June 10, 2010

For Promotional Use Only: Drake - So Far Gone (February 13, 2009) / So Far Gone EP (September 15, 2009)

It's a feel-good story that all aspiring rappers hope will happen to them.  My own misgivings about his previous two mixtapes, Room For Improvement and Comeback Season, aside, Aubrey Graham, who performs as "Drake" whenever he isn't making sporadic appearances at Degrassi: The Next Generation panels, hit a metaphorical home run with So Far Gone, one of the most acclaimed mixtapes of the past few years. 

And yes, I realize that a lot of you two won't give a fuck about this write-up, and are probably wondering why I'm even bothering, but it's a timing issue: in less than one week, Drake's major label debut (well, actually, his first actual album ever), Thank Me Later, will hit store shelves, so it's worth exploring his most well-known work in order to determine if he's still capable of entertaining the masses, which is all the major labels care about anyway.

So Far Gone was recorded and uploaded by Drake and his handlers early in 2009, and it signaled a complete turnaround for a rap artist who was dangerously close to growing incredibly tired: his emo-rap schtick ran its course midway through Comeback Season, and his ability to switch back and forth between rapping and singing only works as long you believe he can actually sing.  Also, his reliance on Trey Songz, currently the Lil' Wayne of R&B, became more of a handicap than the gunshot wound his character suffered on Degrassi. 

But with So Far Gone, Drake achieved the impossible: he reinvented himself as hip hop's next great hope without so much as changing his style.  Instead, he rearranged his surroundings: instead of merely ripping off the beats from other established hits, he also liberally borrowed from pop artists outside of the rap spectrum, such as Peter Bjorn & John.  He also finally found his niche, attacking minimalist instrumentals with the zeal and conciseness of a rookie eager to please, albeit one with far too many goofy metaphors in his knapsack.

So Far Gone has been downloaded officially nine hundred million times, only eight of those coming from Aubrey's immediate family members.  More importantly, a single from the free mixtape, "Best I Ever Had", found its way to radio and blew the fuck up, so much so that certain members of the hip hop community theorized that Drake was actually signed to a major label the entire time, because who the hell could afford to work that song that much without any serious financial backing?  (I fall into the category of "I'd like to believe that Drake did this all organically with word-of-mouth, but I'm one skeptical bastard".) 

Based on the strength of "Best I Ever Had" and the fact that he was already running with Lil' Wayne's crew anyway, Universal Motown, home of Wayne's Young Money label (along with Wayne's actual label home, Cash Money), quickly signed Drake to a seven-figure deal.  A happy ending for a truly deserving artist, or yet another example of how record labels are entirely disconnected from the folks who pay all of their bills? 

Let's find out, eh?

Right off the bat, you'll understand why so many bloggers champion So Far Gone as an actual album and not as the free mixtape it technically is. Noah Shebib's low-key beat lends this track more atmosphere than you would see by staring at the hole in the ozone layer, and Aubrey's lyrics, which aren't as deep as he may believe them to be, fit the proceedings. Not a bad rap album intro, as this is already a massive step up from Room For Improvement and Comeback Season.

Aubrey takes another lo-fi instrumental (this will become a running theme throughout So Far Gone) and croons about an unattainable female who lives in the fictional fantasy city of the song's title. He does manage to spit a few bars, but this is mostly an R&B affair, and a forgettable one at that. The only aspect of the track that I still remember is Drake's callback to the titular city at the beginning of Birdman's “Money To Blow”, and that isn't really saying much.

I've tackled this song briefly during one of those Billboard write-ups, but I'll expand upon it for the home viewing audience. Noah's beat facilitates a reflective mood, as if I were both stoned and lost in my thoughts. Aubrey tackles this song admirably, with the clarity of his voice (and his Canadian accent, which slips in) only adding to the track's overall feelings of depth. On the “album” version of So Far Gone, Trey Songz only provides the hook (which includes the unnecessary “hoes” reference that the radio edit is missing), which is a far cry from his own version of “Successful”, which featured Trey actually contributing a verse (you can hear it by watching the “Successful” video, for those of you two who give a fuck), so the man isn't around long enough for me to complain about his presence. Newer Drake fans will be pleasantly surprised that the song continues on for nearly three minutes after the radio version would fade out, with an interlude from Aubrey's father and a third Drizzy verse thrown in for good measure. However, all of that leads into (sigh) a Lil' Weezy contribution that fucks everything up, so it's best to shut the track off after Drake stops talking.

