Music

The pros and cons of Drake's long-awaited new album, Certified Lover Boy

How successful is the Toronto rapper's 6th studio album? We break down what works and what doesn't.

How successful is the Toronto rapper's 6th studio album? We break down what works and what doesn't

Drake's Certified Lover Boy arrived on Sept. 3, 9 months after its expected due date. (Submitted by the artist; design by Melody Lau/CBC Music)

When Drake first began teasing his sixth studio album in 2019, the world was not yet in lockdown. A lot has changed since then, but one thing remained: the astronomical levels of anticipation for the Toronto rapper's latest full-length offering. And almost nine months after its initial release date, Certified Lover Boy (CLB) has finally arrived. 

Expectations continue to be high for Drake, an artist whom many acknowledge as one of the world's biggest and most successful. And the lead-up has been full of delays and drama, the latter of which was fanned by a decade-long feud with fellow rapper, Kanye West, leading to rumours that the two were waiting for each other to drop their albums to compete on the same day. 

In the end, they avoided the same-day drop (West's Donda was added to streaming services over the weekend with West claiming his label did it without his permission), and Drake emerged victorious with his 11th number 1 album, earning the highest first-week sales of 2021. 

There's a lot to discover on Drake's new album. Clocking in at almost an hour and a half, and 21 songs total, CLB is drawing some mixed responses from fans and critics alike. Drake is known for consistently stretching the length of his albums and CLB can be seen as another bloated release, but within its long tracklist are some exciting revelations and surprises hinting at a new, more R&B-focused direction for the singer/rapper.

If you're unsure of where to start with CLB, scroll down as CBC Music's staff attempts to detangle the good from the bad on CLB


Pros

The intro

Drake and Noah "40" Shebib know how to start an album, and CLB is no different. Similar to "Tuscan Leather," which kicked off 2013's Nothing was the Same, 40 takes a well-known sample (in this case it's an interpolation of the Beatles' "Michelle" by Virginia musician Masego) and flips it multiple ways, allowing Drake to go extra long, keeping the energy 100 the entire time. "Under me I see all the people that claim they over me," he raps. "And above me I see nobody."


 

The new and old Canadian features

When Drake revealed guest features via Billboards in cities around the world, he notably didn't have one specified for Toronto leading some to believe that maybe CLB wouldn't include any Canadian collaborators. Thankfully, we were wrong. CLB includes some of Drake's regular roster of OVO affiliates such as PartyNextDoor ("F--king Fans"), Nineteen85 ("Get Along Better") and his right-hand man, Shebib. But, there are also some exciting new and returning names. Wondagurl, who last worked on 2015's If You're Reading This It's Too Late, is a co-writer and co-producer on "Fair Trade," a standout song that also samples Toronto R&B artist Charlotte Day Wilson's track, "Mountains." Elsewhere on the album, he taps Brampton producer Eli Brown for "In the Bible," Montreal producer/writer Kid Masterpiece for the Future feature, "N 2 Deep," and Toronto musician Monsune for "Race my Mind."

The 2nd half of the album

CLB divides neatly in two, with the second half's gravitational pull being stronger. As with 2018's Scorpion, Drake has back-loaded CLB with R&B-leaning songs with immediate appeal. "Race my Mind," "Fountains" and "IMY2" are the early standouts. Separating the rap-focused first half of the album from the bedroom vibes of the second is an arresting palate-cleanser, "Yebba's Heartbreak," two minutes of piano and vocals from the Arkansas singer-songwriter that will leave you in awe.


 

How the Kanye beef turns up the heat

Drake's beef with Kanye West has fuelled some of the hardest hitting songs on the album, especially "7am on the Bridle Path" and "No Friends in the Industry." While others get personal, Drake says he prefers to keep it to music. "You n----s ain't no kin and that's a fact/ and I'm like Sha'Carri, smoke 'em on and off the track," he raps on "No Friends," throwing in a reference to the American track star Sha'Carri Richardson, who appeared in a Donda teaser video. And true to his series of songs referring to times and places, "7am on Bridle Path" comes with pure energy, a four-minute, all-bars, no-chorus aural assault that gives us some of the best bars on the album. (Props for finding a rhyme for Antetokounmpo). "And look at the heroes fallin' from grace in their older ages," he raps, a line clearly pointed at West. "If we talkin' top three, then you been slidin' to third like stolen bases."


