Friday, October 15, 2021

On ‘Certified Lover Boy,’ Drake Seeks an Enemy Besides Himself

Friday, October 15, 2021

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This is particularly true in the songs about women: the silly “Girls Want Girls” with Lil Baby, “Get Along Better” with Ty Dolla Sign, the lightly grim “___ Fans.” Rather, what really gets Drake steaming on this album are naysayers and adversaries, especially evident in the 11th-hour rhymes about Kanye West, with whom Drake has been lately — and historically, and forevermore — locked in a tangle. (More on these Oedipal shenanigans later.) “Certified Lover Boy” will make its debut at No. 1 next week with the biggest opening-week numbers for any album this year, replacing West’s “Donda,” which just did the same.

Throughout his career, Drake’s nimbleness has made him one of pop’s most consistently inventive stars, willing to absorb and reinterpret any number of regional and global styles. There are sonic bright spots when he nods to Houston (the OG Ron C intro on “TSU” and the sample of Bun B’s “Get Throwed” on “N 2 Deep”) and Memphis (the sampled Project Pat verse on “Knife Talk,” its elastically chewy flow pattern ably mimicked by 21 Savage), both long-running fonts of inspiration. And sometimes Drake calls back to older versions of himself — the piano motifs at the beginning and end of “The Remorse,” the album closer, directly nod to “Marvin’s Room,” the ne plus ultra of Drake’s magnetic toxicity.

But “Certified Lover Boy” is his least musically imaginative album, the one where he pushes himself the least in terms of method and pattern. Apart from the lite Afrobeats number “Fountains,” with the feathery Nigerian singer Tems, most songs here hew to the familiar narcotic synths and claustrophobic samples that underlie much of his music. This album might mark something like the beginning of the end of the Drake era, except that the Drake era is simply all of pop music now, and his innovations have become the work of, well, everyone else.

Drake is aware of this, of course — no one both performs, and watches himself perform, with the same intensity. Some of this album’s sharpest lines are about how Drake, the entity, functions out in the rest of the world. “Under a picture lives some of the greatest quotes from me,” he raps on “Champagne Poetry,” about your Instagram captions. “I apologize for my absence, I know I left you without a name to drop/I don’t know how I expected you to get your clout up and get your money up,” he taunts on “Papi’s Home.”

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