To hear Drake tell it, his toxic trait is that he loves too hard, cares too much, wants it all and canâ€™t have everything.
Heâ€™s been dissecting emotional entanglements, social media culture and the unglamorous realities of celebrity life with equal rigor for more than a decade, but for once, Drake doesnâ€™t seem too worried about nuance.
For better and for worse, Certified Lover Boy sounds like vindication, too busy enjoying the spoils of victory to dwell on what it took for Drake to get here or how quickly he could lose it all.
CLB is a commercial juggernaut that sounds incredible but says very little. Thatâ€™s bad news for OVO diehards who enjoy Drake at his most introspective but great for the casual listeners who love â€œJumpmanâ€ and â€œIn My Feelings.â€ It isnâ€™t difficult to see why itâ€™s on track to be his biggest album yet.
While Drake spent the years since his debut establishing his personal sound, listeners have become accustomed to the Canadian rap titanâ€™s various tics. As a result, CLB can feel formulaic, as if checking off boxes on an executive producerâ€™s clipboard.
Despite the frequent predictability, itâ€™s exciting to see a consummate professional at work, swinging his weight around to sample Biggie, Right Said Fred and The Beatles, paying homage to Houstonian strippers for the millionth time and rapping circles around JAY-Z for the sixth.
The probable Kanye West disses on â€œNo Friends In The Industryâ€ should keep tabloids and blogs happy for a few weeks (â€œBetter find ya someone else to hit with all that smoke n-gga/And all them tweets and all them postsâ€), but itâ€™s Drakeâ€™s haughty braggadocio that will be captioning B-list A&R Instagram posts for the next few months (â€œWhen I signed my first deal, that shit came through a faxâ€).
Or consider â€œPipe Down,â€ a spiritual successor to the Cheesecake Factory fights of â€œChildâ€™s Play.â€ A soulful beat from Working On Dying provides a lush backdrop for Drake to gaslight and gate keep, admonishing an unnamed lover whose ex â€œfell off twice,â€ saying â€œyouâ€™re the reason we cannot communicate.â€
Questionable relationship advice aside, inside Drake there are two wolves â€” comedian and Casanova â€” and â€œPipe Downâ€ not only marries the two, it makes the union look easy. â€œSaid you belong to the streets/But the streets belong to meâ€ is already a romantic gut punch; the addition of Futureâ€™s memeified â€œshe belong to the streetsâ€ is just icing on the pound cake.
But the sugar rush doesnâ€™t last. â€œTSUâ€ is overstuffed, with a minute-long Swishahouse intro incorporating a blink-and-youâ€™ll-miss-it sample of noted sexual predator R. Kelly. The song itself is gorgeous, built around ephemeral synths that feel like steam off of a ski chalet hot tub. But itâ€™s hard to feel good about a song with an R. Kelly credit in 2021, no matter how it got there.
CLB is dedicated to â€œa combination of toxic masculinity and acceptance of truth that is inevitably heartbreaking.â€ But being generally shitty to women is nothing new for Drake, whoâ€™s long treated fame and money as exculpatory; Baka Not Nice was arrested on human trafficking charges and Drake rewarded him with a record deal (Baka ultimately pled guilty for assault and a weapons charge, though he continues to protest his innocence). If a man says he loves Rihanna but keeps working with Chris Brown, itâ€™s hard to call him anything except a misogynist.
Unlike previous rounds of emotional bloodletting, CLB is largely uninterested in accountability. Drake used to worry about the new men his exes were entertaining (â€œHotline Blingâ€) or question his own culpability in messy situations (â€œRedemptionâ€), but the newfound security of knowing heâ€™s the biggest rapper in the game precludes any opportunity for reflection. â€œNice for Whatâ€ wasnâ€™t exactly a feminist manifesto, but itâ€™s still jarring to hear the same guy ask women, â€œHow much I gotta spend for you to pipe down?â€
Meanwhile, â€œFucking Fansâ€ has all the charm of someone who only apologizes because they got caught. Drake has confused oversharing for poetic specificity before (Courtney from Hooters on Peachtree had to nuke her social media accounts after â€œFrom Timeâ€), but itâ€™s particularly shameless to say, â€œHard to justify the women I was into/Especially when the whole entire world wished they had you,â€ let alone on an ostensible apology to Rihanna for past infidelities.
