Review: ‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes’

Drake’s throwaway tracks embody the project name they accommodate, where their appeal is obvious but the results are forgettable.

Leaks destroy album releases. From the late 90s all the way to their peak in the 2010s, artists are often left scampering to make expeditious decisions. Drake was subject to numerous leaks himself from late 2019 to early 2020. Considering his track record with projects like Care Package, he is an artist that doesn’t like to leave things ‘unofficial’. And thus Dark Lane Demo Tapes arrives, a leak compilation / mixtape to give these songs a home, as well as building up to an album slated for summer 2020.

Dark Lane Demo Tapes is what it is billed as; a collection of passable songs. It builds the signature Drake mood through the moody vocals and nocturnal production, but rarely in striking manners.

Granted, Dark Lane Demo Tapes does feel like a body of work. The songs, despite a majority of them earning average classification, possess a flow that gathers the group (“Time Flies”, “Desires”, “Losses”). It wouldn’t be surprising if these tracks were recorded during Nothing Was the Same sessions, as the production style is there but so is the rapping style (“Got me ready to flip the F out like Fendi”). This was arguably when Drake was at his peak, so it is commendable to see mannerisms plucked from that era.

But Drake cannot be praised for simply doing his job. As much as the era is there it still results in mundane tracks. “Not You Too” is a song that drags on without ever really going anywhere. “From Florida with Love” and “Losses” make use of beats we have heard Drake rap over a million times. The structural verse, break, verse matched with the satisfactory punchlines is predictable.

An exception can be given to “Deep Pockets”, which captures the NWTS fundamentals with a justified stride. The beat is stylistic but refreshing in its machinery aesthetic. The brief hook is an accessory to the solid verses rather than filling in a void for the sake of filling in a void. It is perhaps the most album-worthy song on the project.

Oddly, it is when Drake steps out of lane that create the tape’s memorable moments. His infatuation with UK drill continues with tracks like “Demons” and “War”, proving that although his drill flows are inorganic he can still pull them off. “Fivy, Sosa, viral, movie” has a certain infectious attitude to it that makes the track quotable.

“D4L” reuses a contagious Southside beat to explosive effect. Future and Young Thug seep some of their best chemistry ever on a track, bringing maximum charisma through their back-to-backs and adlibs (“FBG, YSL, what’s hatteninn?” / “Brrrr”). Sure these songs have little to do with Drake’s expertise but they are on the project nonetheless.

The lead-up tracks “Chicago Freestyle” and “When to Say When” do justify their placements, but felt like tracks released for the moment and not ones that will be revisited.

With the amount of music Drake releases, there’s an inevitable outcome to lack. Just like with all his recent output, Dark Lane Demo Tapes tries to introduce new influences while staying in his branded loop. Drake’s dark lane isn’t a creative avenue but more of a comfort zone.

Rating: 6 / 10

Best tracks: “D4L”, “Demons”, “Deep Pockets”