After an eight-month delay, singer, rapper and occasional songwriter Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy” is here. The album comes after an uncharacteristically quiet period from the Toronto, Ontario native, his first studio album since 2018’s “Scorpion.”
The project wastes no time getting into poignant line delivery, with one of the project’s highest highs coming from its intro, “Champagne Poetry.” It’s where Drake feels the most like a human being with real, human struggles. Bars like “I know I tend to talk about how I got a fortune on me/But with that comes the politics the city been forcing on me/Man, I can't even RIP and show my remorse to the homie/Know I carry the guilt of the city's misfortune on me” are especially excellent, displaying the immense pressure and struggles that come with superstardom.
The strife of co-parenting, depression, pressure and anxiety aren’t new themes for hip-hop, but they’re well-done on the opening track, and, unfortunately, it’s a feeling that’s not replicated often through the first half of the project.
Unlike Scorpion, CLB feels indecisive and labored almost immediately. That isn’t to say the project is bad; it isn’t, and Drake once again shows how easy it is to drop a smash hit and run, with tracks like “Girls Want Girls” and “Way 2 Sexy” dominating the early charts. But unlike his previous projects, this album doesn’t know what it wants to be.
After talking about his struggles with his mental health, Drake immediately jumps into the catchy, yet corny, “Papi’s Home” and the aforementioned “Girls Want Girls.” It’s hard to take the rapper seriously when he drops lines that fetishize gay relationships like “Yeah, say that you a lesbian, girl, me too.” Yes, seriously, that’s the chorus. Maybe we should’ve collectively seen this coming with the joke of an album cover that is this monstrosity.
You know I can't resist a bit of art and pop culture, so here we go. Since people will be talking about @Drake's 'Certified Lover Boy' album cover by Damien Hirst (pictured), let's look at some other times artists created album covers... pic.twitter.com/yJUvXXTkJ3— Ferren Gipson (@ferrengipson) August 31, 2021
But just when you think you’re out on the project as a whole, Drake has a way to keep you enticed. Giveon does his thing on “In The Bible,” and the three-track stretch that lasts until “Fair Trade” is one of the best on the album. Speaking of “Fair Trade,” the Travis Scott feature plays it safe, but ultimately offers a unique sound that is often lacking on CLB. The track is further bolstered by the fact that it samples Toronto-born artist Charlotte Day Wilson’s “Mountains.”
With 15 features, some are bound to stand out more than others, and Jay-Z’s appearance on “Love All” is one of the more welcomed appearances. The themes of betrayal sung about by both artists are some of the most resonant on CLB, and given that the song is supposedly based on Jorja Smith, it is bound to get you in your feels.
But this is where the rollercoaster feel of CLB really stands out, with the project jettisoning you toward a catchy, but strange sample of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” in “Way 2 Sexy.” It’s impossible to get out of your head, but what the hell is happening here? The placement of the track is like jet lag in the worst imaginable way, but at least the TikToks are entertaining. And hey, getting Kawhi Leonard in a music video is nothing to sneeze at
After this point, CLB starts to feel a little more cohesive. “TSU” is a decent track, but loses points for sampling R. Kelly’s “Half on a Baby.” However, “Pipe Down” is a legitimately great track, and Arkansas-born singer Yebba provides a fantastic interlude at the midpoint of the album with “Yebba’s Heartbreak.”
What really sets Certified Lover Boy apart from some of the other 2021 albums is the sheer amount of featuring artists. Yebba is one of the few newcomers, but collaborations with artists like Project Pat on “Knife Talk” alongside 21 Savage is a welcome addition, especially considering the fact that Drake sampled the Memphis native on the 2018 track “Look Alive.”
The guest appearances of Lil Wayne and Rick Ross on “You Only Live Twice” and Kid Cudi on “IMY2” stand out on the final stretch of the project and each delivers some of their best verses in recent years, especially in the case of Lil Wayne.
Where the album really picks up is in its final stretch, headed by a four-track run that consists of the best songs on the project, “No Friends In The Industry,” the aforementioned “Knife Talk,” the epic “7am on Bridle Path” and “Race My Mind.” This is the stretch where we see Drake experiment, and he delivers by far some of the most dynamic and exhilarating bars of the project.
Regardless of if you buy stock in the Drake/Kanye West feud, it’s interesting to see Drake fuel the flames with lines like “And your circle shrinkin', see some boys escapin,'' which refers to West’s label losing some of its artists like Kid Cudi.
In all, Certified Lover Boy feels like a collection of good, not great, singles, and less like a cohesive studio album. And while the boy might be a certified lover, he needs to stay away from underaged girls.