Every guest brings their A-game, though thatâ€™s less rewarding from JAY-Z and Giveon than it is from 21 Savage and Yebba. Lil Wayne and Rick Ross build a time machine to 2012 on â€œYou Only Live Twiceâ€ and Drake still hogs the limelight, showing off the Rafael Nadal Richard Mille, grinning ear to ear the whole time. â€œWay 2 Sexyâ€ with Future and Young Thug doesnâ€™t just match the club demon highs of their last collaboration â€œD4L,â€ it blows them out of the water.
Even operating at their best, many of the guests feel shoehorned in and out of sync with the albumâ€™s rhythms. Giveonâ€™s syrupy outro to â€œIn the Bibleâ€ undercuts an incredible advertising pitch for India Royale Cosmetic by Boyfriend of the Year Lil Durk. And Tems collaboration â€œFountainsâ€ doesnâ€™t quite gel like previous forays into African pop music with WizKid and Black Coffee, providing ample ammunition for those who see Drake as a musical colonialist.
JAY-Z verses in 2021 bring to mind an aging racehorse limping towards the glue factory. â€œI donâ€™t want no friends no more, not many understand meâ€ sounds like a 2005 MySpace bio rather than the complaints of a billionaire mobster. His melodramatic verse punctures the moody atmospherics of â€œLove Allâ€ and egregiously fumbles a particularly thoughtful Drake verse in the process.
Guest appearances from Lil Baby and 21 Savage are similarly wasted on CLB, particularly disappointing from an artist who previously excelled at slotting new collaborators into his albumsâ€™ thematic worldview. The features here feel like a Marvel Cinematic Universe cash grab, sprinkled in because fans really want to see Drake team up with Kid Cudi and Travis Scott posts excellent streaming numbers.
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Album closer â€œThe Remorseâ€ fails to stand up against its predecessors (State of the OVO Union outro tracks such as â€œThe Ride,â€ â€œParis Morton Music 2â€ and â€œDo Not Disturbâ€). But the humbly stated shoutouts to 40, Noel, Niko, CJ, Chubbs and Mark are endearingly direct. When he says, â€œEven with [the] salary, you canâ€™t put no prices on that/There is no salary cap, there is no payinâ€™ [them] back,â€ the gratitude in his voice is palpable.
Certified Lover Boy radiates contentment in all things: fights with Instagram models, unsettling rap beefs and getting up-charged by Jacob the Jeweler. Former idols have largely retreated from the limelight, whether in dignity or ignominy. Peers such as Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott have pivoted into auteurism and corporate cronyism respectively. At this point, Drake isnâ€™t competing with other rappers but with pop superstars such as Taylor Swift and BeyoncÃ© (CLBâ€™s first-week sales are projected to potentially outdo Lemonade, though Folklore will likely remain the yearâ€™s biggest release).
Despite the petty antics surrounding the albumâ€™s release, Certified Lover Boy is unstressed and unbothered. Itâ€™s an album by a man who has to laugh loudest and longest, a man who has to be in on the joke because the alternative is being the punchline. It feels like stretching out next to the worldâ€™s largest residential pool, or wearing an emerald-encrusted Patek Philippe, or doing shots at Tao, carefree and wealthy as emoji meme art by Damien Hirst.
Expect more vacant luxury from Drake in the future: heâ€™s finally given up on trying to be better. Heâ€™s overdosed on confidence, drunk on champagne, done with apologies and accepted the lonely truth. Heâ€™s the last rapper left standing at the top.
The work it took to get here cost everything. The resulting heartbreak was inevitable.
Clb got me so mad Iâ€™m finna finally listen to Daytona. Need to hear someone slander him.
â€” The Real Big Elly (@UncleTrini) September 5, 2021
Imma Drake fan but more of a MUSIC fanâ€¦.this album is magnificent! A little bit of everything you expected from Drake ðŸ’ŽðŸ’ŽðŸ’Ž
â€” ITâ€™S RICHIEâ€¦ (@RICHIE_SWAVEY) September 4, 2021
dang I guess Drake did itâ€¦ lol my ex texted me saying â€œPipe Downâ€ was for me ðŸ¤£
â€” Mambacita. ðŸ¥°âœ¨ðŸ¦‚ (@JasxXxArleth) September 4, 2021
CLB is the best project to me since NWTS from Drake
â€” D. Will (@ItsDWill) September 4, 2021
â€œCLBâ€ is â€œMagna Carta Holy Grailâ€ levels of bad, something so truly devoid of quality that ppl are still processing how it couldâ€™ve happened before we all collectively agree to never speak of it again pic.twitter.com/A6Ki4KSRTY
â€” plant based king (@artschooldrop) September 4, 2021