Drake and Future's New Mixtape is the High-Water Mark of "Sound Bite Rap"
'What A Time To Be Alive' is an anthology of lines and imagery that will dominate Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine ad nauseam.
Yesterday was a busy night for internet users. But as the "telling porkies" chat died away, the conversation became unavoidably dominated by Drake and Future premiering their collaborative mixtape, What A Time To Be Alive, on Beats 1. Rapturous tweet reviews are already plumping for diamond emojis over fire ones in a reference to the gleaming, frosty artwork sported on the cover.
In truth, there's a shortage of instant classics on the mixtape - only "Big Rings" deserves an immediate rewind, another classic in the Drake MY-CREW-ARE-ARRIVING-NOW pantheon. Props too, to the lonely grandstanding of "Change Locations" which perfectly encapsulates that hollow feeling that envelops you when you're drunk and sad and you wanna ditch the club and get an Uber home but your perpetual FOMO traps you, and you roll onto the next location regardless. When Drake's basically crying and then goes "2 in the morning my mind is on you, 4 in the morning it still hasn't moved." That's a ~moment~.
There's merit scattered through the remaining tracks too, but you'd think that 2015's rap overlords would be able to egg each other into dangerous and exciting new places once they finally linked up in the studio. Instead, and probably thanks to the extensive Metro Boomin production credits, it often just sounds like Drake's just been tossed a feature on a new Future song. The only respite is "30 for 30 Freestyle" which finds Drake at his Drake-est, probably thanks to the familiar and comfortable embrace of Noah '40' Shebib on beat making. (He really indulges too, there's one line that goes "I just came back from dinner where I ate some well-seared scallops that were to die for".) Essentially, WATTBA is cubic zirconia when we were promised real diamonds.
Of course it's unlikely that much of that will matter. Over the next few weeks, WATTBA will be memed, tweeted and reposted to the point where the actual quality of the music is irrelevant. Be honest, Future slurs his way through the majority of his output and yet he's become the breakout superstar rapper of 2015; this year Drake has also ascended to a virtually untouchable position, even when besieged by accusations that would ruin the career of a lesser artist. It's all thanks to their understanding of how their audience receives and responds to modern rhyming and has led to the creation of a form you might dub soundbite rap.
WATTBA is built upon lines - not verses, not bars, but lines - starting with the title, which I can confidently predict will be the most used Instagram'd caption of 2015. Drake and Future know that for their tape to be successful, for them to remain relevant in the constant nebulous and fickle internet conversation, they just need one line out of 11 tracks to be latched upon by the youth and imbibed with an intent and meaning it never really had in the first place. Here's the secret behind their megasuccess: these two realise that their songs don't necessarily need to possess a coherent narrative or even make sense. Their audience has a contemporary approach to language that means their lyrics are going to be broken down and disseminated as they see fit; paired with incongruous images, strange vines, and subtweets. Through mediums like Twitter, new denotations of phrases are born; see "Hotline Bling" which has spawned a thousand tweets, videos and Instagram posts. Many of these are done in semi-ironic fashion but that's inconsequential; people are engaging with the material, sharing and spreading it. Meme is the dream.
Peers like Kendrick Lamar or J Cole opt to shape concepts that can reach across whole songs or albums. The meaning behind their work is not malleable in the same way - it's very hard to make a meme that can apply to a myriad of situations from a song like "King Kunta", or turn "Fire Squad" into lulz. This idea also goes beyond merely fielding one liners - otherwise Big Sean would be riding high. Drake and Future's songs always adhere to a certain structure; a repetitive, lulling trap-esque beat that they ride over with staccato, easy-to-absorb flow - these are nursery rhymes gone hip-hop. No wonder Drake is so impressed by grime; they prize much of the same qualities in their songs. Take the aforementioned "Change Locations", the instant attention-grabber that drops mid-tape. Its appeal? An instantly meme-orable line. "Me and my friends got money to spend" croons Drake again and again and again, Future on backup earworm duties by intoning a recurrent pre-hook that begins with the tasteful image of "60 naked bitches, no exaggeration". You can already envisage the Fat Jewish memes.
It's noticeable that in the short time since the mixtape has been out, there has been almost no reviews, nearly all of the response has been in memes. The idea that Future and Drake are further bodying Meek Mill is particularly popular, even though there are only a few references to the feud dotted throughout the tape including: "Fuck all the opps and the shots that they send, I let off first then I let off again, You may not hear from them ever again."
What A Time To Be Alive offers nothing revolutionary. Yet it's guaranteed to dominate popular culture for months to come thanks to Drake and Future's innate perception of how we interact with rap and language in 2015 - short attentions spans equal a need for soundbites we can instantly absorb and repeat ad nauseam across social media, building a vast and flexible understanding of a singular phrase that means something to everyone. Why create cohesive, complete projects when you've got an audience who are just going to repurpose your work for their own means anyway? Focus on producing open source, accessible heavyweights that are sure to be latched upon. It's a winning strategy, and Drake should make good on his promise to take Quentin to Follies - he's certainly earned it.
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