“Dark Lane Demo Tapes” is a collection of rough drafts about the struggles of success and hints at what his next album might sound like.
Credit Drake for being both the most sonically consistent pop star of the last decade and also a work in progress. From album to album, year to year, he draws from a standard palette of moody R&B and puffed-chest rap, emotionally charged hip-hop and muscular soul. But at the same time, he’s always slathering his approach atop new inputs: dancehall, grime, Houston rap, Afrobeats and beyond. Unlike many of his peers, he’ll put his credibility on the line for a chance to absorb and repurpose new sounds.
Which is why “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” — a largely effective album-length odds-and-ends collection but not, you know, an album — may be more valuable as data than as songs. As music, it’s a mostly sharp document of top-dog anxiety and solipsism. But it’s also perhaps a spoiler for the proper album Drake announced will be released this summer,his first since the blustery “Scorpion” in 2018.
“Dark Lane” shows Drake songs at various developmental points — full-fledged experiments in a range of regional and microscene styles, half-cooked ideas from old projects, classicist exercises, formal rhymes, informal rhymes. Omnivorous and osmotic, he feels his way around new production styles and tries out new flow patterns, attempting to make them jibe with the soft-edged style he excels at.
“War” is a U.K. drill song, ominous and sneering and full of deeply studied slang. “Demons” explores Brooklyn drill, a little jumpier than its overseas cousin. (It features two of that scene’s up and comers, Fivio Foreign and Sosa Geek.) “Toosie Slide,” which recently went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to its baked-in virality, is a quasi-dance song. And “Pain 1993,” a long-promised collaboration with Playboi Carti, is a chance for Drake to ably mimic his collaborator’s chirps.