Editorial: ‘So Far Gone’ Turns 5

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Creating a timeless release is something no artist can force. It’s the result of the right collection of musically-inclined minds pooling their knowledge and skills around the right source material. It’s what happens when people are working for weeks, if not months to perfect the absolute best collection of original music possible in such a way that it flows with flawless cohesion and offers those listening an experience unlike anything their ears have ever encountered. It’s something you do not know you have until it is complete, and even then it may take years for others to hear it for themselves.

On February 13, 2009, a relatively unknown Canadian rapper by the name of Drake delivered what would quickly come to be considered a modern classic when his third mixtape, So Far Gone, debuted online. It was the result of months of hard work and frustration in the studio, which he would later tell Complex was influenced by a single late night conversation with a close friend:

“The whole tape extends from one of my closest friends Oliver. One night we were having a discussion about women and the way we were talking about them, it was so brazen and so disrespectful. He texted me right after we got off the phone and he was like, ‘Are we becoming the men that our mothers divorced?’ That’s really where the cover comes from, too. It’s just this kid in pursuit of love and money. We’re good guys, I’m friends with some real good people and for him to even text me after we got off the phone it just showed we have a conscience. But sometimes you just get so far gone, you get wrapped up in this shit. The title has a lot of meanings—as the way we carry ourselves, the way we dress, the way people view us, not to sound cocky, it’s just that feeling that we’re just distanced in a good way. You’re just elevating past the bullshit and past all the shit that you used to be a part of and you’re not that proud of, you’re just so far gone.”

Friends, women, and the horribly honest shit you say when you think nobody is around. These themes laid the foundation for So Far Gone, and as time carried on they eventually became the cornerstones of Drake’s signature sound. He’s the male equivalent of what Usher was looking for when he said he wanted a woman who was ‘a lady on the street, but a freak in the bed.’ You can take him home to mom, but there’s no guarantee he won’t try to sleep with her. It’s all good though, because you know at the end of the day he cares about both of you and that’s what really matters.

The excitement for Drake’s budding career had been steadily rising since the 2007 release of Comeback Season, but no one in hip-hop could have properly prepared for the attention and immediate fandom that would follow So Far Gone’s initial release. It arrived into a world bursting with redundant hip-hop anthems that left genre fans starved for something new to play on repeat. As far as radio history is concerned the top songs of February 2009 were Eminem’s “Crack A Bottle” and Flo Rida’s “Right Round,” but anyone with their pulse on the world of urban music will tell you neither song mattered all that much once So Far Gone was made available for download.

Starting with “Lust For Life,” which samples “Ideas as Opiates” by Tears for Fears, So Far Gone opens to find Drake laying out all his cards for the world to see. In under three minutes you learn of his drive to succeed, his weakness for women, the fears that haunt his dreams, and where he sees himself going in the months to come. Little did he know at the time, the true peaks of his success would be much higher than this twenty-two-year-old could have possibly imagined.

Mixtapes up to this point in time had long been considered a place for artists to offer fans the best of everything that was not right for their official album release. This often included, but was not limited to original songs, snippets of future singles, remixes, freestyles, and skits that were almost always pointless. Drake chose to go a different direction with So Far Gone, and starting with the near-seamless transition from “Lust For Life” to “Houstatlantavegas” the mixtape cohesively rises and falls like an emotional roller coaster set to a soundtrack made with the finer aspects of life in mind. Still, brimming under the high-gloss romance and sex appeal of the material lies a ferocious sense of confidence that’s ready to pounce at a moment’s notice, and it finally makes its way to the surface about halfway through “Successful.”

“Let’s Call It Off” keeps you enthralled with a gimmicky mashup of indie and urban sensibilities, but it’s admittedly a tease in comparison to what lies later on the record. That does not matter however, because by the time “November 18” begins So Far Gone has you under its spell. The trap-inspired sound of the song hooks your already focused mind and plunges you into the streets of Houston on a late night cruise under city lights. You’re seated shotgun beside Drake, watching the candy paint on your ride reflect off closed businesses and holding your hand out the window as if it were a bird riding the waves of air rushing over and under your ever-so-slightly cupped hand. There are no cares to weigh on your mind or stressors to be found, just a laid back beat that refuses to quit and soft-spoken lines about a city that never lets you down.

