When news surfaced of a full-length collaboration between Future - the Atlanta rapper who dropped one of 2015's best hip-hop albums in 'Dirty Sprite 2' - and Drake, the genre's biggest selling star of the year so far by a considerable stretch, the reaction was probably more one of raised eyebrows than racing pulses.
Sure, the pair have recorded together before (Drake held down the sole guest spot on 'DS2'). But while the android-like Future is a charismatic, engaging emcee who utilises Auto-Tune to flip his Southern street rap into a drug-fuelled, neon-lit sci-fi hallucination, Drake, on the other hand, is the ex-Degrassi teen actor from Toronto who has long been tagged by the hip-hop cognoscenti as a credibility-craving Canadian peddling a uniquely one-dimensional, insipid brand of rap about feelings and stuff. Hip-hop's Daniel O'Donnell, if you like.
And so it's this considerable gulf in style and, it must said, quality between the two which leaves 'What A Time To Be Alive', Drake and Future's first full-length pair-up, disjointed and unfocused. With the latter dominating proceedings, and Atlanta-based producer (and frequent Future collaborator) Metro Boomin handling roughly half the production, the whole set comes off like a collection of Future songs - with some Drake verses clumsily tacked on as an afterthought.
The ATLien excels on 'Live From The Gutter', a rags-to-riches tale detailing how he came "Straight up out the gutter, never had shit / Now we got 90210 on our address". Future's verse sketches out a brutally vivid backdrop of welfare receipt, mounting bills and crack house busts, against which he sips from the lean cup before even tasting beer, confessing how "this money made me hungry, I'm a savage". Drake, having grown up in remarkably different circumstances, follows up with a superfluous self-aggrandising rap which adds nothing to proceedings.
That, in essence, is the main underlying problem with 'What A Time To Be Alive': Drake's straightforward jock-douche rhymes, with a bit of emo-rap thrown in, constantly jar with the woozy codeine haze and skewed ambiguity of Future's haunted world. Only on the daft-but-enjoyable 'Plastic Bag', an amusing late-night salute to a hard-working stripper, do the pair come close to functioning as a cohesive unit.
To be fair to Drake - the foremost critical punch-bag among certain rap fans - he's proved himself in the past to be a proficient-enough emcee with a handful of occasionally great lines. This year's 'If You're Reading This It's Too Late' is his toughest, most interesting work to date, and the recent spat with Meek Mill in July saw him successfully (for the most part) head off accusations that he doesn't write his own raps, his brand remaining largely untarnished.
But when flanked by a considerably superior talent, as is the case here, his deficiencies become pretty glaring. As one listen to an unofficial re-edited Future-only, Drake-less version of the album, which surfaced online days after the official release, will likely confirm.
Words: Hugh Leask
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