When Certified Lover Boy dropped last year, it seemed like Drake was running out of steam. The album wasn’t good — in his decade-plus of having mainstream music in the full nelson, Drake has had a penchant for releasing not good albums. But Certified was mediocre in a way a Drake album has never been before. For someone whose charm offensive is derived from a genius level of self-awareness, Certified‘s premise was way too on the nose. Most of the songs sounded like Drake imitating Drake, resulting in an album of half-assed old tricks and fan service so grating only the most dedicated stans who border on cultists could fully appreciate.
Sure, the album isn’t without its peaks. “Papi’s Home” has a flawless execution, and he went in on “7am On Bridle Path” and “No Friends In The Industry.” This speaks to a constant with Drake albums: most of them are disposable as a whole but there are always a few gems you’ll take with you forever. He can drop anthems at the drop of a dime with what seems like little effort, which is the reason why he’s the world’s biggest singles artist, the Recording Industry Association of America’s top certified singles artist, and has spent a remarkable 431 straight weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100. However, the caveat is that his bodies of work suffer, resulting in incoherent projects that feel bloated and grasping for attention — and adulation — from every nook, corner, and cranny of his fanbase.
So, it was a shock when Drake released his latest project, Honestly, Nevermind, with little heed or warning and, even more shocking, it wasn’t just cohesive but good, too. Coming in at 14 tracks (really 13 if you don’t count the 36-second intro) and around 52 minutes (surprisingly making it Drake’s shortest studio album to date), Nevermind is a potent, no filler, no half-baked ideas album that’s Drake’s best — and by a wide margin, too.
Nevermind‘s success is primarily due to how it sticks straight to a theme: club music — and not the macabre tracks DJs are forced to play at functions today — that pulls from house and Jersey and Baltimore club music, all with a hint of Noah “40” Shebib’s hallmark ambient sound. This is a winning formula because Drake is a vibes artist, and dance music is first (and foremost) about good vibes. The best dance records have a penchant for propulsive rhythms, four-on-the-floor bass, and a vocalist that’s either a powerhouse or can barely carry a note. Who cares, though? We’re here for a good time.
Granted, this is one of the criticisms levied against Nevermind — that Drake’s vocal performance is lackluster. Whether this is true or not is beside the point. House music is full of people who aren’t vocal maestros (In Living Color poked fun at this decades ago); for every CeCe Peniston or Robin S., there are a handful of folks who’d get an “It’s a no for me, dog” from Randy Jackson. Drake isn’t an awful singer. If so, him having a vocal coach would be for naught, and his cover of Kanye West’s “24” wouldn’t be so beautiful. But the vocal performances on Nevermind could leave you wanting more. Fortunately, the album is so seamless that you won’t be too deterred by the vocals.
Save for the last two tracks, the album can come across as three or four long songs, akin to a club experience of hearing a good DJ effortlessly blend song after song after song. The sequencing here is excessively better than anything Drake has done since Nothing Was The Same, but more deviation in texture, energy, or subgenre would have been welcomed. For instance, Drake stepping outside of house and offering his take on something like “Flowers” or “Gabriel” — more in the vein of UK garage, which wouldn’t be surprising considering Drake’s past flirtations with UK music — would have been a discerning change of pace. These oversights aren’t enough to hold back how marvelous Nevermind is though. Tracks like “Falling Back,” “Texts Go Green,” and “Calling My Name” are superb homages to house music, and “Sticky” and “Massive” are going to be inescapable summer songs.
If you ever wondered what would happen if Drake teamed up on an album executive produced by Black Coffee — the producer of More Life standout “Get It Together” — Nevermind is your answer. Drake isn’t so much an innovator as he is a sublime tastemaker. Does he merely ride waves or have a unique ability to predict when they may crest? I’ll go with the latter. House music will be everywhere this summer and beyond (Beyoncé’s putting her foot in it) but if you’ve been paying attention, this shift has been heading our way for some time now. Kaytranada, Goldlink, Azealia Banks — hell, even Truffle Butter — are a few premonitions. While house may have left the mainstream, a deep love and appreciation of the genre never left us. There will be a lot of chatter about the genre’s roots, how it’s Black music, and this and that. While it’s essential to do our education, it’s also essential to celebrate life under the harbingers of doom that engulf us. Shut up and dance yourselves clean.
H. Drew Blackburn is a writer based in Dallas, Texas, whose work has been published by Texas Monthly, GQ, Complex and more. He’s working on a few screenplays. You can email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @hdrewblackburn.
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