Superstar rappers Future and Drake released their mixtape “What a Time to be Alive” on Tuesday Sept. 20. The mixtape resulted from a six-day collaboration between the two artists, and the fans received the album with enthusiasm. Though Drake has been featured on every album by Future, the two make a somewhat questionable pair for a joint mixtape.
Drake became famous through his role in the Canadian teen drama TV series “Degrassi,” and now is considered one of the most influential rappers of all time. Drake holds the record for most number one hits on Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop chart, and his distinctive style is reimagining hip-hop through emotional, “soft” lyrics that he both raps and sings. Drake reveals his vulnerability through his lyrics about feelings and relationship issues.
Future has recently become recognized as one of the biggest names in rap music. After producing his album “Pluto” in 2012, Future had a handful of singles such as “Where Ya At” and features on hits like “Bugatti” that earned spots on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Future uses auto-tune to produce a distinctive, grumbly and emotive sound, and often raps about struggles with drug abuse and street life in Atlanta. Encapsulating the sound and stories behind his music to Rolling Stone in April 2014, he said, “I like my shit to be gritty.”
Though their styles and backgrounds are very different, Drake and Future somehow manage to work together effectively on “What a Time to be Alive.” In a 2014 article about Future, Puja Patel of Spin Magazine takes note of their commonalities, saying the Atlanta rapper appeals to a diverse audience through sharing Drake’s “sensitive seduction,” while introducing, “the trend-conscious street-rap of hype men like Gucci Mane.”
Because Drake and Future are seen as two major figures in today’s world of rap, “What a Time to be Alive” combines their fame in a manner directly analogous to Kanye West and Jay-Z’s 2011 monumental collaborative album, “Watch the Throne,” but the two albums and their production process could not be more different.
“What a Time to be Alive” is fresh, fun, impromptu and somewhat unpolished due to its six-day timeframe. The album highlights the fact that both Drake and Future are in the prime of their careers, having just released solo albums that were met with immense success (Drake’s “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” and Future’s “DS2”).
Perhaps due to the mixtape’s spontaneous nature, Drake and Future’s collaboration seems to flatten their individual talents. This became especially clear to me when I realized that my favorite songs on the mixtape were the last two — “Jersey” by Future and “30 for 30 Freestyle” by Drake, the only two tracks that the rappers did not directly collaborate with one another.
“What a Time to be Alive” is much more of a Future album with features by Drake. Drake feels like an outsider in many of the songs, holding back his true sound and somewhat limiting Future’s own expression and style. However, there are still many moments throughout the mixtape where their collaborative sound is enjoyable and compelling.
This mixtape’s potential is demonstrated particularly well in the song “Diamonds Dancing,” in which the ostentatious yet introspective intro by Future flows well into the catchy hook where both artists rap: “diamond, diamond, diamond, diamonds on me dancing.” Drake wraps up the song with a verse in his recognizably smooth and sensitive style, and his words about a frustrating relationship gradually fade out (“You’re making me nervous/I haven’t even heard from you…”).
Additionally, the most identifiable song from the mixtape, “Jumpman,” elicits an automatic tapping of the foot and head bobbing due to its slowly stirring beat and the artists’ ability to maintain their individualities. Drake’s faster and frenetic but fun verses are complimented by Future’s more relaxed ones. The song ends well with three lines by Drake, followed by a finalizing line by Future. While these collaborative accomplishments are worth celebrating, many songs on the album left me unsatisfied, and I often failed to hear the two rappers genuinely complimenting each other.
Though Drake seems somewhat absent and altered throughout most of the mixtape, he ends the mixtape with his song “30 for 30 Freestyle” in his distinctive style. In this last song, I could hear and enjoy Drake’s classic confessions for the first time in this tape.
Then, I began to question why Future and Drake decided to end the joint mixtape with solo songs. Perhaps ending the mixtape with a solid Future song followed by an equally polished Drake song renews the fans’ faith in the rappers’ distinct talents. This finish emphasizes the fact that the mixtape was produced spontaneously in the wake of Future and Drake’s own, separately successful albums.
While “What a Time to Be Alive” is disjointed given that Future and Drake often limit each other’s potential, it still offers a fresh and exciting sound. That being said, if you are not a fan of rap music or either artist, I would not recommend listening to this mixtape. The lyrics, though at certain times complex and socially relevant, often revolve around strippers, making money and partying.
However, for those who enjoy rap music and works of the two artists, “What a Time to be Alive” is definitely worth a listen as the extemporized product of two of the most influential rappers of today.