The 2010s was the decade of Drake. Boasting the most successful commercial run of the last decade and inspiring a generation that infused rap with pop and R&B, the Canadian artist has left an indelible mark on the music industry.
However, before Aubrey Drake Graham became the decorated musician we know today, he was releasing mixtapes and acting in the award-winning television show “DeGrassi.” In choosing to drop acting, Drake embarked on a journey of chart-topping success which started with his 2009 mixtape “So Far Gone,” which explores themes of cheating, success and broader life struggles.
Rap and R&B collaborations were gaining chart momentum in the early 2000s. Though the genres were largely segmented, albums like 50 Cent’s “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” transcended boundaries by allowing solo artists to partake in both.
Rather than taking cues from 50 Cent’s braggadocious style, though, Drake charted his own course on “So Far Gone.” The record combined his trademark crooning style with confident delivery and laid-back flow. Its sound is certainly innovative, from the use of atmospheric beats to the heavy organ sustain and sentimental melodic ideas — though it’s clear that Drake had yet to come into his own the way he would in later records.
The breakout track “Best I Ever Had”, a song celebrating the presence of a specific girl in Drake’s life, climbed all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard charts. It’s safe to say that its commercial success was well-warranted: the change in flows and the aforementioned genre play assist in creating a dynamic record that has stood the test of time.
“Sooner Than Later” is another solid record that sees Drake’s crooning flow paired well with distorted clapping and bassy instrumentation. “Ignant Shit” contains some of Drizzy’s best wordplay on the project. I also enjoy Drake’s confident and assuring delivery throughout the mixtape, which has always set him apart from his peers.
Despite the ambition of the project, Drake’s execution remains disappointing. First, his lyrical capability was still limited at this point, with many verses coming across as tacky and unoriginal. While I believe that Drizzy was trying to explore some deeper themes here, the lyrics don’t allow this exploration to proceed beyond surface level.
Moreover, while the moody beats are something that the Toronto-based artist carried on into his future projects, the production doesn’t sound as lush in “So Far Gone” as it does in his future records.
The mixtape samples other songs quite a bit, but the awkward rhythms and flows fail to bring life to these records. For example, in the tune “November 18th,” Drake’s high-pitched crooning doesn’t mesh well with the slowed down sample of the record “Da Streets Ain’t Right” by Kriss Kross. “Little Bit” featuring Lykke Li, with its sparse instrumentation and low-pitched vocals, feels like a barren song.
Listening to this record in 2023 feels like entering an incubation lab containing the past decade of trends of the music industry. The alternative R&B sounds introduced here, paired with the combination of singing and rapping, appear in the sounds of other huge artists like The Weeknd, Juice WRLD and Lil Uzi Vert.
While “So Far Gone” may have ushered in a new genre of hybrid rap, it’s far from the best in the genre. It certainly was an ambitious project that tried to test new concepts, but the execution leaves much to be desired — especially considering the music Drake would go on to make.