Drake: Certified Lover Boy review – drizzness as usual

On his last proper album, 2018’s Scorpion, Drake showed signs of maturing. While musically it was a mixed bag, the record found the Canadian superstar grappling with fatherhood – a fact unwittingly revealed to the public in a diss track by rival Pusha T. Ending with March 14, a song that drew comparisons between his oft-discussed experience as a child of divorce and his disappointment at now being a single parent himself, it hinted that a man known as one of music’s most egregious navel-gazers may have emerged enlightened and self-aware.

This emotional growth also seems apparent on the opener of Drake’s much-delayed sixth album. While there’s some typical overblown self-aggrandisement to begin with, Champagne Poetry – a curious two-parter that interpolates Michelle by the Beatles as sampled in Masego’s Navajo – is honest without Drake’s usual prerequisite for pity. Lamenting the pitfalls of fame (“I can’t even RIP and show my remorse to the homie … I even got the cleanin’ staff plotting extortion on me”) and media attention (“I always censor myself ’cause no matter what, they reporting on me”), he seems to come to the realisation that, actually, life for Drake, the bestselling solo artist of modern times, isn’t actually that bad. “I’m makin’ the most of this shit,” he says, “and more.”

If only that were true. Any sign that Drake might finally be ready to move on from his oeuvre-defining solipsism, self-pity, passive-aggression, anodyne feuds and his inability to be romantically available is a sleight of hand: Certified Lover Boy is not just more of the same, but nearly 90 minutes of Drake being, well, Drake.

Drake: Champagne Poetry – video

What this often entails is the 34-year-old asserting his dominance. Interpolating Montell Jordan’s Daddy’s Home on the punchy Papi’s Home, Drake subverts the former’s remorsefulness into a braggadocio comeback banger. “I’m standing at the top, that’s how I know you never seen the top,” he remarks after the song’s intro. Built around a bombastic sample from the Brothers of Soul’s Can’t Get You Out of My Mind, You Only Live Twice is all ego: it opens with a spit-fire verse from Floridian titan Rick Ross, then Drake takes up the baton, boasting “Catalogue is immaculate … Not sure if you know but I’m actually Michael Jackson / The man I see in the mirror is actually goin’ platinum.”

Similarly, there’s a preoccupation with unnamed haters, whose ubiquitous presence provokes scorn, sneering condescension or genuine hurt and concern. On the sparse and underwhelming Love All, which features a sleepy, barely present verse from Jay Z, Drake laments people’s lack of loyalty when you’re on top (“People never care ‘til it’s RIP”). The fiery No Friends in the Industry is an obvious swing back at regular antagonists Pusha T and Kanye West, whom Drake suggests “turned me evil” over a grimy pronounced beat and ominous, repetitive synths.

That said, the brilliant Fair Trade, featuring Travis Scott, offers a glimpse at the sort of maturity Drake exhibited on March 14: “Look, don’t invite me over if you throw another pity party / Lookin’ back, it’s hard to tell you where I started,” he raps over a twisted choral backdrop. “I don’t know who love me, but I know that it ain’t everybody … I’ve been losin’ friends and findin’ peace / Honestly that sound like a fair trade to me.” The same is true of 7am on Bridle Path, in which he addresses the hypocrisy of accusations that he uses ghost writers: “You boys reachin’ new lows / Lettin’ me take the rap for that Casper the Ghost shit / While you findin’ all of the loopholes.”

There are also some fantastic examples of Drake’s sonic adventurousness: Fountains is an exhilarating Afrobeat collaboration with Nigerian singer and producer Tems, whose haunting voice is given space to hang above the sparse beats and guitar; Get Along Better, a syrupy R&B collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign, sees Drake embrace his inner crooner, and the use of samples and interpolation throughout is often inspired, particularly the Beatles quotations on Champagne Poetry.

The virtues dissipate, though, when it comes to Drake’s complex relationships with women. The confusing and meandering Girls Wants Girls is either about a night out picking up women with a lesbian friend or a revolting insinuation that he could “turn” a queer woman. The ethically murky TSU – which includes a sample of Half on a Baby by R Kelly, currently on trial for sex-trafficking and facing multiple allegations of rape and sexual assault – tells the story of a sex worker who wants to stop stripping, Drake soliciting her services in order to help her start up her own business. On Race My Mind he whines to a lover, “I just figured you could make time for me / Since that you’re comin’ home intoxicated.”

Drake has explained that the album is about “toxic masculinity and acceptance of truth which is inevitably heartbreaking”. Whether he’s condemning, condoning, participating in or mocking the former is never really apparent – but if he’s admitting his contribution to toxic masculinity, nothing here offers any alternatives nor any sense that his behaviour will change.

Instead, it all acts as just another reminder of his arrested development: personally, sonically and thematically, Drake seems resistant to change. It’s frustrating: the songs aren’t bad, and in some cases they’re excellent, a reminder of the unflattering emotional honesty that initially set him apart from his peers. However, they also hew to a formula that works for him – undoubtedly Certified Lover Boy will be another record-breaking smash – suggesting someone who fears the risks of truly changing.


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