Drake’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes Is Exactly What You Expected

Drake is now a walking corporation. Actually, he’s an entire industry. As he enters his career’s second decade, he’s invincible in a way unseen since Michael Jackson (to whom Drake frequently compares himself). He escapes every scandal unscathed: a secret kid with a porn star, accusations of sexual harassment, cultural appropriation, and using ghostwriters; Pusha T’s brutal diss track, and questions regarding contact with teen celebrities don’t harm the artist born Aubrey Graham. Just one of the above kills or greatly diminishes most stars’ relevance; Drake is so culturally omnipresent that he won’t go away anytime soon. Whenever he drops a somewhat mediocre lead single, I say “he’s struggling for relevance now, his reign is almost over.” And? Said single becomes an inescapable hit. The full-length project drops, and everyone walking the earth stops dead in their tracks to stream it. His music is meant to sound emotionally genuine, yet nowadays Drake and his OVO team carefully calculate his every word.

Each new release proves Drake’s relevance a product of his versatility; his alternating between heartbroken melodic R&B, club hits, and the pop rap middle ground widens his appeal. The sheer length of his projects provide something for everyone, but are a burden to sit through. His 2016-18 releases Views, More Life, and Scorpion respectively last 81, 82, and 90 minutes. You’re not supposed to listen to the album, rather formulate playlists of your preferred songs. Still, it partially explains why critics such as myself aren’t exactly raving about his projects (some of which have amazing highlights, interspersed with filler). Hours before its release, Drake announced Dark Lane Demo Tapes, a mixtape of recent demos and previously leaked outtakes. The tape’s shorter tracklist relieved me; finally, only 14 songs! Though despite the mere (for Drake, anyway) 50-minute runtime, it’s still a slog.

In early April, Drizzy dropped “Toosie Slide,” essentially a Drake-processed “Cha Cha Slide” manufactured for TikTok (the track’s dance originated from online personality Toosie). Naturally, many spectators said, “Drake is struggling for relevance, he’s clearly desperate for a TikTok hit.” That first part ended up false. TikTok kids clearly couldn’t help but go right foot up, left foot slide, left foot up, right foot slide; men trying to impress TikTok girls apparently thought that inefficiently walking forward in squares would be impressive, and the formulaic laziness of “Toosie Slide” debuted as the #1 song in America. Still, nobody expected a track of “Toosie Slide”’s nature to be the lead single for an entire mixtape (or as some call it, a “not-an-album”).

Dark Lane Demo Tapes, like every Drake project, has four types of songs: derivative “experiments,” sad late night isolation vibe tracks, introspective rap songs prominently using samples, and generic trap bangers. Mixtape opener “Deep Pockets,” a Scorpion outtake, is of the first category; it sounds highly reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s Endless, yet differs enough from the other Dark Lane tracks to memorably stand out. “When To Say When,” “Landed,” and “Losses” deal with Drake’s insecurities and ever-increasing paranoia; “Chicago Freestyle,” “Desires,” and “Not You Too” fit into the sad vibe category; and “Toosie Slide,” “Time Flies,” “From Florida With Love,” and “Demons” are trap cuts that don’t particularly engage. Following the tape’s release, the Playboi Carti-featuring, P’ierre Bourne-produced “Pain 1993” became its most hyped moment. Carti, who recently reemerged on Twitter, is frustratingly overdue on his upcoming LP Whole Lotta Red, leaving fans hungry for something, anything. The song itself greatly underwhelms; Drake’s hook is catchy, but Carti’s verse is unintelligibly squeakier than ever. Many likened Carti’s voice change to “reverse puberty,” and for all anyone knows, his verse is flexing excessive helium use.

If you’ve heard enough of Drake’s work, Dark Lane Demo Tapes is predictably more of the same. He uses his several formulas ad infinitum, each time to near-equal results. No matter what you think of the actual music, there’s absolutely no denying that Drizzy has fine-tuned wildly successful, easy to replicate formulas unlike any artist in history. Pop reigns like his last long for a reason, and I see no end to Drake’s relevance. And his music is good enough that such circumstances would be easily acceptable.

Sound Quality

As there’s currently no vinyl edition, for this review I referenced the 44.1/24 MQA stream. It’s not audiophile material, but the mixes are clean and the mastering is quite listenable. Just like the music, the sound quality is pleasant enough for a listen but not a reason to regularly return to Dark Lane Demo Tapes.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music lover, record collector, Drainer, and highly opinionated sneaker enthusiast. Listen to his monthly playlist on Spotify and Tidal and follow him on Twitter: @MalachiLui.)

Tom L's picture

OK, I know "everyone walking the earth stops dead in their tracks to stream it" is just Malachi exaggerating for effect, but based on the lack of comments it seems that the denizens of this site have very little interest in Drake. I certainly don't.

Michael Fremer's picture
Malachi was incredulous when I told him I'd never heard Drake. He said he is as big if not bigger today than Michael Jackson was at his peak. So I thought it would be interesting to have this review, but only if it was accompanied by a suggested Drake playlist so those of us who have very little interest (myself included) could hear what a younger generation's fuss was all about. Based on previous experience with what Malachi has recommended, which I've liked (some Kanye and definitely Tyler, The Creator's "Igor"), I figured this was a worthwhile story to post. I admit that I've not yet had time to listen to the curated Drake playlist but I will!
MalachiLui's picture

was either "hotline bling" or "god's plan" but when those were hits, they were EVERYWHERE. absolutely impossible to escape. celebrated and mocked all the time.

as far as the curated playlist, what are you waiting for, it's only 26 minutes long!!! tho i'd honestly just rather sit thru all 80 minutes of "views" to understand exactly why drake is such a prevalent cultural figure.

