Review | Drake’s still untouchable on ‘Certified Lover Boy’

Well, the most anticipated album of the past two years has finally arrived … and the first sound you hear on Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy” is … The Beatles?

Whether or not it’s actually The Fab Four’s direct recording of “Michelle” that’s being sampled on the leadoff track “Champagne Poetry” is hard to discern due to the fact that they’re given the accelerated Alvin & The Chipmunks treatment, but the intriguingly repeated refrain of “I love you” from the Beatles’ song’s chorus that fills in the backdrop represents the dichotomy of the Toronto rapper’s inner emotional turmoil.

I’ve been on a high since the birth of my son/I remain unphased/Trust, worse has been done/Man, f– evaluation/show me personal funds/It’s the pretty boys vs. the petty boys/Sold out already/Got a new set of toys/S–t is so surreal/Drizzy Drake you’d better enjoy,” raps the man known by a number of pseudonyms, Champagne Papi among them, as he talks about the love, trust and loyalty of his colleagues in helping him attain a place in his career where “above me, I see nobody.”

About halfway through this five-and-a-half-minute pronouncement, the song’s mood shifts and Drake bundles complaints about city politics, a reference to the COVID-driven lockdown, an extortion from his cleaning staff, personal guilt, and the fact that “My heart is vacant and lonely” before triumphantly declaring that “this is the part where I’m gonna find a new part of me to explore.”

Keep in mind, this is just the first track of a 21-song album that clocks in at just over 86 minutes and one that has marinated in Drake’s soul since his fifth and previous studio effort, 2018’s “Scorpion.” It’s been delayed by knee surgery, the pandemic, Drizzy’s own possible bout of COVID — and who knows what else?

But this pregnant pause seems to have placed Drizzy in an overall darker mood and perhaps a personal crossroads, something that many will probably find relatable and, depending on the subject matter, like when he seemingly whines about not making as much money as people think during “CLB”s final track “The Remorse,” totally unrelatable.

However, this fact remains: no matter what you think of Drake’s artistry, he has been ever the innovator, establishing a New Word Order as he elevated hip-hop to a new standard with his thoughtful use of vernacular, whether spoken or sung.

On “Certified Lover Boy,” Aubrey “Drake” Graham continues his pace-setting ways, although aside from the beats laid down by his production posse, including local natives Noah “40” Shebib, Maneesh, Monsune, Wondagurl, Nineteen85 and PartyNextDoor, and a more global constituency that includes Montreal’s Kid Masterpiece, Jamaica’s Masego, Miami’s TM88, Zurich’s OZ, St. Louis’ Metro Boomin’ and others, much of this album is stamped with the trademark of familiarity.

But that’s Drake, he has a stylish knack for mining hooks on songs such as the low key, harp-embellished “Race My Mind” — arguably the album’s finest track — or “Fair Trade” featuring Travis Scott, where the earworms infiltrate your brain when you least expect it.

Drake also boasts the uncanny ability to hold what seems like a direct conversation with a particular individual yet translate it into something universal for the listener. On these types of songs, like the aggressive “7am On Bridle Path,” or the laid-back “TSU,” you don’t really know what he is talking about, nor whom he is talking to, but those who love his music extract snippets from these tunes and apply them to their own personal situations. It’s a gift of mystery and intrigue that is one of Drizzy’s most notable accomplishments.

As for features: well, “Certified Lover Boy” is stacked with them, from an uncredited cameo by Nicki Minaj on “Papi’s Home” and fellow superstars Lil Wayne and Rick Ross sharing the flow on “You Only Live Twice;” Jay Z factoring in on “Love All,” Kid Cudi on “IMYI2“ Travis Scott contributing to “Fair Trade” and long-time compadre Future weighs in on two “CLB” tracks – “N 2 Deep” and “Way 2 Sexy,” the latter done with Young Thug and interpolating a sample of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy.”

But, as usual, Drake also gives lifts to rising talent, as Nigeria’s TEMS – Temilade Openiyi, currently enjoying a No. 1 hit with former Drizzy collaborator Wizkid with “Essence” — adds her transcendent alto to “Fountains.” R&B/trap singer Giveon embellishes “In The Bible” with rapper Lil Durk (whose previous hit with Drake, this album’s supposed first single “Laugh Now, Cry Later,” is nowhere to be found on “CLB”) –— and in the album’s weakest moment, West Memphis singer Yebba is given her own spotlight on the passable “Yebba’s Heartbreak.”

As with all Drake musical efforts, the contributing army he amasses on the way to creating his masterpieces are too numerous to mention. Suffice to say, though, no one on “Certified Lover Boy” is more important than its anchor, the SixGod ringmaster who instinctively knows what he wants and how to go about obtaining it.

In Drizzy’s own words, he describes the album on Apple Music as “a combination of toxic masculinity and acceptance of truth which is inevitably heartbreaking.”

In my words, Drake has lost none of his brooding Mojo. He’s still untouchable, a potent orator and, at the moment and for probably some time to come, music’s greatest influencer.

No matter how “Certified Lover Boy” is received, one thing is for certain: his next move will be “History,” you know, the new East end Toronto venue that he co-owns with Live Nation and continues his fascination with Michael Jackson, also prevalent on this album.

Drake’s not about to rest on his laurels anytime soon.


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