Drake, “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” (Republic)

Credit Drake for being both the most sonically consistent pop star of the past 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 that 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 micro-scene styles, half-cooked ideas from old projects, classicist exercises, formal rhymes, informal rhymes.

“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. “Toosie Slide,” which recently went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, is a quasi-dance song.

The rough-hewed nature of “Dark Lane” reflects a keen understanding of the current condition of internet-speed rap stardom, which is that completed ideas (and songs) are less important than consistent ideas (and “songs”).

Drake is the first global superstar to acknowledge the uncertain cultural vacuum created by the coronavirus pandemic and proactively feed it with a full album, a boldness many of his peers haven’t dared. For these isolationist times, he might be an optimal lyricist — increasingly, his songs ring tragic, his glee at having toppled his competition replaced with the dour understanding that ruling is lonely misery.

Jon Caramanica, New York Times

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