There was a time, not too long ago, when Drake had a lot to say. Maybe you remember the origin story: A gang, Canadians Degrassi the star went to Houston in 2009 where he covered his mixtape with a spritz of codeine appropriated and banged on Trey Songz and Lil Wayne’s doors until he got a record deal to call his own.
Drake possesses audacious belief that he can re-occupy the music industry with his wildly unorthodox image; he’ll take the stage in letter-writer polo shirts and jackets and write lines about his disgusting popularity and miss his dorm room. He even created a necklace of pearl-encrusted bottles and a Toronto Blue Jays hat on the cover of Vibe.
It actually worked, against all odds. In the early 2010s, as the all-too-realistic millennial stereotype was just beginning to calcify, Drake became our unquestionable avatar. I was a 20 year old sophomore at a giant public college when Take care launched, which means I represent Drake’s exact target demographic. He samples a voicemail message left behind by an ex-fire ex-fire on the “Marvins Room” and names the last generation of isolated, self-conscious talkers. Drake is sulking towards the Pantheon, and we’re lucky to be on the ride.
So you can understand my displeasure last Friday, after Drake let go seventh studio album, Honestly, never mind, at midnight. The disc features 14 songs and is 55 minutes long, and it officially introduces the rapper’s Caligula era. Something has disappeared terrible wrong here. Drake traded in the toolbox he had received so far for a whisper, the Ibiza-ish EDM alcohol instantly evaporated into thin air.
Many people are joking that Honestly, never mind sounds like stocks, hypebeast muzak you can listen in ZARA’s fitting room, all rave pianos and loose drums. But for me, it’s more like a weird vibe The 808s & Heartbreak. Drake barely raps during his run, choosing instead to rely on the honeyed vocals that have scored him multi-million dollar hits like “Hotline Bling” and “Wait, we’re going home.” But unlike those songs, none on the album is capable of capturing the faintest emotional responses. It’s designed to be neutral music — fleetingly pleasant, low-stakes strong — with all of Drake’s trademark pompousness surgically removed.
My mother would probably like it. Honestly, never mind It’s certainly the first Drake album that can make it to a Spotify playlist based on her algorithm, and that could be the point. After more than a decade of domination, Drake no longer appeals to our demonic passions. He was happy to mingle in the streams and draw his checks. I was a fool for hoping for another classic Drake record. If I pay close attention, I can tell that he is bound to end up like this.
I saw Drake live in Take care toured back in 2012. He was wildly popular — we were in a basketball arena packed to the rafters. But the reality of that popularity is still far from solid. Drake is in his early twenties, still feeling his genius parameters, and towards the end of the show, right before the encore, he delivers a quintessentially self-centered monologue. Drake told us he knew, one day, he was going to fall. The records will not be sold forever. How can they? Like all of us, he will eventually grow old, dry and out of place. So thank you, he said, for showing up, because nothing lasts forever.
At the beginning of Billboard’s decade-long reign, Drake worried about the inevitable end. That neurosis has always powered his best songs. This is a man who endured the pressures of success long before he was successful himself. Drake can never relax and enjoy the ride, and he desperately wants us to understand why. What is Aubrey eating? Haunting memories of a healthy civilian entrenched returning to his homeland? He will tell you The exact Hooters she works at. A spoiler that he – and only him – might be interested in? He will dry all your dirty clothes in public. The ex-girlfriend that he almost certainly mistreated? He’ll build a song out of her outrageous complaints. Drake knows he’s leading a fascinating life and he’s happy to give us all the gory details.
You can’t blame the guy pulling back; those of us who grew up on the internet inevitably become ashamed of our paper ruts. The first crack in his portfolio was probably 2016 View, an album of sour, stuffy, stagnant water and no fresh juices Drake character. (Honestly, you could argue that View worse Honestly, never mind, but that’s a section for another column.)
But for me, the breaking point came in 2018, when Drake found himself in a feud with the famous Pusha T. Pusha learned that Drake had recently become a father, which has yet to join the public they are trained by TMZ. He deployed that detail is the core of “The Story of Adidon,” an excellent brutal diss track, and confused Drake for his first real celebrity. (“You’re hiding a kid, let him go home / Fuck you playing border control,” yeesh.) The rapper has repeatedly humiliated himself, but this is different. Someone else has taken control of Drake’s closely cult story. That’s not the deal and I’m not sure he’s ever fully recovered.
I think that’s why Drake’s last two studio albums, 2018 Scorpion and previous years Certified Lover, landed with a thud. Both recordings produced multiple hits — Drake has never, and likely never will, lose his ear to a beat. But the messy closeness of the mark was glaringly lacking. Drake’s most recent chart-topper is “Way 2 Sexy” a song too obvious, intentionally stupid that it samples Right Said Fred’s single of the same name. In “In My Feelings” video, released shortly after Pusha T’s debut, Drake plays a dizzying alternate timeline where he remains a struggling rapper well into his thirties – a moron forever without money to support lifestyle, and therefore don’t have to worry about celebrities. Honestly, he looks pretty happy!
It’s a relief to leave all your earliest artistic inclinations in the dust without incurring any financial penalties. In many ways, Drake is more successful than ever. He’s mastered every trend that prevails in the music industry, consistently releasing 20 massive tracks and winding B-side collections, specifically designed to tap into as much space as possible. Spotify sound the better. He grew more and more greedy with his collabs — honing his ruthless nose for virality — to the point of inventing an entire TikTok trend. (“Slide Toosie” is at the head of the entire pandemic.) None of these tactics make Drake an exception: Record companies know how hot dogs are made, which is why we have to. endured Scorsese-length Migos albums. But I remember the brief time when Drake dared to call himself the voice of his generation. He himself was always the most interesting part of his art, but he didn’t want us in the house anymore.
That brings us back Honestly, never mind, a Drake album in which Drake is effectively invisible. Like Jayson Greene notes at Pitchforkthe rapper seems to disappear into a Balearic watch, flying through brief pockets of air with a sigh or whimper, distilling confessions of his vivid love into a few candy heart motifs. Honestly, never mind won’t cause any rumors or conspiracies, because in 2022, Drake is happy to treat music as a daily chore. Again, no one could blame him for escaping from the cup. Drake is a 35-year-old single dad, and one of the most exciting things about getting older is realizing that you can no longer afford to wear your heart on your sleeve. And anyway, the album set new streaming thresholds; he shouldn’t regret it.
However, I couldn’t help believing that old, hot-tempered, thin-skinned Drake, my beloved, was lurking in the benthic regions of his brain. Over the weekend, we saw a dramatic change of it, as the rapper geared up to announce a muted critical reception for his latest project. “It’s all good if you don’t understand yet. All is well,” he said, at a release party for Honestly, never mind. “That’s what we do. That’s what we do, we wait for you to catch up. But here we are, we’re already catching up.” That’s the guy I know and love. – Not Crazy, Actually Laughing – creating a new set of scores to deal with. I can only hope he can touch that dark beast one more time, for one more piece of work. The earlier he entered his midlife crisis, the better.