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Monday, August 15, 2022
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    Drake’s latest album is a sleek dance music reset

    Mikael Wood

    ANN/THE STAR – To call Drake’s Certified Lover Boy (CLB) a flop, as many have since the album came out in September, is to say more about the hip-hop superstar’s overall success than about the perceived failure of a Grammy-nominated LP that broke several streaming records on its way to finishing 2021 as last year’s third-biggest release.

    But okay, sure: Unlike pretty much everything Drake had done since the start of his major-label recording career more than a decade ago, the meandering CLB fell slightly out of sync with the pop culture zeitgeist. The album didn’t spin-off a series of durable radio hits nor did the music take over TikTok and social media in the manner of a modern smash. For perhaps the first time, Drake’s grip seemed to slip.

    Which makes it easy to view Honestly, Nevermind – the CLB follow-up, he surprise-dropped on June 17 just hours after revealing it existed – as Drake’s shot at a reset.

    Composed almost entirely of sleek, airy club music jams in which he does as little rapping as he ever has, Drake’s seventh studio album marks an undeniable change in course. Yet what an appealingly perverse choice for a would-be course correction. Drake has flirted with the sounds of house music in songs such as Passionfruit and Take Care.

    But here he leans into the concept harder than any other A-list act, laying tightly structured verses and choruses over thrumming, go-forever beats produced by a team led by his longtime studio accomplice, Noah 40 Shebib, along with Gordo and South Africa’s Black Coffee. In the tenderness of the music – more than one song recalls post-Missing Everything But The Girl – Drake is toying with hip-hop’s evolving ideas about masculinity; it’s beguiling too to hear pop’s pre-eminent solipsist engage with grooves and textures traditionally geared to communal purposes.

    Drake accepts the award for Best Rap Song during the 61st Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles in 2019. PHOTO: LOS ANGELES TIMES

    Does Drake make for a good house diva? His singing on Honestly, Nevermind is clearly slathered in autotune, and after opener Falling Back, where he ascends into a breathy falsetto, his vocal melodies rarely venture beyond a comfortable midrange. Yet there’s an endearing vulnerability to his delivery in songs like Texts Go Green and Calling My Name that blends beautifully with the promise of abandon in the production; the result feels melancholy and ecstatic at the same time, as in Down Hill, where Drake’s lamenting a relationship in constant confusion, nearing conclusion while the drums and keyboards keep threatening to turn into Lionel Richie’s All Night Long.

    Though the music moves at a quicker tempo than on Drake’s earlier records, he’s still surrounding himself with signifiers of plush sophistication: for instance, the fluttering Spanish-style guitar in Tie That Binds. But he appears earnest in his desire, whatever inspired it, to meet house music on its own terms. Those propulsive piano triplets in Massive? As essential to the genre as a power chord is to hard rock.

    Indeed, it’s Drake’s commitment that makes the album’s closer, Jimmy Cooks, so jarring. Built on a sample of a throbbing Memphis rap track, it’s got Drake and the LP’s lone featured guest, 21 Savage, trading rounds of tough talk about fearing no enemy.

    Drake dares one such foe, spitting out the words instead of cooing them as he’s been doing.

    It’s a reminder that he knows we’re listening – and that he’s always formulating a response.

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