Drake and Future collaborate on fun, captivating “What A Time To Be Alive”

By Charles Giordano

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musicisentropy/Flickr

(musicisentropy/Flickr)

Six days in an Atlanta studio was all it took for Toronto-based rapper Drake and Atlanta’s Future to produce their latest, mixtape, “What A Time To Be Alive.”

The pair’s 11-song collaboration dropped on Sept. 20 via Apple Music and Drake’s OVO Sound Radio. The mixtape managed to sell 398,000 copies within two weeks, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200, becoming each artist’s second mixtape in just 2015 to achieve that.

Numbers aside, the music itself is truly captivating. In his review of the mixtape, Matthew Ramirez of Spin Magazine said “What A Time To Be Alive,” “snapshots a moment in music right now, and in that regard it’s a remarkable accomplishment.”

On that note, much of the criticism that the mixtape has faced has been in reference to its seemingly simple lyrics. I think what’s lost in that conversation is the message Drake and Future were aiming to send to the hip-hop world by dropping “What A Time To Be Alive” at all. On “I’m The Plug,” Drake’s verse includes the line “everything I do on purpose, I’m blowing up like it’s urgent.”

The mixtape – like any other piece of art – requires careful analysis. Although Drake is arguably the largest figure in music at the moment, “What A Time To Be Alive” is a collaboration in which Future’s part is vital. Executive producer Metro Boomin has been Future’s producer for some time now, and as a result the tape has a trap feel, something many were not prepared for given Drake’s well-known partnership with Noah “40” Shebib, and his more accessible beats.

However, this shift in sound showcases the talent and versatility Drake brings to hip-hop each time he steps into the booth. The pair manages to, in a mere 11 songs, address their haters, speak of their own daily struggles and confess the inherent hypocrisies that come with being a rapper. This is all while laying out the high-quality sound we’ve come to expect from the pair.

“Diamonds Dancing” is the highlight of  “What A Time To Be Alive,” showing Drake and Future describing feelings of both ultimate invincibility (“I’m at an odd stage in my life where I feel like I can conquer anything and everything,” Future exclaims at one point) in one hand, and ultimate vulnerability in the other.

Future admits that his own front of being in ultimate control is in fact the product of “ballin’ out of control.” Drake, in an admittedly less candid fashion, details the struggles of juggling the act of maintaining a rapper’s lifestyle of partying and recreational drug use with maintenance of an open relationship he has with a woman.

Future is recently removed from a divorce with R&B artist Ciara, who he now has a child with. On “What A Time To Be Alive,” he walks a fine line between pride and self-disgust, speaking of his reliance on codeine, Xanax and marijuana to replace the lack of a strong female presence in his life. On “Scholarships” he says, “I wake up and pray every morning, these demons they callin’ my soul.”

Perhaps due to his trap style, or the muted tone that makes his lyrics all but impossible to decipher, many would not think of Future as much of an artist, though on this mixtape he is as artful as he is tortured. Drake has made it clear through appearances on several of Future’s recent albums – particularly on the song “Where Ya At” off of Future’s recent “DS2” album, that he feels all too comfortable addressing his own issues alongside Future.

The verses on the mixtape belong to Drake. “30 for 30 Freestyle,” which was produced by Shebib, delving into topics far removed from the rest of the album. Drake admits the unimportance of recent rap feuds, particularly his recent, high-profile spat with Meek Mill.

He instead chooses to speak on the state of his beloved Toronto, a city that continues to grow more violent. On the track Drake says “these kids’ll hit your noodle then take a girl to the movies.”

At a time when artists are constantly delaying album releases and mysteriously leaving fans out of the loop when it comes to their production, Drake and Future are producing tracks day in and day out. As Drake says on “I’m The Plug,” “We doin’ 300 records a day.” This mixtape is by no means either of their best work, but it was produced in six days, and before that, was not even anticipated. Drake says himself, “Rookie season, I would’ve never thought this was coming.”

In earnest, I don’t think anyone really did. What a time to be alive indeed.

Charles Giordano can be reached at [email protected]