If the rap game was based on work ethic alone, people would be calling Drake and Future the greatest rappers alive.
The former surprised the world with his mixtape If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late earlier this year and showed the world a darker, more bitter and all-around more interesting rapper. The result? If You’re Reading This is the only album in 2015 to have gone platinum and build all the more anticipation for Drake’s next studio effort, Views From the 6. The latter dropped three pieces of new material this year: two mixtapes (Beast Mode in January and 56 Nights in March) and a studio effort (Dirty Sprite 2 in July). All three releases were met with critical acclaim and Dirty Sprite 2 served as Future’s first number one album on the Billboard charts. The Atlanta wizard of Auto-Tuned love songs and trap beats has been slowly building himself up as one of rap’s new top dogs. 2015 seems to be his ascension to the big kid’s table. With all of their collective success and similar styles, it’s damn near serendipitous that Drake and Future would make a record together.
Officially announced on Saturday and released exclusively on Drake’s OVO Sound Beats 1 radio show on iTunes this Sunday, What A Time To Be Alive is the brief moment of two rappers with mega-sized celebrity feeding off each other’s energy while acting as a victory lap for the both them. It’s much more a Future album than a Drake record, what with it being recorded in Future’s native Atlanta and executive produced by frequent Future collaborator, Metro Boomin (despite credits to Drake producers Noah “40” Shebib and Boi-1da).
“Scholarships,” “Big Rings” and opening track “Digital Dash” are prime Future beats with the sputtering snare drum beats and spacey synths going in and out of the tracks. But Drake and Future’s musical styles do merge on “Diamonds Dancing,” “I’m the Plug” and “Plastic Bag” with it’s light organs and hopping drum beats. It’s pretty run of the mill for Future, but it’s all the more impressive for Drake because he could not have been on a record like this three to five years ago. The Drake of Thank Me Later or Take Care would feel awkward and forced to be meshed with Future’s codeine-filtered rap. This is the If You’re Reading This-era Drake further affirming himself beyond the guy missing his ex-girlfriends.
“Change Locations” is a slow-burning cruising jam as Drake and Future brag about all the Adderall they’re taking and the women they’re screwing (“60 naked bitches, no exaggeration” to be exact). “Big Rings” is Drake’s dumbest “go dumb” song he’s ever done and yet it sounds so big and triumphant. When he’s asking for “really big rings” and “really nice things” it’s actually charming to hear how simple it is. Both he and Future ride the beat like nobody’s business, Future coming out a bit tougher with his trap boss attitude (“I run with kidnappers/I’m talkin’ kid-nappers/You just a battle rapper/I’m an official trapper”). Future’s finest hour here is “Live From the Gutter” as he spreads his arms in victory after a rough 2014 (he split with R&B singer Ciara months after she gave birth to their son) and life in the dirt-poor ghetto. Meanwhile, Drake’s so successful that he doesn’t even care about the girl he stole from his enemies smack-talking them (“And I got her tripping off the yay, yay/Pillow talking dishing out on all y’all/In one ear and out the other”).
What A Time has two closing tracks with Future and Drake getting solo moments. Future’s solo spot (“Jersey”) is an anthem for his crew reminding them of snitches getting stitches and it’s fine. Drake on the other hand (“30 for 30 Freestyle”) shines as he looks in the mirror and realizes how much he’s grown up since So Far Gone. Claiming to have written the song “on a bumpy flight on a summer night/Flying over Chattanooga, out here trying to spread the movement,” Drake reflects on everything from the recent ghostwriter controversy, his endless supply of women and how nothing seems to phase him as much as when he was younger. Over Noah “40” Shebib’s always luscious piano-drum beat, Drake is finally feeling relaxed to be one of the biggest rappers on the planet and takes haters in stride.
What A Time To Be Alive is basically Drake and Future high-fiving each other for surviving the current rap universe, with Drake brushing off claims of being too soft and Future reminding others that just because he’s a romantic doesn’t mean he didn’t have it rough. The mixtape (which I’m still not comfortable calling it a mixtape since it’s $9.99 on iTunes) is a pit-stop for two guys continuing their world conquest and a rare moment where two big dogs share a bone instead of fighting over it. What a time, indeed.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5