Is it an album, or is it a mixtape?

That's the big question surrounding this surprise weekend release from Drake, the Canadian rapper due in New Zealand for the first time this Monday.

If You're Reading This It's Too Late is being sold at full price on iTunes, but Drake's labelled it an introduction to his fourth album, Views From The 6, due out later this year.

Either way, it's worth shelling out for, because, like most of Drake's output over the past five years, this 17-song set is pure quality. It's also a slow, sad, slightly morbid collection of tracks, with the 28-year-old frequently ruminating on his untimely demise. "If I die I'm a motherf***ing legend," he sighs mopily on opener Legend, while on Energy he declares: "I've got enemies, I've got a lot of people trying to drain me of my synergy."

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His darker lyrical turn comes backed by dreamy soundscapes, shimmering bass workouts and sluggish downbeat trap that's designed to be listened to with expensive headphones.

With producers Boi-1da, Partynextdoor and Noah "40" Shebib carrying the bulk of production duties, it's an intoxicating mix, especially on the bleak Burial-style ballad Now & Forever and the wafty beats of Madonna, a love song that takes a dramatic twist. Even the two Started From the Bottom-style party starters included here - the previously released 6 God and Used To's distorted bass lope - show enough restraint to prove that no matter his mood, Drake's as essential as ever.

Artist:

Drake

Album:

If You're Reading This It's Too Late

Label:

Cash Money

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Verdict: Drake gets serious on surprise release

- TimeOut