Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Call it the anti-Watch the Throne. Like Jay-Z and Kanye’s 2011 one-off, the Drake/Future mixtape What a Time to Be Alive has ace production, an opulent cover and lyrics devoted to conspicuous consumption. But those flashy diamonds on the sleeve? It’s a stock image from ShutterStock. And while Jay and Ye boasted and bragged in the service of escapism, the tag-popping and Dom Perignon-drinking here happens for “no reason.” This is a nihilistic joke of a top-tier collaboration album. It’s also a surprisingly effective one. Both MCs spend the duration of the mixtape with monkeys on their backs. For Future, it’s his never-ending attempt to drown his demons in drugs and luxury goods. For Drake, it’s his high-profile beef with Meek Mill, who accused the Canadian of using ghostwriters last July, and its implications for his career. What a Time to Be Alive tries to find common ground between its participants’ problems but fails. Drake’s concerns feel petty, and when he appears after Future’s harrowing narrative on opener “Digital Dash,” his hashtaggy ghostwriting jokes wilt. Ditto “I’m The Plug,” for reasons the title should make obvious. The highlights of What a Time to Be Alive come when Drake and Future take advantage of their differences, and this usually happens when Drake’s verse comes first. The main reason “Jumpman” is the best thing here is because of how great Future’s moody croak sounds right after Drake’s been bleating for a bar. The same goes for “Plastic Bag,” where the two briefly bond over strippers, though admittedly, it’s one of the album’s most aesthetically Drake-dominated songs. Future comes across as the wizened playboy, casually gesturing at “60 naked bitches, no exaggeration,” as if he’s mostly worried about how much room he’ll have left in the bed. Drake, on the other hand, gazes at bacchanalia with childlike wonder. “Girl, you deserve it,” he says to a stripper in almost cartoonishly Drakean fashion, imploring her to pick up the money he’s thrown. It’s hard to imagine Future even talking to a stripper, let alone praising her performance. If you played me “Jumpman” or “Plastic Bag” without me knowing who either artist was and told me Future was Drake’s dad, I’d believe it. By conventional standards–nay, by definition—What a Time to Be Alive is a poor collaborative effort. It fails to exploit common ground between its artists, and it doesn’t give any viable reason why they should collaborate. But against all odds, it’s a great listen. The production, mostly by Metro Boomin, is consistently top-notch even when the MCs aren’t. Even the worst songs have fun moments; “Big Rings” is obnoxious, but Future’s verse is killer. And 41 minutes is a perfect length, not because it gets the album over with faster but because it’s short enough to leave the listener wondering what just hit them. In a way, What a Time to Be Alive epitomizes an approach to hip-hop Future and his fellow Atlantans Migos and Young Thug have been pioneering for some time. This is a holistic approach, less about “real hip hop” tenets like internal rhyming and fast flow, and more about how everything sounds together–how the beat sounds with the vocals, how certain lyrics hit at certain times for maximum impact and the atmosphere created through these combinations. “Nobu Nobu Nobu Nobu Nobu” isn’t the sort of line Nas would have busted out on Illmatic, but it’s so fun that the fact it’s the same word six times in a row–rhymed with nothing–becomes moot. Like the rest of the album, it’s more than the sum of its parts.