Album: Certified Lover Boy
Label: OVO / Republic Records
Release date: Sept. 3
Scheduled to be released as early as January, Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy” was arguably the most anticipated hip-hop release of 2021. After multiple postponements, the Toronto native finally delivered on his promise, releasing “CLB” at 2 a.m. Friday.
Drake was not oblivious to the extended wait, enlisting artist Damien Hirst to design a striking album cover featuring a series of nine emoji-esque pregnant women, signifying the nine-month delay.
Sadly, the album’s lazy cover is all-too indicative of the project’s poor quality. Rapping about mistakes made on both ends in past relationships, Drizzy is not the carefree, ready for anything bad boy listeners heard in the early 2010s. He’s a seasoned veteran who’s taken a load of punches across his life. But while those scars may make for some heartfelt stories, there’s not much of that here, only showing a wane in quality from one of hip-hop’s finest.
Opening up with “Champagne Poetry,” the J.L.L.-produced beat eerily yet confidently sets the album’s tone. As Drake continues to rap about his largest flexes, one can see bits of shade sprinkled throughout the two verses. These larger-than-life flexes don’t feel the same as they did six years ago, when they felt fresh and alluring.
Now it’s beginning to feel dull and overused.
Problems continue to develop in the off-putting “Girls Want Girls.” As the name suggests, the album’s third track features Drake and guest Lil Baby discussing their love of lesbian women. Leaving little room for interpretation, the rappers deliver in the poorest of takes, comparing themselves to lesbian women for the sole reason that they are both attracted to females. While outrageous lines such as “You say that you a lesbian, girl, me too” [Drake] and “She like eating p---y, me too” [Lil Baby] may appear comical from shock value, the writing feels incredibly insensitive and the “comparisons” do little to redeem that creative decision.
Luckily, tracks like “Love All” makes listening through the more lazily contrived pieces worthwhile. Featuring a verse from the reliable Jay-Z, the pair heartfully rap about their journeys and betrayal they’ve faced over the years over a beautiful soul beat. While its tune definitely strays from the album’s core, “Love All” thankfully results in one of the project’s best songs, reminding listeners that Drake can still make exceptional music when he puts his mind to it:
“Never had a lot, this is all I need / People never care ‘til it’s R.I.P. / N----a turned they back on me for no good reason / Loyalty is priceless and it’s all I need / Can’t burn a bridge just to light my way / Lotta ‘42 on the flights I’m takin’ / Pourin’ out my soul and it might sound crazy / Lotta fallin’ outs help me build foundation.”
Later in the project, Drake and Houston native Travis Scott deliver a song completely undeserving of the legacy left by their last two singles together (“SICKO MODE” and the Quavo-assisted “Portland”). Backed by a beautiful beat mixed with vocals and instrumentation from producer Wondagurl, “Fair Trade” features the generational stars providing poorly constructed verses about the women and wealth in their lives, made even worse from the poor mixing/editing with the start of Scott’s verse.
One of the album’s highlights comes from longtime collaborator Future. The Atlanta rapper is as confident as ever as he raps with such a smoothness that even a lackluster verse demands respect. While his emphatically comical, yet still impressive, bout on “Way 2 Sexy” is sure to be stuck in the heads of millions of listeners, the rapper truly shines on “N 2 Deep.” Made in a similar vein to the duo’s previously released “Life is Good,” a beat switch allows both Drizzy and Future to rhyme over their own respective beat, blending two songs into one. While Drake’s part on “N 2 Deep” feels too similar to a Blink-182 x Travis Scott-esque infusion of rock and emo music, Future cleverly uses his beat to steal the show as always, delivering a simple yet clever verse on how he spends his money:
[Future] “Shorty met a sponsor in the club / Shock’s spend a hundred like dubs / I’m lovin’ droppin’ bands on her / Emilio Pucci curvin’ her up / We turn the studio into a strip club / Got the strippers goin’ way up.”
By the time the album reaches “TSU” and “Pipe Down,” Drake’s problems with repetition become all too clear, as the rapper’s mix of hurt, hateful and cocky emotions begin to blur together. Even with some expertly crafted bars, Drizzy’s once great storytelling ability feels like a pool of throw-away bars about successes and failures:
[“Pipe Down”] “Tried to run it back a hundred times / The world is yours, but the city’s mine / I can't believe you put it on your mother's life / I can’t believe you told me it was ride or die / ‘Cause you're not here, somehow you're still alive / True enough I know you from the other side / I set my expectations way too high / Yeah, and I would listen to the lies that you would tell all night / Angel eyes, but you've been giving me hell all night.”
Usually at his best when the world is against him, Drake’s peak on his latest is easily “No Friends in the Industry.” Complete with the “public enemy number one” mentality that defined the mid 2010s, Drizzy finds time to make timely references about Olympic athletes (“I’m like Sha’Carri, smoke ‘em on and off the track”) and address his beefs while shutting down his haters in an aggressive fashion:
“See, I was young angel but these n----a turned me evil / Yeah, I know I know you, but you really ain’t my people / Yeah, I heard some people say they know ‘em as my equal / Truth be told, I son these n----a, girl, I don’t compete with ‘em / Ask about The Boy and they gon’ say they got the streets with him.”
Never one to disappoint with features, Drake brings some of the most exciting talent from across the industry onto the album. On top of stellar verses from current mainstays like 21 Savage and Lil Durk, singers Yebba and Tems shine in some of the album’s most heartfelt, poignant moments. The most exciting singing guest comes in the form of singer-rapper Kid Cudi, who raps as positively as ever on “IMY2.”.
“You Only Live Twice” contains a beautiful soul beat that would make old-school Kanye West’s heart skip a beat. Continuing the cockily positive bars that got him started, Drake raps alongside mentors Lil Wayne and Rick Ross. The track harkens back to the days of 200911, when Drake was still a “kid,” learning from Wayne and Ross. The trio spit some of their most reflectively braggadocious verses in years, sure to make any longtime rap fans giddily smile:
[Rick Ross] “Damn, how can I forgive like this? / I gotta dead a lot of sh-- just to live like this / I had to f--- a lot of girls to get a kid like this / I had to get a lot of cribs to get a crib like this, n---a.”
Drizzy rarely misses, an idea widely accepted by even his biggest detractors. But while this project has some exceptional tracks that are sure to make their way onto many year-end “best song” lists, “Certified Lover Boy'” is easily Drake’s worst album yet, representing a disappointing decline in an iconic discography.
Alex Falter is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org