 

The impeccable production

Whether you're an early adopter, still on the fence or giving it a hard pass, one thing is undeniable: the sound of CLB is stunning. Anchoring the production crew is longtime Drake collaborator Shebib, with outstanding work by a whole roster of young talent, including Oz the Producer ("Girls Want Girls"), Leon Thomas III ("Pipe Down") and Metro Boomin ("Knife Talk"), as well as stalwarts Cardo ("7am on the Bridle Path") and Bink! ("You Only Live Twice"), to single out the most head-turning examples.

Cons

The use of an R. Kelly sample  

While Drake's foe Kanye West recently received backlash for bringing out alleged abuser Marilyn Manson at his Chicago listening event (Manson is also credited as a co-writer on the Donda track "Jail Pt 2"), the Toronto rapper himself has prompted an angry response from fans for a name that appears in CLB's credits: R. Kelly. Kelly's 1998 song, "Half on a Baby" is sampled in the intro of "TSU," a track that also samples NSYNC's "Sailing." But Kelly's inclusion is sparking controversy given he is currently on trial for multiple sex-trafficking and racketeering charges. In recent weeks, the Brooklyn federal court trial has included testimony of Kelly's years of pursuing, taking advantage of, and abusing young girls including a recounting of his illegal marriage to singer Aaliyah, an artist whom Drake has been obsessed with for years.

The emoji cover art

Drake is known for creating some of the most iconic album covers in modern music history. From the sombre Take Care portrait to the meme-worthy Views art that prominently features the rapper atop the CN Tower, the Toronto artist knows how to compose a memorable cover. But Certified Lover Boy's album art will likely go down as one of Drake's most divisive. Released earlier this week, many thought that the album cover was a joke at first: a white background with 12 pregnant women emojis. Some tried to make sense of it (the album was nine months late and coming out on Labour Day weekend, get it?), but most were just confused. While Drake hasn't explained the significance of CLB's cover, he did reveal that the man behind the cover was British contemporary artist Damien Hirst.

The questionable 'Too Sexy' sample

Only Drake could get Future to rework Right Said Fred's 1991 hit "I'm Too Sexy" into a hook for his track, "Way 2 Sexy." Whether or not it actually works is a whole other debate. The track, which also features Young Thug, includes one of the album's most surprising samples, and definitely caught many fans off guard, with BBC's Annie Mac declaring: "I didn't expect to wake up this morning to hear Drake sampling Right Said Fred." Fans seem split though, with some finding the track to be too cheesy while others are praising it for its left-field choice and humour. That said, Right Said Fred definitely find it "VERY cool" that they're on Drake's new album.

Some cringe-inducing bars

Drake has long been hip hop's king of trolling (although newcomer Lil Nas X may have dethroned him) and his meme-able persona wouldn't be complete without cringe-worthy lyrics that make listeners pull a face or roll their eyes. CLB doesn't disappoint on that front. In the same vein as the head-scratching lyric "I'm light skinned but I'm still a dark n----," from his 2018 track, "Nonstop," the line that set Twitter ablaze as soon as CLB dropped was, "Say that you a lesbian, girl, me too," on "Girls Want Girls" featuring Lil Baby. Is Drake fetishizing lesbianism? Is he championing the "gay agenda?" The only response to this lyric is to sigh deeply and keep it moving.

And imagine the moment when Adonis is old enough to understand the lyric "I had to f--k a lot of girls to get a kid like this," on "You Only Live Twice." Is there a worse kind of cringe than the embarrassment parents can inflict on their kids? And the crown for cheesiest lyric on the entire album has to go to: "You tell them I run the country, they'll say 'Trudeau'" from "7am on the Bridle Path."

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