Drake’s “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” feels stale

Drake performing live
Image from Brennan Schnell, available under CC BY-NC 2.0

 October’s Very Own is back with new music on “Dark Lane Demo Tapes.” The mixtape is meant to be a pregame for his new album that’s been rumored to be released this summer. This year alone he featured on tracks with Lil Yachty and Future, dropping a few singles that were hanging around on streaming platforms like SoundCloud. Leading up to this mixtape’s release he’s even dropped a couple of music videos such as “Toosie Slide” and the double feature “When to Say When/Chicago Freestyle.”

In “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” Drake doesn’t deviate much from what he’s done from the past few years outside of dabbling with UK Drill. We get club bangers like “D4L” with Future and Young Thug, R&B tracks like “Time Flies” to bar-heavy songs like “When to Say When.”  The project kicks off with “Deep Pockets” with an instrumental featuring distorted echos and flutes, evoking nostalgia as Drake boasts about how far he’s come.

On “When to Say When,” Giveon, who’s featured on this track, sounds eerily similar to Sampha, who himself made a cameo in 2013’s Nothing Was The Same. Drake spits bars about paranoia and “Losses” while still having a similar soul-sample. Though slightly more Lo-fi, it’s slightly toned down compared to aforementioned tracks. As the title suggests, Drake talks about losing touch with people and building a legacy. “D4L” with Future and Young Thug is by far the most entertaining as it’s packed with the rapport among the three is infectious. On “Pain 1993” we get a disappointing verse from Playboi Carti. The baby voice he trots out is too faint to fear. The production is similar to tracks seen on “Die Lit” or a Ski Mask album. Drake’s use of the triplet flow was enjoyable but was sadly negated by Carti’s lackluster verse.  

“Toosie Slide” and “From Florida with Love” didn’t feel fleshed out enough which is a given since DLDT was pushed as a mixtape. From the dance instructions to the monotoned crooning and 808’s, “Toosie Slide” felt less like a song and more like a means-tested TikTok project. On “From Florida with Love” he tells an interesting story from early on in his career. His retelling of Kobe coming to Lil Wayne’s tour bus to pick up an iPod is a great time capsule of the late 2000’s. Outside of that anecdote, the track wasn’t much to write him about given how underproduced it was.

We see Drake tinker with UK Drill on “Demon” and “War.” While one may understand his home country has cultural ties with the UK, it’s interesting that since 2017’s More Life he’s embraced their drill scene as it gains more influence globally. However, from these two tracks’ faux-British accent to using rhyme scheme it comes off as “biting” or stealing one’s style.

The discussion of defining inspiration and “biting” is of course controversial. But, given Drake’s history it’s plausible to assume the latter. From Little Brother to Wizkid, Champagne Papi has kept himself relevant through his frequent collaborations with and mimicking of other artists. Many OVO acolytes would object and claim that his name recognition benefits those artists. They’d be right, however in the digital age it’s never been easier to cultivate your own audience. If the world’s biggest pop star notices them in the first place, it shows that the smaller artist was already on their way to success. In Drake’s case it’s not enough to change the formula, he has to insert himself in movements that he frankly was never that invested in. For the last decade or so, it seems like most of Drake’s musical output falls into two camps. He either recreates the same ethereal pop rap that made projects like Take Care and So Far Gone popular, or mimics smaller and/or emerging artists.

Another drawback of this project is some of the facepalming lyrics that come up now and then. It must be said that Drake has a decent pen game — something many of our backpacking brethren don’t acknowledge enough. That being said, as he’ll frequently drop corny punchlines such as the vegan line on “Desires” or the brow-raising Michael Jackson reference on “When to Say When”. Even the “waves/no cap” punchline on “Losses” was eye-roll-inducing.

Dark Lane Demo Tapes is a pretty average release from one of Pop Music’s biggest acts. The project follows too many cliches and many of its high points are negated by its lack of originality.