Drake's Certified Lover Boy sounds a little too familiar
The rapper's new album is like watching the eighth season of a sitcom and growing hyper-aware of all the recycled jokes and actors' laugh lines.
At the end of "March 14," the grand finale of his plus-sized 2018 album Scorpion, Drake appeared on the verge of finally growing up. The revelations shared there about his hidden son, whose existence first became public amid a nasty and still-ongoing beef with Kanye West and Pusha T, cast the Canadian superstar in a whole new light. He'd repeatedly tangled with his personal demons on record, including the emotional fallout of his parents' divorce. Yet the lyrical mix of shame, pride, and promise expressed here suggested that October's Very Own was about to transition from overgrown boyhood into manhood by way of fatherhood.
More than three years passed — the longest stretch between any of Drake's prior albums — and, sure enough, the first words out of his mouth on Certified Lover Boy opener "Champagne Poetry" are about his son. But within seconds, he's back on his proverbial bulls--t, fixated on enemies while extolling the surface-level virtues of his massive wealth and fame. To his credit, mentions of his co-parenting wins come and go throughout the album, one mere minutes shorter than its predecessor though freed from its extraneous Side A/Side B gimmickry. Still, one can't help but see his latest album as a vestigial extension of the earlier one, and, regrettably, a lesser one at that.
Fans have followed along for well over a decade now and, as such, the predominant themes of CLB will sound familiar. As before, the Drake on display here remains myopically focused on past betrayals, bad romances, and contemporary feuds, more so than one might have hoped from the soon-to-be 35-year-old. He's as vicious and bombastic as ever on "No Friends In the Industry" and the impressive standout "7AM On Bridle Path," taking shots at Kanye (and others) scarcely a week after dodging more than a few on his rival's DONDA.
Operating in diametric opposition to the quasi-Christian lamentations of that critically contentious album, one CLB will forever be inextricably linked with for feeding the beast, Drake seems vastly more interested in earthly pleasures than celestial salvation, neither of which suits him these days. His hard-headed hedonism stops being cute scarcely a third of the way through the record. Destined for endless radio play thanks to its mindless and boneheaded hook, "Girls Want Girls" treats resistance to his sleazy come-ons like a '90s standup routine. It shouldn't take a certified lover to recognize that when someone tells you they're gay, you should believe them rather than turn it into a dismissive punchline in your desperate attempt to score. Nobody reasonable is calling for Drake's cancellation here, but once you stop laughing long enough to move beyond the wholly uncool Right Said Fred sample and interpolation, you may notice "Way 2 Sexy" rather faithfully captures the inherent arrogance of stardom with the aid of toxic twins Future and Young Thug.
While clearly not aware during production that he would drop the album amid a Texas abortion ban that significantly raised public discourse around misogyny and patriarchy, Drake's first-person adoption of the term "toxic masculinity" as part of CLB's marketing message suggests a shallow ignorance of the world he's released it into. Nobody needs Drake to cosplay wokeness in 2021 any more than we needed him to pretend to be any of the other attributes he's tried his hand at over the last decade. Still, some of the charitable grace of a "God's Plan" stunt would have been welcome here. With scarcely little notice paid to the pandemic or the concurrent Black Lives Matter reckoning, there's often a stinging sense of déjà vu to CLB, not unlike watching the eighth season of a sitcom and growing hyper-aware of all the recycled jokes and the actors' laugh lines. But for some reason you're still tuned in to this musical version of The Big Bang Theory, so when recurring characters Rick Ross and Lil Wayne enter on "You Only Live Twice" you can be forgiven for feeling delight at how thoroughly they wash him on their guest verses.
Gone from CLB are the prior New Orleans bounce derivations "In My Feelings" and "Nice For What," and the novelty of "Ratchet Happy Birthday," that made Scorpion's back half superior to its front, another case of Drake's demonstrated tendency to dine and dash on any regional sound. "Fountains" is a blatant, dare-I-say lazy "One Dance" retread, subbing out Wizkid for the great, albeit underutilized, Tems, whose own stellar Afrobeats collab with Wizkid "Essence" is now a Billboard Hot 100 smash. Even Drake's desires to be a respected R&B singer seem to fizzle, with "Race My Mind" cribbing blatantly from the maestro Rick James.
Drake has often relied on disloyalty as a thematic crutch, with him invariably limping as the real victim even when evidently in the wrong. After nearly 90 minutes of him vacillating between feeling sorry for himself and feeling himself, one wonders how much of CLB is even about his own life. On "TSU," he contends that this is a form of autobiography — at least book-on-tape — but it's inherently marred by the legal technicality that formally credits the discredited R. Kelly during the accused serial sex offender's high-profile trial. Though gossip hounds and hip-hop haters will read deeply into the miserably half-aware reflections of "F--king Fans" for clues, we're ultimately left with a celebrity whose romantic exploits are so obscured from public view that the NDAs must be airtight. Maybe if he paid close enough attention to Jay-Z's calculated and mature nonchalance on "Love All," he'd understand why it takes more than popularity and predictability to earn G.O.A.T. consideration. Grade: C