Mikael Wood

ANN/THE STAR – To call Drake’s Certified Lover Boy (CLB) a flop, as many have done since the album’s release in September, is to say more about the hip-hop superstar’s overall success than on the perceived failure of a Grammy nominee. LP that broke multiple streaming records en route to finishing 2021 as the third biggest release of last year.

But ok, of course: unlike nearly everything Drake had done since beginning his major-label recording career over a decade ago, the twisty CLB went slightly out of tune from the time of pop culture. The album didn’t lead to a string of lasting radio hits, and the music didn’t take over TikTok and social media in the fashion of a modern hit. For perhaps the first time, Drake’s grip seemed to slip.

Which makes it easier to view Honestly, it doesn’t matter – the CLB follow-up he was caught on June 17 just hours after revealing his existence – as Drake fired a reset.

Consisting almost entirely of sleek, airy club music jams in which he raps as little as ever, Drake’s seventh studio album marks an undeniable shift in direction. Yet what an attractive and perverse choice for a potential course correction. Drake flirted with the sounds of house music in songs such as Passionfruit and Take Care.

But here he leans into the concept harder than any other A-list act, laying down tightly structured verses and choruses over rhythmic, timeless beats produced by a team led by his longtime studio accomplice, Noah 40. Shebib, with Gordo and South Africa. Black coffee. In the tenderness of the music – more than one song recalls the post-Missing Everything But The Girl – Drake plays with hip-hop’s evolving ideas of masculinity; it’s also fascinating to hear pop’s preeminent solipsist engage in grooves and textures traditionally suited for communal purposes.

Drake accepts the award for Best Rap Song at the 61st Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles in 2019. PHOTO: LOS ANGELES TIMES

Does Drake make a good house diva? His vocals on Honestly, Nevermind are clearly blanketed in autotune, and after the opener Falling Back, where he soars into a breathless falsetto, his vocal melodies rarely venture beyond a comfortable midrange. Still, there’s an endearing vulnerability to his delivery in songs like Texts Go Green and Calling My Name that dovetails beautifully with the promise of abandonment in the production; the result is both melancholic and ecstatic, as in Down Hill, where Drake laments a relationship in constant confusion, which comes to an end as drums and keyboards threaten to turn into Lionel Richie’s All Night Long.

Although the music moves at a faster pace than on Drake’s earlier records, he still surrounds himself with signifiers of lavish sophistication: for example, the floating Spanish-style guitar in Tie That Binds. But he seems sincere in his desire, whatever the inspiration, to encounter house music on its own terms. Those propulsive piano triplets in Massive? As essential to the genre as a power chord is to hard rock.

Indeed, it’s Drake’s commitment that makes the album closer, Jimmy Cooks, so shocking. Built on a sample of a heart-pounding Memphis rap track, it has Drake and the LP’s only featured guest, 21 Savage, trading rounds of tough talk about fearing no foe.

Drake dares such a foe, spitting out the words instead of cooing them like he used to.

It’s a reminder that he knows we’re listening – and that he’s always formulating a response.