Anton D's picture

Ask him how old he was before he ever heard a pair of Stax headphones.


Sometimes, things slip by us!

xtcfan80's picture

At least psy's videos had interesting "talent". Drake sounds like the 2020 version of audio wallpaper. There is still plenty of great new music out there, you have to work and seek it out. It won't magically start streaming on your phone or PC.

MalachiLui's picture

much of it is boring filler, yes, but he does have insanely great highlights. "feel no ways" is his best song. psy didn't last long at all in the music ecosystem, so drake must musically be doing SOMETHING right for him to seem to have such longevity.

maelob's picture

Good for you, that's the spirit. I wish more audiophiles would be as adventurous as you are.

garyalex's picture

I don't know much about Drake either. I know that he's a Toronto Raptors fan and that he was good on Saturday Night Live. I like "Started from the Bottom". Malachi's article was a good read.

phumiston's picture

I only know of Drake because of this really interesting video illustrating top selling artists someone shared with me.

He shows up in 2010 Q4 and explodes. The numbers are pretty astounding to me - especially since I'd never heard of him before...


MalachiLui's picture

obviously drake is huge, but the funniest part in that video is how psy (the guy who made "gangnam style") got so big and then sank like a rock 5 seconds later.

MrRom92's picture

Drake’s career follows an interesting pattern I’ve picked up on over the years... I don’t know exactly how he designates between “mixtapes” and “albums” when in the rap world they’re basically the same thing. Whatever the case, he clearly approaches the two with a different mindset and work ethic. Whenever he hypes up an “ALBUM” it’s supposed to be a huge deal, stop the fucking presses, Drake has a new ALBUM. It’s gonna change the game! And invariably every single time, they’re incredibly weak. Sure, they produce a few singles that blow up, but so do his mixtapes.

When he drops a new “mixtape”, it’s more laid back, low effort, he’s not trying so hard. He’s just making good tunes and not getting in his own way. They are always filled top to bottom with good material and aren’t a chore to listen all the way through. It’s almost like he doesn’t care about these projects as much and it ends up working out for the better. He doesn’t hype them up in the media for months on end. They just kinda... happen. And they’re always, always better.

Views, Scorpion.... the overwhelming opinion on these is “meh” with which I’d 100% agree with

If you’re reading this, and What a Time… stone cold classics.

As a collection of demos and stuff pretty much intended for other projects I can’t really say where dark lane stands. Haven’t listened all the way through yet.

On a side note, from one audiophile to another… don’t bother with that MQA junk, it’s the biggest sham in audio today. No MQA is representative of the master it’s made from. There’s a real 24/44.1 out there, Qobuz has it for streaming and download.

Anton D's picture


Side joke: Maybe you just haven't heard MQA properly "unfolded." ;-D

They talk about MQA like it's made by the Spacing Guild in Dune.

I vote with you.

maelob's picture

It is refreshing that a hifi publication at least acknowledge modern popular music. Thanks for the review

Timbo21's picture

I think it's great that MF is getting a young up and coming reviewer, such as Malachi, to post some reviews of contemporary artists. I'm an ex sound & mastering engineer and I like anything from Zeppelin to Tchaikovsky to Deep House and some Rap/R&B.

The trouble I find with many modern albums is they are just too damn long. Records generally kept the artist within 25 minutes per side, for obvious reasons. This resulted in more killer, less filler. It kept them honest. However, with CD/digital you start to see over 20 tracks, and much is just a load of drivel/filler. I don't want more than 12 main tracks, perhaps 14 at most. Many current artists co-write their hits with others. Are these long albums purposefully done to water down the royalties given to others? If you have a co-writing credit on a single song on an album with 12 tracks, will you be getting more than if it has 20 songs? Are artists writing a load of drivel by themselves for this purpose? Many R&B hits are co-written.

logic227's picture

Whoever mastered the album should be fired. The sound quality is trash.

MalachiLui's picture

how so? i thought it sounded fine enough.

logic227's picture

There’s so much distortion and clipping..

Timbo21's picture

Clipping/distortion is par for the course on RnB albums. They are maximised to within a hair of their life. With all the machismo associated of mastering albums to be loud, no mainstream RnB artist will master at a lower level to preserve transients. So, any artist in the Drake category will be doing this. It comes with the territory.

logic227's picture

Unfortunately, it has a lot to do with who is in the studio with the artist because not all songs come out distorted and mastered bad.

Timbo21's picture

Of course it depends on who is in the studio, but for the main RnB artists this is what happens. It's basically a load of appendage waving of who's is the loudest. At least there is some backlash now by some, but not when it comes to these main acts.

MalachiLui's picture

the mixing and mastering doesn't sound that bad, maybe some clipping but perhaps intentional.

Meloman64's picture

Not for Drake but for me. I had tried to understand his music, to dive into it a couple of times but there was always something missing. However I never say no to opening myself, to learning and accepting new things. I really enjoy Chicago Freestyle f. Givean from this album so maybe this will make me fall in love with Drake.