There is only so much left to say with Drake. I will be completely honest off the top that I have always struggled to fully understand his appeal as he continues to cement himself as one of the biggest artists of all time. This disconnect became clearest with last September’s Certified Lover Boy, an album that felt like Drake repeating his regular formula with occasional failed attempts of self-satire and standout moments few and far between. Bottom line, it felt like Drake was out of ideas.
That brings us to the surprise release of Honestly, Nevermind, an album that, unlike Certified Lover Boy, is coming out with absolutely no hype or expectations. It is immediately clear why Drake decided to go with this strategy as this record ventures outside of his typical formula of hip-hop/R&B fusion and instead strives to be a danceable house record.
On paper, this should be an exciting development considering just how stale I have found every Drake release over the last half decade. There is also something to be said about any artist, especially one with as massive a fanbase as Drake’s, challenging listeners with something outside of the norm. The issue here is while the production of Honestly, Nevermind is certainly different from the rest of Drake’s catalog, it is far from daring or challenging.
The production is the best place to start here, considering it is what most conversations about this album will center around. The variety of producers that were assembled for this project certainly accomplished what they set out to do here. Each track is accompanied by a chill, clean beat that does not rock the boat too much while still giving listeners just a taste of what a house beat should sound like. There are certainly artists out there that could make something memorable out of this production but on its own it is less something to dance to and more something to have on in the background while you study.
The real issue with this project, however, comes down to Drake himself. As I mentioned, genre shifts should be an exciting development for any artist. Think of the discussions that formed around albums like 808s & Heartbreak or “Awaken, My Love!” when popularrappers decided to leave their comfort zones and create some of the most iconic music of their career. The difference with Honestly, Nevermind is that Drake has done absolutely nothing to go outside of his regular delivery. Nearly every track here sees him doing what we have seen him do countless times for years, singing monotonously about women who do not respect or treat him right. It makes what should be a fun, summertime record an absolute chore to listen through.
Even on tracks with better beats, there is just no additional effort from Drake’s performance. For example on “Massive” the beat genuinely builds up nicely with a fun groove and growing intensity that is begging for some kind of big crescendo but instead ends up falling flat and feeling overlong. The same goes for “Tie That Binds” that attempts to make something memorable with plucky Spanish guitars and gentle backing vocals but ends up amounting to nothing. I would honestly have let the sample of a squeaking bed on “Currents” slide if the song did anything that felt tongue-in-cheek, but sadly Drake’s delivery remains constant.
The album does give fans a couple moments of hip-hop, with tracks like “Sticky” and “Jimmy Cooks.” These are probably the most exciting tracks on the album, with the latter being the only real standout despite totally ditching the sound of the previous 13 songs. Even if these might be noticeable improvements from the rest of the project, it shows a lack of commitment and confidence for Drake to fully commit to this new sound that he clearly wants to be embraced for. And while both of these songs might be easy to pick out of this tracklist, I am almost positive I would have forgotten about “Sticky” if it had been on Certified Lover Boy and the main redeeming aspect of “Jimmy Cooks” is a solid 21 Savage feature.
I understand that Drake is too big to fail and I know people will make many of these tracks big hits whether I like it or not. And if in the process of doing that Drake turns his fans onto a new genre they previously were not being exposed to, who am I to be mad. But the issue with this project comes down to the fact that this does not feel like a dramatic attempt at something new but instead repurposes Drake’s typical style in a way that will get it on more playlists. If you want house music to bump at your summer parties, you’re better up looking up any 10-hour house beats video on Youtube than subjecting people to this slog.
Best Tracks: Sticky, Massive, Jimmy Cooks (feat. 21 Savage)
Worst Track: Liability