It’s not been easy to be a Drake optimist lately. Sure, he still has hits in him but, after a series of bloated album releases, including last year’s forgettable ‘Dark Lane Demo Tapes’, there’s been a lingering sense of staleness and the flame beginning to faintly flicker in a rap megastar who appears content in treading water.
But he’s promised he’ll soon release a more “concise” record than his recent sprawling albums and mixtapes. Last year’s straight-up banger ‘Laugh Now, Cry Later’ proved Drizzy’s still firmly in control of the charts and the fact that his next album is called ‘Certified Lover Boy’ suggests we’ll see a less po-faced Drake, more like the tongue-in-cheek rapper we know and love. There’s cause for positivity and the cautious hope that Toronto’s son’s sixth studio album – previously expected in January 2021, now vaguely “coming soon” – might just signal a return to his all-conquering, all-killer no-filler ways.
Drake’s new three-track EP ‘Scary Hours 2’ essentially operates as a campaign launch for ‘Certified Lover Boy’ – just like its preceding two-song ‘Scary Hours’ EP, which was released a few months prior to his fifth album ‘Scorpion’ in 2018. That short-player increased anticipation but ultimately exposed the inconsistency – one hit (‘God’s Plan’), one miss (‘Diplomatic Immunity’) – that would muddy much of the full-length that followed. What, then, does this latest stop-gapper tell us about what Drizzy has in the bag?
Well, despite it being a step in the right direction, there’s certainly plenty on ‘Scary Hours 2’ that will feel familiar – even though these tracks are pretty disparate-sounding. Breezy and club-ready standout ‘What’s Next’ isn’t too dissimilar to ‘Laugh Now, Cry Later’; the quietly simmering ‘Wants and Needs’, which features a glittering star turn from Lil Baby, evokes some of the more brooding parts of ‘Scorpion’; and ‘Lemon Pepper Freestyle’ is the kind of exuberant freestyle cut that we know Drake likes to close his projects with.
Lyrically, he addresses many of the same topics that we’ve come to expect from latter-day Drake too: the journey from underdog to top boy (“I sit in a box where the owners do / A boss is a role that I’ve grown into”); pop shots at those trying to take his crown (“These days, fame is disconnected from excellence / Half the time, I gotta ask n***as what they profession is”); clap-backs at chitter-chatter about his personal life (“Leave me out the comments, leave me out the nonsense”). And – of course – Kanye: “I probably should go link with Yeezy / I need me some Jesus”.
The main difference here, though, is that Drake simply sounds a bit more fired-up and focussed. The production feels sharper, more urgent and engaging – from the piercing, siren-like synths of opening track ‘What’s Next’ to the swirling, UK bass-indebted instrumental of Rick Ross collab ‘Lemon Pepper Freestyle’. That latter track, too, features four-plus minutes of straight bars that see Drizzy steal the show entirely from Rozay.
You can always count on Drake to serve up some memorable lines, and ‘Lemon Pepper Freestyle’ alone delivers plenty of these. We’re treated to the very Drake one-liners “I did brunch with the judge we appearing before” and “I sent her the child support / She sent me the heart emoji”, and you can’t help but smirk when he outlines his exchanges with suburban mums while attending parent-teacher meetings: “Wives get googly-eyed / Regardless of what they husbands do to provide / Askin’ if I know Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj”.
Overall, on ‘Scary Hours 2’ Drake sounds less like an artist with something to prove and more like a title defender who might finally be willing to challenge himself again. He’s described the release as simply a “warm up ting” to his “next masterpiece”, and it certainly does enough to build hype for the main event. As he raps on its opening track: “We’ll see what’s ’bout to happen next.”
Release date: March 5
Record label: OVO Sound/Republic Records