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What a time to be Metro Boomin’. The Young Thug shoutout-turned-producer-tag, “Metro Boomin want some more” now seems like a prophecy rather than a simple identifier. The Atlanta producer has crafted beats for just about every big name in hip-hop over the past year. It was Travis Scott and Young Thug that helped catapult the 22 year-old to the forefront of Atlanta hip-hop, but now Leland Wayne has ascended to a higher plane of rap stardom: executive producing a surprise collaborative album between Drake and Drake. But executive producer is a role that What A Time To Be Alive makes clear that maybe Wayne isn’t ready to fill. Sound-wise, the album is more akin to Dirty Sprite 2 than anything else. And this is perhaps WATTBA’s biggest fault: for a project that combines Drake’s legendary OVO camp with some of Atlanta’s finest (both rappers and producers), it’s no greater than the sum of its parts. With a few exceptions, the project might as well have been called Dirty Sprite 2: The Drake Remixes.
Tracks like “Jersey,” which is basically a DS2 reject and “Digital Dash,” where there’s no sign of Drake until two minutes into the song make it clear Future has the home court advantage; not that he uses it to do anything more than he’s been doing since Monster. You’d think that the two rappers at the top of the game would come together to push each other outside of their respective comfort zones. Instead, both Drake and Future settle into their respective modes, each writing verses that mostly consist of filler punctuated by lines begging to be made into memes.
But it doesn’t even matter. The album itself is drenched in a sense of self-righteousness that makes critical discussion irrelevant to its success. When Drake and Future present a collab album and essentially title it, “you’re welcome,” the Internet can’t help but scream back, “thank you.” The title, the album art, the promotion leading up to it, and the multitude of songs that value Instagram caption-ready lyrics over songwriting all send the message that Drake and Future teamed up to make this one for the the Twitter timelines. It doesn’t help that Future mumbles his way through more than a few verses and Drake’s braggadocio is getting increasingly abrasive, bordering on arrogant bully territory: “You hate your life just be honest,” shoots Drake at the end of “Digital Dash.” This isn’t the Drake we signed up for, but I guess that’s what happens when his most talked-about song of 2015 is a diss track. Drake can’t help but flex through WATTBA in full “Back to Back” mode. The only difference is that now he no longer has anything to prove, and it shows. Drake stunts in the most banal ways yet. He delivers a verse on “I’m The Plug” fast and brief as if he couldn’t get it over soon enough enough. The chorus of “Big Rings” is laughably vague and the song is only saved by Future coming through with a verse full of specific crimes he’s willing to commit.
But at least Drake hasn’t left behind his unique blend of confession, honesty, and confidence behind altogether. “30 for 30 Freestyle” is really Drake in his best form. He can flex all he wants about PND driving off in a white Porsche or eating seared scallops so long as he backs it up with lyrics about going through paternity tests and legal troubles. Speaking of which wasn’t Future suing Drake this time two years ago? It’s funny because the name of the tour that caused that fight was called “Would You Like a Tour?” Drake has been this weird form of cocky and self-entitled for a while and it’s only now that he’s still throwing shade at Meek Mill on tracks and calling this album “What A Time To Be Alive” that we’re starting to notice.
Future is excused for the most part because he’s not rapping about anything on WATTBA that he hasn’t already beaten to death on Monster, 56 Nights, Beast Mode, and DS2. Sure, there’s a few slightly innovative uses of the word purple and other lean references, plus he’s staying sad and self-medicating with lines like “I pour the actavis, pop pills so I can fight the demons,” which I guess is a little bit more interesting than hearing about his exploits in Magic City.
This tape also has the least amount of vocal variation for any Future project, the glaring exception is his beautiful falsetto on “Diamonds Dancing,” a standout track on the album. It’s everything WATTBA should have been: trading off verses, both Drake and Future on the hook, a booming beat that has a melody instead of just high-timbre chirps, a brooding Drake outro, and a catchy chorus. If every song on WATTBA had been as well-written as “Diamonds Dancing,” this album would be at Watch The Throne levels of synergistic collaboration.
But throughout the album, Future just sounds bored. He couldn’t possibly sound more in control when he says “I’m balling out of control” on “Scholarships.” It’s hard to tell what “Scholarships” is even about, other than general feelings of success. Don’t we deserve more from the upper echelons of rap than a project full of lines to retweet and 808 kick drums to jump around to? Why be satisfied with stock photo album art? WATTBA is by no means a bad album, and it may be overly cynical to say the surprise-release nature of its premier is a way to keep expectations low, or that maybe this is just a quick, easy way to get Drake out of his contract with Cash Money, but when the week-long hype train ends with this, we’re not obligated mash the caps lock key and tweet flame emojis.