Aubrey inserts two of his own verses into Peter Bjorn & John's poppy confection “Let's Call It Off”, so this track was one of the more obvious casualties of the sample wars when the So Far Gone EP came around. The original track is so good by itself that Drake courts blasphemy by fucking with it, but to his credit, he sounds much more natural with these soundscapes than Kanye West did when he jacked the same group's “Young Folks” for a mixtape track. This isn't the best example of what Drake is capable of, but it does manage to provide an example of the man's versatility, and besides, do you really think that Thank Me Later will actually contain tracks such as this? It's much better to simply enjoy this for what it is.

Aubrey's ode to screw music (and Houston in general – he has apparently left his heart in H-Town) is a curious one, considering that he's Canadian and all, but the DJ Screw beat, which alternates rapidly between moody theatrics and dirty drums, sets most of the mood properly, as does the vocal sample jacked from The Notorious B.I.G.'s “Warning”. All of Drake's lyrics are dumbed down: I don't know if this was supposed to be a critique of Texas rap music or not, but it still says quite a lot about the sub-genre regardless. Not an entirely bad song to drive to, though.

Unsurprisingly, this song features Aubrey and his BFF spitting over Jay-Z's “Ignorant Shit” beat: also unsurprisingly, this song failed to make it to the So Far Gone EP due to sample clearance issues. I personally love the instrumental, because I love the beat switch that The Isley Brothers throw at the audience during “Between The Sheets”, so I tend to like most attempts over it, as long as the artist doesn't completely fuck up. Drizzy sounds just fine, but when he awkwardly passes the baton to Lil' Wayne, the song loses focus, as the hip hop hobgoblin isn't up to an instrumental of this caliber. Skip to the next track when the special guest begins to spit, and you'll be better off.

The very end of “Ignant Shit” introduces a screwed-up, slowed down version of the “Ignorant Shit” beat that leads directly into this R&B song, making this the first example I can come up with where the same source material was sampled for two tracks in a row. The obvious question would be why Drake, who both raps and sings, feels the need to include another R&B singer (in this case, Lloyd) on a song that already features his own singing persona, but whatever. Although I'm not a fan of Lloyd (which is a terrible moniker for an R&B singer, anyway: can you imagine if, say, Ginuwine actually went by his real name, Elgin? How many albums would that motherfucker sell?), this could have been a lot worse, I suppose. The abuse of Auto-Tune may cause most of you to tune out.

Taking full advantage of the mixtape construct, Aubrey swipes the beat to Kanye West's “Say You Will” for what could be looked at as “Successful Pt. 2” (had that song not already been recorded by the aforementioned Trey Songz), and he does it pretty well. Drake seems to thrive on these slow, moody beats, and “Say You Will” was one of the most enjoyable parts of 808s & Heartbreak. This shit would never see the light of day otherwise, so you should enjoy it now. The use of this particular beat actually makes me want to listen to the original song again, it's that good.

This is what every Drake song would sound like if he was a little-known artist who specialized in the type of indie rock/pop song that gets snatched up by advertisers to pimp out iPads and luxury vehicles. I imagine that most rap fans skipped past “Little Bit” rather quickly when So Far Gone hit the Interweb, but this isn't bad for what it is: a pop excursion within a hip hop environment. Aubrey proves himself to be deft to this type of song, where he simply adds his own special sauce to an already existing track, this one being “Little Bit” by Lykke Li proving that the Peter Bjorn & John thing was no fluke.

Will forever be known as “the song that broke Aubrey into the mainstream”, and it deserves all of the blessings and the curses attached to it. Even though overexposure has caused me to become sick of this shit, “Best I Ever Had” still works well within the context of So Far Gone, and Boi-1da's beat is well-suited to this love rap that isn't truly a love rap. I had also forgotten just how non-radio friendly the real song actually is: anyone who actually pays attention to the lyrics might wonder exactly why women fell for this young whippersnapper who appears to only be interested in sex and selling records. To be fair, most of you two probably hate this song, and you have a pretty valid reason to do so, but without this track, we never would have seen a crass T&A-drenched music video directed by Kanye West, and honestly, who can complain about that? Aside from women, of course.

