- Drake rarely takes risks when making music. But in the absence of ambition, he’s perfected his sound.
- “Certified Lover Boy” is the epitome of Drake, and that ends up being a good thing.
- Manny Fidel is a columnist and editor for Insider.
Artists typically transform over time.
Kanye West’s soulful patterns in the early 2000s progressed into an eccentric pop in the 2010s, before cascading into a more heavenly, albeit less interesting, arena. The Weeknd went from dark, pensive R&B moods to a more simplified 80s pop sound. This kind of metamorphosis is common in music, especially for Black artists who can’t afford to simmer in the same styles for too long, else they upset the mighty Billboard.
For all of Drake’s career, though, he’s been an exception.
When his 2016 effort “Views” dropped, the biggest gripe critics had was that it didn’t take any risks; that the music sounded too similar to the stuff that preceded it.
To be fair, they were right. But what we eventually came to learn — through that summer’s heavy, heavy rotation of the album — was that we, as consumers, don’t care.
Instead of reconstructing his sound over the course of his career, Drake has simply matured it. In his assessment, consistency is more valuable than ambition. His catalog is a diamond that receives a tiny, precise cut with every release, resulting in a rock that might not be as flashy or colorful as others, but is undeniably more refined.
In such turbulent times, the familiarity and routine of “Certified Lover Boy” can be cathartic.
‘Certified Lover Boy’ serves as the most Drake of Drake albums possible
The album’s first half features the more moody, monotonous tracks Drake became known for more recently in his career, before the second half opens up into a more aspiring, melody-driven program.
Standouts from the first slew of songs include “Girls Want Girls,” where Drake reveals, incredibly, that he is a lesbian, “Fair Trade,” where he laments the loss of friends but appreciates the calm that comes with it, and “Love All,” where Jay Z provides a judgemental verse that is, notably, better than his effort on West’s “DONDA.”
The first eye-opener of the album though, is the endearingly absurd “Way 2 Sexy,” featuring a Future who is as much in his bag as he’ll ever be (we need “What a Time to Be Alive 2” as soon as possible). Young Thug can do no wrong in my eyes, and the track bounces so effortlessly that it’s not hard to imagine its longevity in the club.
That brings us to “TSU,” which is the most Drakeity-Drake song on the album. After a long, chopped, and screwed intro, Drake melodically floats on a dreamy bed of synths and pads, musing about his past loves and, unsurprisingly, strip clubs. It’s quintessentially him in that the beat breaks down into a slower, more emotive version of itself.
It’s worth mentioning that the song credits R. Kelly, who is accused of over 20 years worth of sexual abuse, as a songwriter. Even though the credit is due only to a sample the song uses — and not R. Kelly’s actual involvement — it’s a bit of a head-scratcher for an artist who has a plethora of talented producers who could convincingly flip any sample without needing to tap into R. Kelly’s catalog.
As I continued listening to Certified Lover Boy, I was prepared to call “N 2 Deep” the album’s most lackluster track. However, it then pivoted to a much more interesting (read: poppier) concept about being hopelessly caught in a woman’s, uh, allure.
Then, “Yebba’s Heartbreak” served as not just an interlude, but also an intermission. The calming ballad prepares us for a turn towards the album’s more energetic half, steering us right into an “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”-esque run in the pile-driving duo of “No Friends in the Industry” and “Knife Talk,” which welcomingly features hip-hop icon Project Pat and an on-point 21 Savage.
The elephant in the room, “7am on Bridle Path,” is a seething take-down of recent Kanye West antics — the title refers to when West posted Drake’s Toronto address on Instagram stories. Drake fires more than a few quips at West, most notably “Give that address to your driver, make it your destination, instead of just a post out of desperation.” The song exhibits a somber disappointment in his once-idol, rather than serving as an actual diss track. However, given West’s temperament, he could view this as a declaration of war.
“Certified Lover Boy” is an album that is focused on honing its past. By this evaluation, “You Only Live Twice” is a pure example of Drake’s familiarity with his own craft. The song sounds like it’s straight out of 2011, in the best way possible. Even the title calls back to “YOLO,” or “You Only Live Once,” a phrase Drake had a heavy hand in re-popularizing in the 2010s.
The pairing of Rick Ross and Lil Wayne on the joyous sample of The Brothers of Soul’s “Can’t Get You Off of My Mind” takes me right back to the early 2010s when every college party I attended was blaring Young Money songs and, even back then, we were talking about Drake’s impressive consistency.
The title of “most ambitious song” on the album belongs to “IMY2,” perhaps by default, since it features the ever-experimental Kid Cudi. Given both Drake and Cudi’s propensity for crooning on top of dreamy soundscapes, you’d think they’d collaborate more often.
Final Grade: 7.8/10
In 2013, Drake released what is considered by many to be his best album, “Nothing Was the Same.” Since then, musically speaking, things have, for the most part, been the same with him.
But for an artist who has no interest in switching things up, the music is surprisingly fresh.
Drake has painted a portrait of himself that doesn’t require any major touch-ups, and for that reason, “Certified Lover Boy” is the epitome of Drake’s sound. That’s a good thing.
Worth listening to:
“Girls Want Girls”
“Way 2 Sexy”
“N 2 Deep”
“No Friends in the Industry”
“7am on Bridle Path”
“Get Along Better”
“You Only Live Twice”
“In the Bible”
“Race My Mind”
*Final album score based on songs per category (1 point for “Worth listening to,” .5 for “Background music,” .5 for “Split decision,” 0 for “Press skip”).