Drake: 'Dark Lane Demo Tapes' Review
In many ways, Drake’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes resembles an actual demo tape, offering glimpses of his several styles. With almost two years having passed since he released Scorpion, this 14 song commercial mixtape, a collection of loosies, leaked tracks and completed snippets, is a clever way to hold over fans anxiously awaiting his 6th studio album. Featuring a solid mix of vintage Drake and trending sounds, this project has something for everybody to enjoy. However, while the tape contains a few electrifying high points, much of it is uninspiring and largely forgettable.
Dark Lane starts strong with “Deep Pockets,” a relaxing yet emotional introduction. While this song doesn't stack up with Drake’s more fiery intros, like “Tuscan Leather” or “Free Smoke,” it feels perfect for long drives and summer concerts, especially with its captivating refrain (“Then we rollin!”). Following on “When to Say When,” Drizzy displays sharp lyricism, going off for almost three minutes straight, no hook, over a luscious instrumental with the same soul sample as Jay Z’s “Song Cry.” This nostalgia inducing track sounds like it could have been included on Drake’s 2013 album Nothing Was the Same.
Just two tracks in, Dark Lane’s quality takes a nose dive with “Chicago Freestyle.” Here, Drake cleverly interpolates Eminem’s “Superman” for an interesting pre-hook, however his flow on the track’s verses feels sleepy and uninspiring. The next song, “Not You Too,” is poorly mixed, muffling Chris Brown’s vocals and severely underutilizing his talent. “Tootsie Slide” sounds slightly better remastered for this project, however is still unexciting and for me, evokes nightmarish flashbacks of scrolling Tik-Tok during quarantine. On “Desires,” Drake and Future, usually a sure-fire collaboration, fail to connect while Drake drops several cringe-worthy lines (“How you going vegan but still beefing with me?” and “I should have put you somewhere where no one could find you”).
Thankfully, Dark Lane begins to shape up on “Time Flies,” where Drake describes pulling up to an ex’s house to make amends (“I’m outside in an AMG”), similar to his 2015 heater “Madonna.” While “Time Flies” isn't quite as impactful and also contains amateurish lyrics (“I just caught shawty off a finsta”), Drake’s passionate singing and producer OZ’s beat breakdown make the back end of this track one of the album’s more dazzling moments.
Beginning with “Landed” and throughout the rest of the album, Drake (for the most part successfully) departs from his career defining sound in favor of more contemporary styles. On “Landed,” he brags about owning everything from high-end jewelry (“Wrote this with the Cartier pen, do I sound different?”) to luxury cars (“Pushin’ five Cadillacs like a politician”) and even a personal plane (“Air Drake”). While most of us are far from being able to afford a private jet, Drake’s zealous delivery and Cardo’s intoxicating production make you feel equally confident while listening to this song.
The undeniable high point of Dark Lane Demo Tapes is “D4L,” one of the best records of this year. From the second I heard the beat drop and that 808 Mafia siren ring, I knew this one was gonna be a hit. More accurately a Future song featuring Young Thug and Drake, the three rap heavyweights seamlessly exchange bars on this track, shouting out each other’s labels (FBG, YSL and OVO respectively) and paying tribute to Atlanta rap group D4L. The chemistry between the three is off the charts here, with Thug’s adlibs perfectly complimenting Future’s verses and Drake stealthily sliding his verse in like a surprise concert appearance.
With “Pain 1993” and “From Florida With Love,” Drake tries his hand at SoundCloud rap with good, but not overwhelmingly positive results. On “Pain 1993,” the project’s most highly anticipated and commercially successful track, he floats over a spacey Pi'erre Bourne beat, making you feel happy and relaxed, while dropping instagrammable lines (“Shawty came from Mexico she know she got the sweet stuff”). However, Playboi Carti fails to build upon the vibe Drake sets up, delivering a baby voiced Young Thug impression that sounds empty without his signature adlibs. On “From Florida With Love,” Drake brings a similar approach to a MexicoDro beat while shouting out his OG’s (“Weezy played that shit for me and Kobe on the bus”). However, this track is plagued by unfinished mixing, with a barely audible flute and constant static noise.
In between “Pain” and “From Florida” comes a gem in “Losses.” On this track, Drake’s introspective lyrics and heartfelt delivery allow you to feel his pain. Witty punchlines,
(“It was always you and I without the T-Y” (U-N-I-T-Y)) and clips of Drake’s father talking on Instagram live make this track increasingly memorable.
To conclude Dark Lane Demo Tapes, Drake taps into the UK/NY drill sound with producers JB Made It and Axel for “Demons” and “War.” On “Demons,” Drake deals an incredibly catchy hook, shouting out his collaborators Fivio Foreign and Sosa Geek. However the faux London roadman accent he uses on his verse sounds incredibly corny and inauthentic. Fivio on the other hand, delivers a respectable performance, while Sosa steals the show with an energetic closing verse. The album concludes on a slightly higher note with “War,” as Drake’s English twang is a bit more convincing here and Axel’s percussion accents make you feel compelled to move.
While Dark Lane Demo Tapes is inconsistent and at many times sounds unfinished or lo-fi, it contains enough solid material to tide over Drake fans who are fervently anticipating his next official album. Featuring a balance of new waves and vintage Drizzy, this tape displays Drake’s ability to both create and effectively follow new trends in hip-hop. Given the eclectic mix of styles featured on this project, I am excited to hear which sonic direction Drake will take on his 6th studio album, a project that may make or break his legacy.