rap music. Drake’s brand of indie/rap is perfect for someone like me- the rapping is real enough when you’re in the mood for it, there’s also the smooth R&B tracks for when you want to listen to something a bit mellower, and the insightful rhymes and collaboration choices will keep you entertained.
1. Lust For Life
3. Successful (feat. Trey Songz & Lil Wayne)
4. Let’s Call It Off (feat. Peter Bjorn & John)
5. November 18th
6. Ignant S— (feat. Lil Wayne)
7. A Night Off (feat. Lloyd)
8. Say What’s Real
9. Little Bit (feat. Lykke Li)
10. Best I Ever Had
13. Sooner Than Later
14. Bria’s Interlude (feat. Omarion)
15. The Calm
17. Brand New