“Ignant Shit” picks up the energy with one of multiple appearances from Young Money CEO Lil Wayne. It’s partially because of Weezy that Drake was able to gain the international notoriety that followed this mixtape’s release, and his contributions to this track are possibly his best on the record (with his verse on “Uptown” coming in second, followed by “Successful”). The title is fitting, allowing Drake an opportunity to showcase that, in addition to creating truly original music, he can also dumb down his creativity to fit in with the current demands of top 40 radio fans.

That right there is one of the many reasons you now find Drake popping up in every corner of pop culture. Before he was the person who created trends in music he took the time to appreciate the curve others were setting without letting the chance for flash-in-the-pan success distract him from his mission to create a sound entirely his own. He’s not afraid to hop on a radio-friendly track, and that’s exactly what “Ignant Shit” would be if released on an album. It’s just not what he prefers, nor is it typically what his fans want him to deliver.

The middle of So Far Gone, which is populated by “A Night Off,” “Say What’s Real,” and the thumping “Little Bit,” finds a nice groove early on that does not let up. This is the kind of material that never hits radio, but most likely makes the biggest impact on the listener. Drake tries different approaches to the genre while sharing perspectives on life and love from the often too comfortable world of the studio. Escaping the problems of life and the women he’s wronged by hiding in the booth with his words and his pen Drake opens up again and again, further forging a relationship with the listener that goes beyond basic artist/fan connections. You not only know that Drake has problems with love, but you know exactly what those problems are and, in some cases, the causes for them (often other women). Listeners feel close to Drake without knowing him. He’s their friend that shares too much, but you cannot help loving him because when you’re feeling down he’s there with anthems and motivational phrases to help pick you right back up.

“Best I Ever Had” arrives with all the confidence and insta-catchiness required of a future top 40 contender. You’re over halfway through Drake’s latest offering and he uses this track as a tipping point to a run of ego-soaked underground anthems that hit the ear with the infectious qualities akin to the finest moments of “Best.” It begins with “Unstoppable,” which may be the cockiest offering on the album, and is followed with the all-star banger “Uptown.” All three could have topped the charts, but I guess one multi-platinum number one is better than none.

As the excitement transitions to romance, “Sooner Than Later” keeps the energy alive while significantly changing the tone of the album. This is the material that laid the seeds for tracks like “Hold On We’re Going Home,” and even in this early state it has the ability to win over the coldest of hearts. It finds a groove early that builds and sustains throughout “Bria’s Interlude” and into the opening moments “The Calm.” This track, the second to last, serves as the final emotional pivot between romantic and confident. Aubrey builds steam across the verses while touching on life and the pursuit of happiness, then let’s it all out with the subtle-yet-power closer, “Brand New.”

There is no wrong way to experience So Far Gone. One track at a time, shuffle, front to back, back to front, whatever way you choose to enjoy So Far Gone you walk knowing something special has just traversed the unique peaks and valleys of your ear canal. It perfectly captures the emotions that accompany the struggle between who you are and who you want to be in a way that is typically melancholy yet entirely inspirational. The fact Drake has his shit together makes you want to do the same, and the fact he admits his mistakes only makes him all the more relatable to those going through struggles in their own lives.

So Far Gone gets what’s it’s like to be however old you are when you realize you should be doing something more with your life. Whether you’re 70 or 7, there is something here for you, and once you get over the biggest hurdle in your way (spoiler alert: it’s yourself) the rest of the album serves as your celebration soundtrack. Pop bottles, cruise the streets, party, fall in love, and generally like a damn fool. Just make sure you put in the work first.

In the five years since Drake dropped this mixtape he has fully realized every dream he had. Not only that, I would wager he’s thought up new dreams and tackled those as well. He’s released three albums, toured the world multiple times, and earned enough platinum plaques to technically never need to work another day in his life. It would be easy to say he’s gone on to do even bigger and better things than what we find on this release, but to this day So Far Gone plays without flaw. It’s the kind of release that will forever exist in a league all its own, serving as an example of what can be accomplished when an independent artists pours all of themselves into their craft. It might have been a mixtape, but it certainly sounded like an album.

Written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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