No doubt about it, Drake blew up big time in 2009. The one-time TV actor (from Degrassi High: The Next Generation) hooked up with Lil Wayne a couple years previously, worked the mixtape and collabo circuit hard for a spell, and then suddenly hit with the song "Best I Ever Had." The song was taken from the So Far Gone mixtape and became, arguably, the top summer jam of 2009. After a ferocious bidding war, Drake ended up signing with Universal Motown (while keeping his affiliation with Weezy's Young Money and Cash Money intact), and they officially introduced Drake with the So Far Gone EP. The release included seven tracks from the mixtape and gave undeniable proof that the hype and noise surrounding the rapper were all justified. The productions (courtesy of members of Drake's Toronto-based crew) are nuanced and powerful, the hooks are huge, and Drake has lyrical skills and a vocal flow that make him one of the best young spitters on the scene. The twists and turns of his words keep the songs interesting on repeated listens, the equal amounts of inspired raunchiness and heart-felt introspection make for a truly well-rounded presentation, and most impressively, the youngster manages to keep up with his mentor on the three tracks Lil Wayne adds verses to. His rapping style owes some to Wayne's drawling and woozy delivery, but he also has some of Kanye's erudition, Jay-Z's bite, and plenty of contemporary R&B influence. In the end, though, the melding of the various influences means he comes up with something all his own. That the memorable, constantly surprising lyrics and smooth flow are laid on top of the rich productions and sticky hooks means that there are some jams here that will put the competition on their heels. Best I Ever Had is the instant classic, but the other six songs are just as impressive. The melancholy "Houstatlantavegas" and "The Calm" show Drake's sensitive side, "Successful" and "Uptown" are hard-edged pop-rap, "I'm Goin' In" gives a glimpse of Drake's hardcore credentials, and "Fear" wraps up the too-short EP with some nice symphonic soul-rap. When an artist is as talked about and hyped as Drake was in 2009, it's easy to write them off as an industry creation or some kind of fluke. So Far Gone shows that Drake is for real, and works as a tantalizing teaser for his first full-length record.
Tim Sendra, Rovi