Drake’s conquests in the hip-hop/rap scene have made him a household name since his Young Money days, affording him a seat at the table even in the homes of those who aren’t particularly fond of the genres he’s come to champion. Despite recent criticisms from self-proclaimed hip-hop connoisseurs looking to be high-brow contrarians, in taking one look at Drake’s vast, diverse discography, you’ll discover that perhaps things become mainstream for a reason.
Drake’s singularity as an artist is granted by his duality, which has given him the stamina to endure a career spanning 17 years and counting. He can simultaneously inhabit two personas: that of the certified loverboy and that of the stone-cold thug who collects bodies on bodies (in more ways than one).
From the vulnerability in mourning loves lost and the unadulterated, unapologetically expressed perils of fame on his sophomore album Take Care, to the ferocious, vengeful digs at men and women alike on Her Loss, Drake’s catalog of music holds something for every occasion. Songs from these respective albums like “The Motto (feat. Lil Wayne)” and “Rich Flex” with 21 Savage, on which Drake effortlessly matches the energy of his features, hold the mark of a genius.
On his newest project, For All The Dogs, Drake continues the chameleon act. But don’t be fooled — if the album’s consistency is any reflection of the orderliness of Drake’s life, his ducks are far from being in a row. Had it not been for a few exceptionally captivating tracks proving he can still maintain a vibe, we might question whether Drake knows where his ducks even are. His own little duckling, 6-year-old son Adonis, is featured on the album’s fifth track, “Daylight,” and his rap game is, well, debatable. Let it be far from me to put heat on a child, but I’m making the educated assumption that he’s much better at drawing dogs than freestyling. Children aside, For All The Dogs uniquely unites artists, old and new, with polished production that paints the various shades of Drake’s life at present, confirming that fatherhood doesn’t kill old habits.
“Virginia Beach” is conveniently the first song on For All The Dogs; listeners need not shovel through all 84 minutes of the record to tap into its most emotionally provocative piece, which owes enormously to the sampling of Frank Ocean’s unreleased “Wise Man.” Originally composed for Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 “Django Unchained” but cut from the soundtrack, this vaulted masterpiece is at once lush and transcendental, sounding as if sewn from the extraterrestrial “purple matter” sung of in Channel Orange’s “Pink Matter (feat. André 3000).” With Drake’s vocals superimposed over this sensuous, epiphanizing track, the R&B royalty’s chorus — “I bet our mother would be proud of you” — stands as a bookend to the song.
“Virginia Beach” lives and breathes in an entirely different realm than fans anticipated. Rather than taking a retaliative shot at longtime nemesis and Virginia Beach native Pusha-T, Drake delivers a guarding testimonial to the unequal expectations between two people in a relationship, with his partner’s standards of treatment bordering more on over the top than warranted. “Virginia Beach” unveils the trials and tribulations of the perpetual search for romantic authenticity under the harsh glare of the limelight. Despite its pretty packaging in the aeriality of the Ocean sound, we are reminded that he is the same old Drake with lyrics about “social climbing” and objectifying women in his many sexual endeavors.
Drake gives us whiplash on “Calling For You (feat. 21 Savage),” bringing us back to Earth and taking us to church with the help of Teezo Touchdown after the previous track, “Amen.” Drake finally returns audiences to familiar territory, though not without prompting them to check that they’re still listening to the same album. Fans have the pleasure of indulging in yet another iconic crossover of “21 and The Boy.” Over the years, the two artists have forged a league of their own on projects like Savage Mode II and Her Loss. With 21 Savage’s monotonous, hypnotic hip-hop/trap horrorcore quality interplaying with Drake’s versatile yet manicured pop-esque rap prowess, the duo’s musical love-children exhibit a twofold tenacity in both their badass lyricism and steadfast beats. Fortunately, the vast majority of “Calling For You” is a testament to this joint excellence. Better yet, it escaped the inevitable risk of 21 Savage outperforming Drake on his own album, with the two instead balancing their sonic differences over rapport about women, sex, expensive things and putting respect on their names.
Appropriately, “Calling For You” features the dynamic duo over a drill beat (or at least as drill as it can get for Drake), proclaiming their status, affluence and frequent interactions with young, beautiful women with an insatiable hunger for clout. It’s nothing listeners haven’t heard from them before, but — thanks to the addictive nature of their nightmarish hustle — their usual sound works like a charm. “Calling For You” proves that good things tend to come at an expense: This time around, the price listeners pay lasts roughly 82 seconds and may cause bleeding from the ears and/or copious loss of brain cells. From 1:53 to approximately 3:15, audiences are subjected to the nasal whining of an unidentified, 20-something likely to have crossed paths with Drake just briefly. While listeners wait for 21 Savage’s part, she goes on like this for entirely too long, bitching and moaning about — dare I say it! — sitting in economy and being prepared jerk chicken and oxtail every day by her private chef on vacation. Had Drake spared us this purgatory-like section of the song, not only would we all have almost a minute and a half of our lives back, but the track’s replay value would be exponentially higher.
The 20th song on For All The Dogs, “Rich Baby Daddy (feat. Sexxy Red & SZA)” has ultimate replay value. But, unlike “IDGAF (feat. Yeat),” which might as well just be a Yeat track, “Rich Baby Daddy” marries an unlikely throuple in a way that allows each member to bring something excellent to the table. Already a certified pregame classic, this track sustains a needed, momentous vivacity that listeners seldom get on the rest of the album, and it’s Red herself who gives it the kiss of life. A rookie in the game, Red spared no time in establishing a reputation for unrepentantly raunchy lyrics served with a viscous flow and twang syrupy as a summer’s day in her hometown of St. Louis. She exudes a sense of self-security that magnifies Drake’s, only capitalizing on his “sassy man” allegations. If the one-of-one Gordo beat evoking Miami bass and two-step-ness wasn’t enough, Red chants a series of demands in a sultry timbre that alone elicits a visceral response. Red’s brazen sensuality and SZA’s mesmerizing vocal allure are so hypnotic that the listener forgets, at least for a moment, that Drake’s misogynistic undertones are masked by a façade of femininity au fait. These women might even obey his orders — made on this occasion and so many before — to leave their boyfriends for him.
While the fact that I’ve only accounted for three of For All The Dogs’s 23 tracks may be, itself, a proclamation that the album stands in the middle of the road, Drake’s savvy for recognizing game in others and using it to his advantage in a feature-studded album persists. Still, only time will tell if this record’s infrastructure can withstand the erosion of time and attention spans.
Daily Arts Contributor Meli Birkmeier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.