Drake’s latest Number One single “Toosie Slide” is either the most radical viral hit ever created, or the most jaded. Despite being an all-ages instructional dance number, it carries none of the slaphappy elation of songs like “Cha-Cha Slide” or “Baby Shark.” Instead, it channels the spirit of that girl who wiped away tears as she performed Mariah Carey’s “Obsessed” TikTok challenge, or that kid who wept as his mom filmed him doing Fortnite dances as punishment. “Toosie Slide” is disarmingly wistful and totally bereft of joy, as if to say that viral dances can only offer hollow, fleeting pleasure. The song encourages reflection, not release.
In this sense, “Toosie Slide” provides a kind of emotional template for much of Drake’s new mixtape Dark Lane Demo Tapes. The project, a grab bag of new songs, leaks, and material previously teased on Instagram Live, is often bittersweet and deeply contemplative, even by Drake’s standards. He appears to be suffering from success. Even as he uses a Cartier pen to write diaristic songs about his new $100 million mansion, how he allocated $33 million to his strip club fund, and how he shuttles from arena to arena in his $185 million “Air Drake” private jet, he remains most preoccupied with his many complicated relationships and how they keep him from living a fulfilled life. Across fourteen songs (his shortest solo release ever), he prods his aching heart, dissects friendships, and conducts romantic postmortems in an effort to understand why he’s “hurting deeply inside.” “Five hundred weeks, I fill the charts with my pain,” he raps on “When To Say When,” which flips the melodramatic soul sample from Jay Z’s “Song Cry.” Drake hasn’t sounded this bummed out since Take Care.
Drake’s intentions behind his controversial relationships with regional trends and rising stars remains an open question on Dark Lane. Is he showing respect or wave riding? Is he lending his huge platform to Playboi Carti, Fivio Foreign, and Sosa Geek or using them as his blood boys? Regardless, trendier beats and collaborations yield the mixtape’s most energetic and playful moments. He actually sounds like he’s having fun on “D4L,” where he attempts to keep pace with Future and Young Thug as they continue to develop the unhinged chemistry they flashed on last year’s “Sup Mate.” Over the bright, Pi’erre Bourne-produced atmospherics of “Pain 1993,” Drake adopts a Carti-inspired lilt; Carti finally hits the saturation point of his signature squeaky baby voice, but given Drake’s relentless brooding across Dark Lane, his vocal shenanigans constitute a refreshing palette cleanser, the indulgent digression the mixtape needed.
On the last two tracks of Dark Lane, Drake incorporates the production, cadences, and slang of Brooklyn drill and U.K. drill. He lays it on thick, even using a British accent (“WOI OI”), but he never leaves sight of who he is — a man who is intensely concerned with the politics of text messages and bro-daps. On “War,” he shines a light on his tumultuous relationship with The Weeknd. On “Demons,” an approximation of Fivio Foreign’s breakout “Big Drip,” he raps, “Loved her way back when/ Drunk so I type ‘Je t’aime’ but don’t hit send.” On songs like these, where Drake openly appropriates regional styles, his search for meaning as a global pop superstar comes into greater focus — both his ambition and loneliness.