On Sunday, one of the most anticipated rap releases of the year dropped -- with just 24 hours’ notice.
Bringing together Drake and Future, two MVPs of contemporary hip-hop, the long-rumored “What a Time to Be Alive” was released exclusively to Apple Music and will hit other music outlets next week.
The 11-track album -- its title is a nod to an episode of “The Simpsons” -- is a mixtape in the truest sense. There’s no concept or central narrative; just two emcees at the top of their game firing off track after track.
Unlike some hip-hop collaborations – the album’s gaudy, diamond-clustered artwork elicited immediate comparisons to that of “Watch the Throne” by Jay Z and Kanye West -- “What a Time to Be Alive” isn’t about the two meeting in the middle, or even competing for space.
Both artists have mastered the art of mood creation, with Future riding numbing electronic beats and robotic melodies and Drake balancing earnest introspection with wordplay.
The album’s opening tracks, “Digital Dash” and “Big Rings,” are grandiose productions that feel ripped from Future’s playbook while album standout “Diamonds Dancing” is a showcase for Drake at his finest.
Their chemistry is undeniable. Drake and Future have amassed a number of collaborations that have moved clubs, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they can pull off a set of tracks and it feel like a cohesive body of work.
Braggadocio is a common theme here, as is women, strippers (“Plastic Bag” is the most heartfelt strip club anthem released this year), money and pharmaceutical company Actavis, the manufacturer of promethazine codeine.
Packed with heady, bass-heavy beats, the mixtape was largely helmed by Metro Boomin – known for work with Future, Young Thug and Travis Scott – along with their collaborators Noah “40" Shebib, Boi-1da, Southside, Allen Ritter, Frank Dukes, Neenyo and Noël.
Although Drake emerged victorious in a beef with Meek Mill that heated up summer, the controversy doesn’t seem far from his mind. “[Expletive] all the opps and the shots that they send,” he raps on “Change Locations.” “I let off first, then I let off again/You will not hear from them ever again.”
He even offered to take his alleged ghostwriter to a strip club to celebrate his riches before nipping him. “You hate your life, just be honest,” he huffs on “Digital Dash.” And album closer “30 for 30" is a masterful freestyle that could silence remaining critics.
It’s not heavy material by a longshot, but “What a Time to Be Alive” offers another opportunity to hear from two emcees who have ruled the year in hip-hop.
Future has owned the latter part of summer with “Dirty Sprite 2,” his third studio album and first to hit No. 1. It followed a productive year that included three mixtapes.
And Drake has been equally busy. In February, he surprise-released “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” on iTunes as a placeholder for his much-teased “Views From the 6.” The mixtape was an instant smash and recently became the first album from 2015 to cross the million sales mark, according to Nielsen Music.
“When you get around Future it’s like a vortex, that guy can outwork anybody right now " Drake said Sunday on his OVO Sound radio show on Beats 1 while previewing the album (it was released to iTunes and Apple Music afterward). “It’s tough to see someone do four, five songs in one night and not try to match it.”
And to think, two years ago these two were at odds.
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