Welcome to “New Music with Nick.” In this column, I will be reviewing some of the most notable new album releases across various genres, focusing on hip-hop, R&B and pop music. Join me in exploring the ever-shifting landscape of the streaming era.
Drake: “Certified Lover Boy” (September 3, 2021)
Drake needs no introduction. The Toronto-born rapper and co-founder of the October’s Very Own (OVO) record label and lifestyle brand has been one of the most relevant figures in popular music and culture for the past decade. In the early 2010s, Drake was at the top of the music world in terms of both popularity and quality. “Take Care,” “Nothing Was The Same” and “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” were massive successes upon release and have all aged into some of the greatest modern hip-hop albums. During the most recent phase of Drake’s career, he has become a true cultural icon, yet the quality of his music has not experienced that same growth. The absurdity of some of Drake’s newer antics, lyrics and characters have caused many to take him less seriously as a rapper than they used to.
“Certified Lover Boy” displays incredible inconsistency: skilled points of greatness clash with uninspired and miscalculated disappointments. The album’s highlights arrive when Drake really emphasizes his true talents as an artist. This claim seems like a simple and obvious statement, but it’s relevant for Drake: an artist who genuinely seems to be losing touch with his most core quality of work.
“Certified Lover Boy” starts off with a solid duo of songs. “Champagne Poetry” is one of the album’s best tracks, with Drake displaying a strong performance after the beat switch. The soulful, vintage choir sample in the song from producer and collaborator 40 sets the stage for Drake to deliver one of his most captivating moments. “Papi’s Home” follows with a pretty simple feel-good track that was well-executed over a distorted soul sample.
“Get Along Better,” “Pipe Down” and “TSU” all see Drake get into his emotional side effectively, with impressive deliveries, melodies and production that help to effectively illustrate Drake’s softer side. Although certain songs like “Fair Trade” and “Knife Talk” quickly received commercial success and established themselves as mainstream hits, they are ultimately just passable songs that are barely above average in terms of quality. The little quality they do have doesn’t even come from Drake himself, with the features largely carrying. On “Fair Trade,” Travis Scott took over the song, while “Knife Talk” got its entire personality 21 Savage and Project Pat.
The high point of the album comes by way of the Rick-Ross and Lil-Wayne-assisted “You Only Live Twice.” The soul sample and hard drum-infused beat provide an upbeat stage for the three rap greats to deliver some notable moments. Drake easily has one of his best verses right here, and the guest appearances are fitting and well-executed. Ross and upbeat soul samples are a match made in heaven, and Wayne’s electric flows can match any beat effortlessly.
While the album has its moments, its glaring low points are defined by a lack of inspiration. Generic flows, generic beat selection and a lack of energy and passion are present far too frequently to keep the album consistently captivating. From a technical standpoint, Drake’s rapping skills are not regularly strong on the album. Despite a phenomenal feature list, many of these guest artists fall flat due to a lack of energy and weak production. “Girls Want Girls” is a great example of Drake getting by doing the bare minimum. It’s music that’s just basic enough to rack up streams (somehow) while throwing in some ridiculous lyrics for cheap laughs and memorability: “Say that you a lesbian, girl, me too.”
The only thing that saves some of the bad tracks is their redeemable potential as pure memes: songs never to be genuinely acclaimed and only to be laughed at in social settings. I don’t think you’re going to find anybody who actually thinks that “Way 2 Sexy” is good music. Although the lack of creativity, originality and musical quality diminishes Drake’s image and standing as an overall artist, it seems to be working just fine for his commercial success and his branding as a figure and icon. Maybe that’s the goal at this point.
No matter the quality of the album, Drake trends regardless, for better or worse. Over his past couple of releases, Drake has been famous for his cringe lyrics and memes, rather than for the quality of his songs. Despite the obvious flaws and significant low-points, Drake’s talent and resources still carry enough to keep him afloat. He still has rap skills and access to high quality production if he wants it. A release from Drake is always going to make a splash from now on, and I guess we can be glad that we got a few good songs and memorable moments from this latest album, if nothing else.
Favorite Songs: “You Only Live Twice,” “Get Along Better,” “Champagne Poetry,” “Papi’s Home”
Album Score: 58/100
Check out this Spotify playlist and like it to follow along with some of some of my favorite songs of 2021 as the year progresses!
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.