By MARCIA ZIMMERMAN For The News-Letter
On the waves of recent success from their individual, critically-acclaimed number-one albums, Drake and Future dropped their collaborative mixtape What a Time to Be Alive on Sept. 20. Composed of 11 songs and spanning 40 minutes, What a Time to Be Alive was recorded in Future’s hometown of Atlanta in a whirlwind six days and interestingly feels more like a Future album featuring Drake than an equal collaboration. Future’s producer, Metro Boomin, produced most of the tracks.
The two artists have collaborated on many different songs in the past, but never on more than a single song per album. The fact that the collaboration is trotted as a mixtape rather than an album alleviates some anticipation of an epic artist collaboration.
For Toronto-native Drake, the early success of this mixtape is record-breaking even though he is featured significantly less than Future. Since his album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was released in February, Drake’s latest release marks the first time in 11 years that a rapper has debuted two albums at number one on Billboard ‘s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in a single year. The last rapper to accomplish this feat was Jay-Z in 2004.
Drake effectively ended his feud with Meek Mill on a high note in the diss tracks of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, including “Charged Up” and “Back to Back.” However the rapper still beefs up some verses during his solo track “30 for 30 Freestyle” in What a Time to Be Alive.
“The pen is working if you n****s need some ghost lines / I thought you wanted yours like I want mine / I guess you just making moves on your own time / But just know it’ll be January in no time / And your absence is very concerning / It’s like you went on vacation with no plan of returning,” Drake raps.
Future, on the other hand, released DS2 in July 2015. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart to general acclaim. His previous two albums, Honest and Pluto, were released in 2014 and 2012, respectively. One popular song from DS2, “Where Ya At,” actually features Drake.
Yes, What a Time to Be Alive is perfectly-timed career-wise, and yes, it is impressive that the album was recorded in person over the duration of six days, but these factors are combined in what feels like desperation. Both artists seem watered down in contrast to their usual ferocity. Drake’s hook for “Big Rings” sounds awkwardly written and rapped, while Future’s usually scathing criticisms of his internal struggles are too mild.
The songs are not meticulous — a fact that is simultaneously disappointing, due to the level of curations both rappers usually have as soloists, and appropriate given the nature of today’s spontaneous rap scene. A lack of chemistry is also evident, especially with the addition of Future and Drake’s solo tracks “Jersey” and “30 for 30 Freestyle.”
The fact that they even included solo tracks on a collaborative album shows that both artists have not quite met each other halfway. They stay in their respective lanes and give each other an appreciative nod from across the way. Drake and Future do complement each other although they remain distinct.
While the songs on the mixtape are not as finely-crafted as they should be, What a Time to Be Alive is reflective of its title: the beats are current, from echoing gothic bass to muffled, hypnotizing R&B. The vocal stylings of each rapper are signature of our time.
Essential tracks: “I’m the Plug,” “Diamonds Dancing” and “30 for 30 Freestyle”