Few artists have withstood a decade at the top like Drake has. A reigning pop gladiator, the rapper has successfully turned the world of modern music (and frankly, internet culture) into his own personal Colosseum, whipping out a string of digestible hits often enough to constantly dominate vibe playlists and viral charts. But for all their glory, the lights eventually switch off, the spectators all leave and even the greatest warrior is forced to their own self-reflective solitude. Drake’s sixth studio album Certified Lover Boy reminds us all of the fantastically unrelatable theme he loves the most: the unbearable loneliness of a life of a King.
At 21 tracks, CLB feels a little overcrowded, but maybe that’s the way things have been playing out in Drake’s head this past year or so. He’s not quite sure what issue to prioritise, whether it’s his newfound fatherhood (“my son is the one thing I hate to be apart from”), the divide between loving and hating fame (“career is going great, but now the rest of me is fading slowly”) or the unattainable love of all those he desires (“I’m still working on me and I’m coming back better for you”). It’s all a little too familiar, trapping Drake in the very blueprint he created and the blueprint that’s managed to keep him at the top for all this time. But it does pose the question; if being a 34-year-old father isn’t enough to break the mould, what is?
Opening with The Beatles interpolated ‘Champagne Poetry’, Drake hits us with his confessionals right from the jump. More specifically, his annual check-in on how his status is holding up. Pretty well, it seems. “Under a picture lives some of the greatest quotes from me,” he spits, reminding us of his social media caption monarchy, a decent brag for our digital world. And there’s more Angry Drake where that came from. On ‘Papi’s Home’ Drake puts his competitors in their place by referring to them as his sons, ‘No Friends In The Industry’ references exactly that, ‘You Only Live Twice’ finds Drake and Lil Wayne teaming back up for the follow-up to their 2011 hit ‘The Motto’, and ‘7am On Bridle Path’, the newest addition to his AM/PM series, snaps back at Kanye West and others he’s beefing with.
For the most part though Drake is severely in his feelings, and it makes you wonder why, in the space of ten entire years, has he not grown even the slightest in love and relationships. On the Lil Durk and Giveon ‘In The Bible’, the rapper is still afraid of letting love get in too close, “you don’t know love, you don’t love me like my child.” On ‘F**king Fans’, he seems to reminisce on a past relationship he screwed up by fooling around with his fans, ‘Pipe Down’ is one big eyeroll at a relationship that just isn’t working, and the euphoric ‘Race My Mind’ paints a picture of Drake waiting up for his intoxicated lover to return home. It’s perfect Drakeism, shrouding himself in feigned hopelessness as he recites the same narrative about women, and it all feels a little tired. Paired with the album’s thematical concept of “toxic masculinity and the acceptance of truth which is inevitably heartbreaking”, an interesting jumble of words, it seems a missed opportunity to only scratch the surface of such a complex issue.
But if the agenda is hits, which it’s looking like it most probably is, Drake has, of course, nailed it. When it comes to catchy tunes the rapper is the Alpha, and he knows it. ‘Fair Trade’ with Travis Scott will no doubt be heard at many parties in the future, ‘Fountains’ is a muted ‘One Dance’ with its dancehall undertones but would sit nicely in a ‘chill mood’ playlist, Kid Cudi’s ‘IMY2’ is perfect for Kid Cudi fans, and ‘TSU’ turns a story about a struggling stripper into a bop, despite its unfavourable choice of sampling R. Kelly in its intro. More eyebrow raising is earned in other tracks too. Lil Baby’s ‘Girls Want Girls’ absolutely has one hell of a beat, but the fetishisation of women loving women doesn’t belong in 2021 and Drake’s well and truly missed the mark, even if the line “say that you’re a lesbian, girl, me too” is ironically funny. And although the Future and Young Thug collab ‘Way 2 Sexy’, which samples Right Said Fred’s 1991 ‘I’m Too Sexy’, will deservingly be played everywhere these next few months, it has to be noted that some of the lines come off a little sleazy.
For supposedly his last album before retirement, CLB is a perfect Drake album. There’s enough content for fans to feed on while staying true to what Drake does best: glitzy keyboards, smooth R&B and incessant wallowing. While there’s room to take risks, too much change can be a bad thing, too. After all, a gladiator knows his crowd and he knows his arena. Why would he change the show now?