Drake released “Dark Lane Demo Tapes,” a compilation of unreleased songs and a few recent singles, on Friday. The album is an entertaining but ultimately passionless project.
The mixtape marks Drake’s first major release of new music since his 2018 studio album, “Scorpion.” This project also follows “Care Package,” a compilation of rare singles spanning Drake’s career that was released last August.
Over a quarter of the songs on “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” have been out for many months, and a number of others were leaked unofficially through channels like Instagram and Soundcloud.
Because many of these songs have already been heard, “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” feels more like a contrived marketing ploy to entice the quarantined masses rather than an organic burst of creativity.
New or old, Drake’s music still manages to make its mark. Drake is a master of crafting memorable hooks that stick with you after just one listen, and this release is no different.
As usual, he spends half of his time rapping about how well he treats women and the other half talking about how expendable they are.
In the chorus for “Desires,” a jealous Drake wishes he sent his lady away to a mansion where “no one could find” her to keep her from seeing other men. At other times during the album, he is more self-assured.
“Now she wanna call me like she doesn’t know that phone’s off, uh, what? /
I just met her friend and now her clothes off, yeah,” Drake raps in the second verse of “Landed.”
When he isn’t talking about his love life, Drake’s lyrics are topical.
On “When to Say When,” he pokes fun at Michael Jackson’s child abuse allegations only to say that he can “dance like Michael Jackson” three tracks later, making his stance on Jackson unclear.
“Dark Lane Demo Tapes” has no shortage of cheesy lines that would make an audience groan if delivered by a stand-up comedian.
“How you going vegan but still beefin’ with me again?” Drake raps on “Desires.”
Most of the mixtape’s thrills come from the top-notch production by frequent collaborators like Noah “40” Shebib and newcomers like the Swiss producer Oz, among others.
Many of the beats feature mellow and wavy synth arrangements with heavily processed samples that tie together a project riddled with differing lyrical themes.
“Time Flies,” produced by Oz, features a hesitant sounding synth due to a delayed attack and an outro where chopped-up samples of Drake’s lyrics act as an instrument.
Despite its high production value, “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” does adhere to the raw aesthetic of typical mixtapes.
Several songs feature audio lifted straight from cell phone videos, including a clip of Drake’s colorful dad, Dennis Graham, talking to his Instagram followers on “Losses.”
The song “D4L” uses the same beat as the 2018 song “2nd to None” by Dreezy and 2Chainz, which is a common practice in mixtapes.
The influence of Soundcloud rappers on the mixtape is undeniable, featuring production by some of the chief architects of that sound, such as Pi’erre Bourne and MexikoDro. Many rappers would face ridicule for a full-throated embrace of someone else’s sound, but in the past, Drake has successfully transcended accusations of style biting and worse.
As America’s top solo recording artist, Drake co-opting your sound is now a badge of honor.