“Far as the Drake era, man, we in the golden ages,” Drake raps on ‘7am On Bridle Path’, one of 21 songs on his sixth studio album ‘Certified Lover Boy’. It’s a bold claim – particularly from an artist whose last album (2018’s ‘Scorpion’) presented a man in decline, relying on a bloated tracklist of mediocrity peppered by a few smash hits. Three years on and a whole year after it was originally slated to arrive, can this record spark a rejuvenation for Drizzy?
Unfortunately, the short answer is: no. Drake promised ‘Certified Lover Boy’ would be more “concise” than its predecessor, but has once again turned in a double LP-length album, spanning 21 tracks and 86 minutes – only four minutes shorter than ‘Scorpion’. That would be fine if he’d returned to ‘Views’ levels of quality or beyond – that 2016 album also packed in 20 tracks, but among them were at least several tracks you’d want to stick on repeat. Instead, ‘CLB’ sounds jaded and dull, as if it was a chore to make. It’s certainly a chore to listen to.
In the Apple Music description for the record, the Toronto superstar calls it “a combination of toxic masculinity and acceptance of truth, which is inevitably heartbreaking”. The latter might sound promising – Drake in introspective, meditative mode – but in reality, there’s little evidence of that compared to the former. On the angelic chimes of ‘TSU’, he paints himself as a saviour, helping out a stripper who’s been cut off by her parents with a business loan. In the middle of being a generous benefactor, though, he also drops the line, “I give you this bread, you run me some head / And then you go glow up a bit”, tainting his kindness with a transactional darkness.
The closest we get to heartbreaking revelations is on ‘Fucking Fans’ – a melancholy missive that finds him admitting to messing up a relationship, seemingly with Rihanna, by hooking up with his listeners. “I was out here fucking fans, I was shameless / And I know that you was at the crib reading stories that they sent you,” he acknowledges after an opening verse delivered in whiny singing. “Hard to justify the women I was into / Especially when the whole entire world wished they had you.” It’s less of a heart-wrenching apology and more a concession to having fucked up and not knowing when he was onto a good thing.
If there’s one thing that Drake’s always been good at, it’s memorable lyrics. “Under a picture lives some of the greatest quotes from me,” he boasts on the Beatles-sampling ‘Champagne Poetry’, nodding to his fans turning his lines into social media captions. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any new zingers to liven up your feed on ‘Certified Lover Boy’ though – while Instagram captionability doesn’t necessarily equate to strong lyricism, the fact that 99 per cent of the album’s lines pass by unnoticed is a big L.
There is one memorable line on the record – but not for the reasons Drake probably thinks. “Say that you’re a lesbian, girl me too,” he raps on the Lil Baby-featuring ‘Girls Like Girls’. It’s cringe-y as fuck, the kind of thing kids think is smart when they’ve just hit puberty. Spilling out of the mouth of a 34-year-old man, it’s just tragic.
Sadly, that line isn’t quite the bottom of the barrel when it comes to this album. ‘Way 2 Sexy’ samples Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’ and finds Future doing his own version of that incredibly naff track: “I’m too sexy for this chain / Too sexy for your gang / Too sexy for this fame.” Later, Drake boasts: “I’m feeling too sexy to accept requests / And I’m way too sexy to go unprotected.” It is, quite frankly, one of the worst songs of the year.
There are brief glimmers of good dotted throughout ‘Certified Lover Boy’, although not all of them come from Drizzy himself. Nicki Minaj’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo on ‘Papi’s Home’ is an all-too-short burst of electricity, while Travis Scott’s verse on ‘Fair Trade’ is alluring and enticing. ‘Fountains’, meanwhile, features Nigerian singer Tems, whose smooth voice brings some beauty and variety to an otherwise tepid record that sounds like its creator is treading water.
‘No Friends In The Industry’ is one victory Drake can claim as his own – a three-and-a-half-minute railing against how isolated he is in the biz and how many enemies he has. Riding a lowkey beat and a shadowy melody, he uses the track to take subtle shots at Kanye West, with whom he’s been feuding for 12 years. Among them, he appears to reference rumours that Ye’s long-time collaborator Mike Dean had quit ‘DONDA’, as well as some of the record’s disgraced guests: “And your circle shrinkin’, see some boys escapin’ / Rest of them is guilty by association.”
Drake’s relationship with fame and success has long been a topic that he’s mined on past tracks, and it’s one he returns to often on ‘Certified Lover Boy’. By now, you’d think he would have accepted you can’t please everyone all the time, but he doesn’t seem able to do so. On closing track ‘The Remorse’, he offers some bitter advice for newcomers: “For the young Gs out here starting from the beginning / Nobody praying for you when you winning, don’t forget it.”
‘7am On Bridle Path’ takes the form of one long verse, in which he moans “There’s a mad shortage of people giving me kudos” and “You know the fourth level of jealousy is called media / Isn’t that an ironic revelation?” Perhaps if he focused on making better songs and letting himself explore new ground rather than whinging about how undervalued he is, he might find some more champions.
If Drake feels like the weight of the world is upon him, as he suggests on ‘Champagne Poetry’, ‘Certified Lover Boy’ is not going to go any way towards blasting away that burden. It offers nothing new to the rapper’s canon, merely going through the motions on his old formulas instead. If Drake really wants to enter a new golden age, he’s going to have to be a lot more creative – and tough with his editing – to make it happen. Right now, though, his spark is rapidly burning out.
Release date: September 3, 2021