MATIAS PRIBOR ’16
“What a Time to Be Alive,” the collaborative mixtape created by the Canadian rapper Drake and Atlanta trap star Future is what its title seems to suggest – an homage to the massive fame and fortune both artists have acquired in the past year. While this shameless ego stroking is relatively typical to the hip hop scene as of recently (think Drake’s “We Made It”) this mixtape serves to contrast Future’s undoubtedly grittier trap roots with Drake’s glamorized, almost Hollywood image. In summary, the album gives the two an opportunity to loudly proclaim their obscene wealth and lavish lifestyles on thumping beats that are designed to get club-goers dancing.
One such proclamation of Drake and Future’s recent, meteoric success is “Big Rings,” a shout-out track in which Drake, all swagger, exhorts to listeners “And I got a really big team/ And they need some really big rings/ They need some really nice things/ Better be comin’ with no strings.” Drake’s OVO crew, which features another successful Atlanta rapper, ILoveMakonnen, is effectively taking a victory lap following Meek Mill’s crushing defeat after his much publicized feud with Drake this summer (see Drake’s “Back to Back.”) Future, however, paints a vastly different picture of wealth compared to Drake’s very much manufactured image of luxury that derives from the artist’s comfortable upbringing. Whereas Drake’s OVO crew is one that boasts a hyper-glamorized reputation, Future asserts, “I’m an official trapper.” Future is an individual accustomed to the hard, dangerous, yet lucrative reputation that characterizes the Atlanta trap scene. Both artists vehemently claim allegiance to their crews for helping them become the artists they are today. Brash and unapologetic “Big Rings” gives Drake and Future the shout-out to their friends and they’re enviable lifestyles.
Other songs on the album stand out as similarly ego-driven elegies to each artist’s respective fame and fortune. Track’s like “Live from the Gutter,” “Scholarships” and “I’m the Plug” provide a characteristic perspective to the album with its simplified production and hypnotic bass often seen in Future’s club bangers. These songs are not what one would normally expect from Drake, an artist who often spares no expense in producing and marketing his songs /brand. This is a positive outcome of Drake’s collaboration with Future. While Drake does not pretend to share the same upbringing as Future, his over the top, ego-inflation meshes well with Future’s equally unabashed proclamations of his trap lifestyle, embodied by fierce allegiance to his crew and strong dislike for lawful authorities. The contrast of Drake and Future’s lifestyle and upbringings gives an interesting look into the current rap game where perceived reputations of “toughness” are increasingly ignored in the pursuit of fame and fortune.
“Diamonds Dancing” and “Jumpman” are the kind of tracks one might more easily recognize on a Drake album, due to their heavy production and clear marketing strategy —the case of “Jumpman,” a homage to the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) Michael Jeffrey Jordan. This leads me to my final point. While the album contains a few good tracks, among my favorites “Live from the Gutter” and “Diamonds Dancing,” there are none that I can describe as certifiable “hits,” a la Drake’s “Hotline Bling” or Future’s “Where Ya At.” In fact, had it not been for the fact that the collaborating artists released “What a Time to Be Alive” completely unannounced it’s unlikely the mixtape would have received the amount of press that it did. Nonetheless, Drake and Future released the album to its unsuspecting fans almost as if to casually say, “Oh yeah, here’s another album. No big deal.” Such is the nature of hip-hop today. While “What a Time to be Alive” is not an all-time classic like the Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter III” or Jay-Z’s “Watch the Throne,” it holds its own as a creative work in an industry that is increasingly defined by over the top “mic-drops” and colorful self-proclamations.
MATIAS PRIBOR ’16