This is just fucking stupid. The Diplo/J. Hill beat is full of pretentious muted pops, as if this song were recorded in a lobster tank, and Drake and (especially) Weezy turn their respective dials to “annoy”. However, the worst offender is Santogold, suffering the indignity of becoming a guest star on what was originally her own fucking song, “Unstoppable”; she runs the risk of becoming a really fucking overrated M.I.A. clone with her grating hook and mini-verse. Not entirely her fault, I know, but some things are better left alone. Moving on...

Although this Southern-tinged collaboration runs on much longer than it should (its four verses clock in at over six minutes), it isn't bad, and by “it”, I'm referring to the Drake and Bun B verses only. Aubrey outperforms the rap veteran easily, even though his subject matter is only a few degrees removed from gibberish, but the mere presence of Bun B is a pretty good look for the man. Lil' Weezy pulls out the Auto-Tune for his verse, and as a result, the track falls apart once he takes to the mic, with the other two participants running out of the studio, away from the threat of robots taking over the building. Oh well, at least there are three fairly good verses on this motherfucker.


This useless interlude sounds like one of those crappy Ginuwine songs that Timbaland produced for him back when they were cool with each other, which makes sense when you realize that the beat was stolen from Missy Elliott's “Friendly Skies”. (Missy, of course, was from the same camp as Ginuwine and Timbo.) I do have to stress the uselessness of this interlude once again, though.

I'm loving these lo-fi beats on So Far Gone: the overall effect differentiates this mixtape from every other one on the market. All of these tracks that show the softer side of Aubrey sound like alternate takes on “Successful”, though, so if you already hate that song, your opinion won't be swayed much by “The Calm”. I liked this, though.

A piano-laced outro, similar to that on Room For Improvement. It was pleasant enough, and a nice change of pace. Somehow, I highly doubt Drake's record label will allow tracks such as this to appear on Thank Me Later.

This was a pretty poor way to end So Far Gone, as we are now left with the impression of Drake as a run-of-the-mill R&B singer of the week. I definitely prefer his brash, arrogant alter ego. Oh well.

Later uploads (I can't really say “pressings” now, can I?) of So Far Gone included the following bonus track.

On this bonus cut, Aubrey jacks a sample from Coldplay's “Viva La Vidal” to celebrate himself the best way he knows how: through a combination of rhyme and verse. While I really like “Viva La Vida”, it isn't really the best Coldplay song to convert into a hip hop format, so this didn't really work for me, but to be fair, Drake was trying his best to sell the shit out of the track. Makes for a better final song than “Brand New”, at least.

Shortly after Drake was signed to Universal, a proper release of So Far Gone was announced, with new songs promised by the star attraction. What fans actually received was the So Far Gone EP, a truncated version of the mixtape containing only seven songs, two of them new to the project. It appears that the label failed to recognize So Far Gone as the mixtape it actually was, and as such, glossed over the fact that they couldn't legally sell copies of an album that borrowed its music so freely from other artists such as Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Peter Bjorn & John, at least not without paying them a shitload of money. So the So Far Gone EP immediately lost its heart and soul in favor of keeping seven songs the label could market if they had to. Oddly, the suggested retail price of the So Far Gone EP was still just as high as a traditional album: apparently, Universal believes that consumers are really fucking stupid.


Anyone who listens to pop radio will already be sick of this song. I know my wife is, whenever it comes on, she can't resist making fun of Wayne's lame-ass hook. (“I'm goin' in...and I'ma go hard”? And yet, people didn't pull out their bag of homophobic slurs when commenting on this song on other blogs?) There are apparently two versions of this track, one of them ending right after Drake's contribution: that version has no reason to exist, as Young Jeezy's final verse at least brings “I'm Goin' In” up to a proper song length. The Needlz beat is all flash and zero substance, but at least Drake sounds okay over it, even though he's already changed drastically from the guy who recorded So Far Gone. Everyone else sucks, though, thanks for asking, especially Weezy's knack for substituting punchlines into parts where actual depth should be occurring happens far too often (the line “Stompin' on this beat like a motherfucking Sigma” immediately follows his dismissal of “pussy ass n----z”, for instance). Groan.


As the other “new” track off of the So Far Gone EP, it makes sense that “Fear” would sound the most like his output today. I remember Aubrey catching a lot of flack for his line about not crying when 2Pac dies, but what do you expect? Drake is still a kid! He was in his early teens when Pac “passed”. “Fear” doesn't really fit into the So Far Gone paradigm, but it does indicate where he was in his career when it was recorded, so lyrically, it's decent enough. The hook is pretty shitty, though.

SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN? Yeah, probably. So Far Gone is one of the most consistent mixtapes I've heard in a while, and all of the credit goes to Drake and his production team, who all succeed in crafting what is essentially an album-length confession set to music. Some of the beats on So Far Gone are really fucking good, and Drake sets the lyrical bar much higher than on Room For Improvement and Comeback Season, leading one to believe that he would probably be one of the better emo rappers out right now, had he not aligned himself with one of the most overrated rappers in the game (that would be Lil' Wayne, for those of you worried that I hadn't bashed Weezy enough during this write-up). With the obvious effort he's put in, Drake should finally win over those of you who were still on the fence (although you're forgiven if you immediately ditched him after “Forever”, his collaboration with Weezy, Kanye, and Eminem-turned-Sprite commercial, dropped). The rap songs work much better than the R&B efforts, but overall, So Far Gone is actually deserving of the accolades bestowed upon it. Who knew?

BUT...SHOULD YOU BUY OR BURN THE EP? You abso-fucking-lutely should not buy the So Far Gone EP. This quick cash-in by Universal, intended to make back some of the money the spent by signing Aubrey in the first place, is a useless piece of plastic, especially since the original So Far Gone is still so readily available online (and was intended to be free in the first place). I even remember reading an article in which Drake told his fans that he didn't care if they simply downloaded the two new tracks for free instead of buying the EP: he claimed that the EP only existed so that everyone that worked with him on the project could have something tangible as proof of their dedication. So what does that tell you? The original So Far Gone mixtape is, however, surprisingly entertaining, so you should hunt that down instead.


Drake – Room For Improvement
Drake – Comeback Season


  1. AnonymousJune 10, 2010

    Somebody murder Max... He has lost the plot. Just like JFK and Vietnam in 1963

  2. I don't really get why you always dump on Weezy, yet rep for Drake. To my mind/ear they have very similar styles.

  3. Whoolio GJune 10, 2010

    Good review Max! Drake is definitely talented IMO and he gets too much shit just because of his association with the YM/CM camp.

    By the way: can we expect a "Gut Reaction" for Thank Me Later soon? Oh, and one for Recovery while you're at it. lol

  4. Solid review. Great mixtape. I'm looking forward to Thank Me Later (I avoided all the leaks) - Drake is a good artist, and he spits some great lines. "Fear" is the best song on here, followed closely by "The Calm".

  5. AnonymousJune 10, 2010

    Come on man, you hate lil wayne way too much its kinda sad its like as soon as you see his name in the title you decide your not gonna like the song and blame it on him

    Lil wayne is far ahead of Drake in lyrical ability, flow, style and diversity

    neither of them will be in my top ten list but Lil wayne is definitely a better rapper

    SO FAR GONE was aight nothing special imo Drakes monotone flow and weak rhymes get old

  6. AnonymousJune 10, 2010

    I've heard a few tracks off "Thank Me Later." (Which is not surprising at all, I know. The dude is hyped up to be the "next big thing" (which, as we all know, DOESN'T MEAN SHIT, but still)). Anyway, what I've heard of the LP is actually pretty fucking good. Go on YouTube and listen to Fireworks; it's essentially "The Calm, Pt. 2."

  7. AnonymousJune 10, 2010

    Drake? Really? Overrated. Sure, every now and then he hits the nail on the head, but for the most part, he's very bland. J. Cole. Now THERE'S some talent from an aspiring artist. Peep his catalog.

    P.S. Kinda diggin' the new look.

  8. AnonymousJune 11, 2010

    the last good mc's from america j-live and big pun

  9. AnonymousJune 11, 2010

    his new album is going to be a piece of shit

  10. What about a review for J. Cole? He has 2 hot mixxtapes.....way better than Drake.

  11. AnonymousJune 11, 2010

    Stop fucking with Drake and review more Cam and Guilty Simpson and review Wizard of Poerty already!

  12. Muddy_DonutsJune 11, 2010

    Since Drake and Eminem are already millionaires, why don't you review their albums now...

  13. The blog looks mad ill with the new template.

  14. AnonymousJune 12, 2010

    Seriously Max, stop reviewing these crappy albums. I might as well stop reading your reviews and visiting this site if that's gonna continue this path.

    Fuck Drake, I'd rather rape babies than listen to this piece of shit.

  15. AnonymousJune 14, 2010

    J. Cole is amazing. Best new talent in a long minute.