I can imagine Drake and I having a productive conversation over a couple of beers.
I’ve run through the sequence a few times. Try as I might, the conversation takes a little while to evolve past the interview format. I nervously default to the same tactics of a first date, perhaps rambling a bit about the bar I’ve chosen or the beer we’re drinking to establish an appearance of eclecticism. Drake shrugs off the beer factoid. Not his thing. Duh. Stupid me.
In every run through, Drake starts off slumped in his chair across the table. Looking a bit tired or bored. Barely managing to patronize me with responses. He pulls out his phone often, trailing off mid-sentence to field a text. After he shoves his phone back in his pocket, he stares into the distance for a moment and then eventually remembers I’m across the table.
But we chug along. In a few rehearsals, I’ve been able to successfully tease him out. I’d plunge deep into questions about the industry, identifying areas beneath the first few well-worn layers that finally hook the guy. When I do, he smiles — he smiles! — and he leans back and says “Funny you should ask that…” and then we’ve reached a comfortable cadence. My attention can finally relax, no longer frantically jumping around, prepping the next question ahead of him finishing his answer — is that a good question? That’s kind of a dumb question. What else have you got? Shit he’s done talking. Take a sip. Take a sip!
Drake and I leave together, he with his private driver and I with my Uber (I naturally opted for the black car this time). And despite how awkward our fistbump-handshake-hug goodbye is, we both leave feeling it was time well spent.
I can’t even begin to entertain the idea that Future and I could progress a conversation beyond the weather. I’d be clutching at every three-syllable response, digging deeper and deeper into Atlanta’s weather patterns and seasonal trends. Before five minutes pass, Future will begin wondering if I setup our meeting (at an amateurishly early hour in a strip club I’d found on Yelp) for the sole purpose of collecting information for the farm I’m constructing just outside the city.
It is clear Future and I have nothing in common. I don’t recall ever paying for bottle service or even meaningfully being a part of one. This alone seems to eliminate about half of our possible conversation topics. My idea of misusing cough syrup is taking another dose just inside the recommended window — and I feel quite precarious for doing so. I consider my $10 Casio a suitable accessory.
So it’s likely no surprise that my first encounter with Future’s music didn’t go so well. Who is this guy? I remember the video. Then up-and-coming (now-???) producers TNGHT present Future with what insiders would call a “dope ass beat.” Future proceeds to say nothing at all on top of it. I recall him reciting lots of holidays, as if reading from a nearby wall-mounted calendar for inspiration. I believe he shook his hands in a manner that would suggest popping two bottles of champagne somewhat unenthusiastically.
I still ask this question all the time — Who is this guy? Forgive me for thinking the man sounds a bit uninspired at times. He opens one of his verses on What A Time To Be Alive by recalling his old pals that were present on a particular night, kind of like a senile grandpa trying to set the scene for a family reunion ten years ago: “Ah yes, I know Big Meech and J-mo — they were there. And I know OG India and Suga — they were there. Oh yeah, oh yeah.”
Labeling Drake and Future's latest effort a collaboration at times feels like a stretch. It is a stark contrast to Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch The Throne. That album was brimming with expensive production. Jay-Z and Kanye tag-teamed the beats, sometimes rapidly swapping verses other times building off of each other’s material. You could tell they thought it was a Big Deal and that you should think so too.
Drake and Future spent a few days in a studio with a kid with a hot hand and just cranked out song after song until they’d exhausted his inventory.
And I can’t stop listening to it.
We don't see two stars collaborating to create something huge. We see them just being huge. The album is impressive if for nothing else than underscoring the cruising altitude both Drake and Future have reached. They don't need much to be wildly entertaining.
While many of us can listen to genres like classic rock and find songs that speak to some period of our lives or some familiar emotional state, albums like What A Time To Be Alive might as well have been recorded by a different species. It is pure fantasy to me. I am so far removed from these lifestyles that listening to these songs likely activates similar imagination centers in my brain as, say, reading The Lord of the Rings.
The album is littered with bland lines. Ghostwriting allegations should crumble before the banality of "After this club, we just change locations." But Drake and (especially) Future's uncanny art is breathing life into the simplest ideas. Creating an ear worm from the most basic ingredients.
Future repeats lines like “Caught the wave I ain’t surfing / Caught the wave I ain’t surfing” as if deliberately installing them in your cortex. There might be multiple layers of meaning. But just as likely, there isn’t any meaning at all.