For weeks now, Kanye and Drake have been rekindling their rivalry to set up a release day showdown between their respective 2021 projects, DONDA, and Certified Lover Boy. The drama was high. The bars were decent (at best.) There was even a bit of doxing at work in the pre-drop theatrics. But the surprise centerpiece to both albums was an appearance from JAY-Z, who, as rap’s first billionaire mogul, apparently doesn’t see much of a profit margin in picking sides. And though his allegiances are unclear, we don’t need too much more time with Certified Lover Boy to know that Hov’s latest features, arriving less than a week apart, are in two very different leagues.
On “All Love,” the fifth track from Certified Lover Boy, the Brooklyn rap legend speaks with equal parts calm and urgency about navigating betrayal and toxic relationships. “Niggas wanted to kill me and y’all still with ’em, Nigga, y’all chill with ’em, and y’all wonder why we not friends/Best thing I can do is not build with you, When I could destroy you, that takes some fuckin’ discipline,” Hov says in the song’s second verse, before throwing a few threats out at an unspecified foe and (because nothing says sophistication like quoting a turn-of-the-20th-century play) invoking Oscar Wilde’s “definition of a cynic” as a closer. It’s a short and cagey callback to earlier forms of the rap icon’s on-record demeanor. Not his best lines to date (by a long shot,) but easily his most polished of the year. Especially if we rewind to earlier this week when Hov helped his formerly estranged friend Kanye open DONDA.
Initially previewed during West’s first DONDA listening event at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Arena, JAY”s verse on “Jail” was as rushed and unrefined as the album it landed on several weeks down the line. Rife with biblical references and a strain of status-flexing that hasn’t aged well, Hov’s appearance on DONDA does more to play into the unending melodrama of the album’s cursed rollout than deliver the long-awaited “Watch The Throne Reunion” many had hoped for. For a verse that was recorded just hours before it was released, it’s not terrible. But again, it’s far and wide from his best work with or without Kanye.
That said, if anyone’s cashing in on this supposed feud between the “Pop Style” collaborators, it’s Hov and the handful of other artists who appeared on DONDA and Certified Lover Boy. But if we’re to evaluate these projects on the strength of their Hov features alone, Drake takes it by a mile. And it’s not even close.
Stream Drake’s new album Certified Lover Boy below and scroll on to see some of the reactions to JAY-Z’s appearance.
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