ALBUM REVIEW: Drake, Certified Lover Boy
Drake gave away the game on his very first single “Best I Ever Had” when he said “You know, a lot of girls be/Thinkin' my songs are about them, but/This is not to get confused/This one's for you”. This gave him free range to make any song about anyone, and allow TMZ to do the speculation and press for him. This indirectness has allowed Drake to evade a lot of beefs and pitfalls that would fuck up many other rapper’s careers, putting him in a position where he is essentially too big to fail. The only issue with this approach is that all the subliminal talk leads to lyrics that beat around the bush, and many songs that are starving for concrete lines. In certain ways, his first project in three years Certified Lover Boy seeks to fix that. A song like “Fucking Fans” goes against the grain and ends up being one of his most honest tracks of all time. “I was out here fucking fans, I was shameless/Yeah, and I know that/You was at the crib reading stories that they sent you/Most of that was bullshit but some of it I did do” he confesses to a former lover, continuing with “Then I had a kid even though I never planned to/I cannot imagine when your girls gave you that news/I know that”. In classic Drake fashion, the whole thing feels like a massive humble brag disguised as an apology, and that’s what I love so much about it. Similarly on “Get Along Better”, we get a ton of Drake-isms and fluff like “You had the nerve to defend/Mistakes that you made at the end” (aka gaslighting), but then, we get a refreshing confession. “Someone that's close to you reached out to me just to see if we had made amends/Trust me, this ain't 'bout revenge/But now I get along better with your friend/And it’s wrong I know”. Like his OVO labelmate PartyNextDoor, Drake is piercing in his recollection of events.
On a first run through of the album, lyrical content like this pointed towards a real change for Drake. However, after several subsequent listens, I realized that bars like that are few and far between. There is a real pattern that begins to take shape more than I’ve heard on any Drake album. We’ll get bangers like “No Friends In The Industry” or “Knife Talk (with 21 Savage ft. Project Pat)” that are the complete package: incredible production, fast flows and lyrics like “I'm like Sha'Carri, smoke 'em on and off the track”. Songs like this recall the prime rapper Drake of If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, and are some of his best since then. Others, like “In The Bible” or “Fountains” do the exact opposite, they are never good for a single moment and just continue to get more boring as they roll along. On another end, we get a little bit of goofy Drake, my other favorite side of him. “Yeah, say that you a lesbian, girl me too” he says on the Lil Baby featuring “Girls Want Girls”. Drake is drinking so much white wine that it’s affecting the way he talks about sexuality in the weirdest ways, and I’m all here for it. Speaking of, “Way 2 Sexy (with Future & Young Thug)” and it’s accompanying music video are a homerun. “Too sexy for the trap/Too sexy for the cap” Future raps, “Ima fuck her friends and send ‘em back to Metro housin’” continues Drake. The only one that really slacks on this is Young Thug in my opinion, but not even that can ruin how infectious this beat is. I can’t believe this man had the balls to sample “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred in 2021, but he did and it worked. Speaking of features…
The other strong suit of this album is the guests. While getting popular rappers like Lil Durk, Lil Baby, 21 Savage and Future doesn’t come as a surprise, they provide many of these songs what they desperately need. While “You Only Live Twice” would’ve just sounded like a “Lord Knows” rehash with just Rick Ross, the addition of Lil Wayne is perfect. He goes real old school with it, “Shove a 8-ball up her p*ssy like a fetus for me, n----/I got bitches doin' lines, I'm Adidas to 'em, n----/I got sentenced, took some time and it was easier than simple/I'm so difficult to fathom like a fever in the winter” with a flow that reminds me of Tha Carter III. JAY-Z does all the work on his appearance on “Love All”, directly threatening the lives of those who are trying to come with him. He sounds paranoid, pissed and serious, which is in stark contrast to how auto-pilot all of Drake’s verses and choruses are on the track. A good example of a feature falling short and exposing how boring this record can be is Travis Scott on “Fair Trade”. This song is extremely unremarkable, and Travis does his ad-libs and fast flow without saying much. That brings me to my major issue with this record, and that is the severe lack of progression on Drake and 40’s end. While I admire some of his lyrics, the features he curates and how daring he can be on an aesthetic front (i.e. “Way 2 Sexy” video and the album cover), he is not challenging himself or his audience here at all. It is far more satisfying and straightforward than Scorpion, which in my opinion is a complete failure. And it’s more conforming to rap than something like More Life, but that also makes it so much less fun. While More Life had drastic highs (“Passionfruit”, “Portland”, “Glow”) and horrific lows (fake U.K. grime shit), the overall experience was memorable.
Listening to CLB is like being in the ocean during low tide. No one is getting knocked over by big ass rip curls, we just get some very consistent, mid-paced waves that everyone can float on. Nothing wrong with that at all, but greatness is earned by taking risks as well as getting lots of rewards. And how can we call Drake the GOAT when he has been operating in his comfort zone for 3+ years? I wanted to save this until the end so I didn’t seem like a Kanye stan (which I am), but how the fuck is anyone comparing this to DONDA? Just based on pure songwriting, production and performances, I am pressed to find a song that is in the same league as “Hurricane”, “Jail”, “New Again” or “Pure Souls”. And come on, “Come to Life” feels radioactive compared to anything on CLB, meaning it glows so bright and will fuck you up physically the more you stay around it. Drake’s biggest strength used to be how relatable his music was, he could be singing to one girl and some other girl thinks it’s about her. He turned the age old “you only live once” into “YOLO” and people still say that shit. Now, Kanye is the one who did both of those things better. Who is Ye fucking on “New Again”, I don’t know but I’m intrigued because he has lines like “If I hit you with a ‘wyd?’/You better text me like ‘hi’ with a bunch of i’s/Or “hey” with a bunch of y’s” that paint the desperation of hookup culture so well. I didn’t feel that very much on CLB, if at all. Drake is still not being fully honest with himself or his audience, and as he gets richer and more distant from them physically, the reliability factor is completely wiped away. While I don’t think CLB is a bad album by any means, it is just another example of Drake making a safe bet. Sing raps? Check. Slightly woozy soul samples from Noah “40”? Check. Features that have shot people so you don’t have to? Check. Everything for him is checking boxes to receive checks, and for me, that just doesn’t cut it anymore. Without a strong concept or compelling main character, CLB is just more playlist fodder for the most part. Also, just an aside, you really don’t want to “literally” be Michael Jackson, Drake. You don’t, trust me.