Love him or hate him, it is undeniable that a Drake album release is a pop culture event. His studio album, 2018’s Scorpion, shattered every streaming record in the book upon its release in June of that year. Despite a mixed critical reception, Drake has proven time and again that he can make a hit like no other artist. However, when an artist has experienced record-breaking success for more than a decade, they are susceptible to getting a little too comfortable.
While Certified Lover Boy broke the streaming records that Scorpion set on its release day, it is stylistically very similar. While Certified Lover Boy is fine to listen to (and even good at times), it comes off as lazy and uninspired from an artist who we know is capable of so much more.
Despite his many recent shortcomings, there’s a reason that Drake is one of the most-streamed musicians. In a release that is not even close to being his best, there are still multiple flashy moments in which the listener is reminded of his greatness.
Highlights of the album include “Fair Trade,” a collaboration with frequent compatriot Travis Scott. Drake and Scott almost always come up big when they work together, and this track is no exception. The production is outstanding, as is standard on Drake-Travis collaborations (like “Company” and “SICKO MODE”), and Travis continues the strong feature stretch he has been on leading up to the imminent release of his fourth studio album, Utopia. Drake has always been elite at effortlessly crafting high-quality hooks, and he keeps up the good work on “Fair Trade.” Another highlight from the album is the Future and Young Thug-assisted “Way 2 Sexy,” which interpolates Right Said Fred’s 1992 hit single, “I’m Too Sexy.”
With “Way 2 Sexy,” the rappers have given us the male strip club anthem we never thought we needed; when coupled with a hilarious video in which Drake shows off his comedic chops, the song’s viral ascent is bound to become an iconic cultural moment of this year. As is standard, Future has a brilliant outing, putting together a hook that will be screamed in clubs for years to come. The collaborations with trap artists are some of the most fun moments on the otherwise unremarkable album. Likewise, “Knife Talk,” featuring Atlanta’s 21 Savage and a sample of Memphis legend Project Pat’s vocals, is a welcome homage to the city that Drake’s dad hails from. 21 Savage continues the absolute tear he has been on since last year’s Savage Mode II, and Drake holds his own over a sinister trap instrumental.
The best solo track on the album, by a large margin, is “TSU.” The song has been bouncing around the internet for a while as “Not Around,” and the Pi’erre Bourne beat is perfect for a laid-back Drake croon about a relationship with a stripper. Bourne has been remarkably consistent with his production this year, and the spacey synths and heavenly vocal samples that have become his trademark could not be more apparent on “TSU.”
However, all is not well in Drake’s world of champagne, strippers and private jets. Where Drake has previously succeeded at including meaningful introspection in his albums, his attempts fall flat on Certified Lover Boy. While songs like “Champagne Poetry” sound like a moment for Drake to be candid, they are ultimately rehashes of the snotty braggadocio he has previously explored. “I’m rich and famous, but I’m still sad” is a tired rap trope, but Drake seemingly hasn’t gotten the message yet, as at least four songs on the album are built around this theme.
“7am on Bridle Path” is another notable example, with corny bars like “Don’t move like a puto / could at least keep it a buck like Antetokounmpo,” and a few not-so-subtle shots at a certain rapper who also dabbles in fashion design. While both sides of the Drake-Kanye beef seem manufactured, Drake’s diss bars are formulaic and boring. At least on Kanye’s side, he did his part to make the beef look like more than an obvious marketing ploy by “leaking” Drake’s address in Toronto.
In addition to the lack of meaningful depth, there are few innovative, deep-cut songs. Normally, a Drake album features a couple of songs that don’t chart as highly as their counterparts but are notable for Drake exploring a new musical style or refining his alternative R&B skills. Certified Lover Boy, however, lacks any tracks that fit this description. Any of the R&B tracks without Future lack any display of innovation, and it really seems like Drake is just going through the motions because he knows the album will perform well on streaming platforms regardless.
Certified Lover Boy is not explicitly bad by any means. With an artist like Drake, the listener can normally expect either quality deep cuts, truly great worldwide hits or a transcendent collaboration that thrusts a smaller artist into the limelight. Certified Lover Boy lacks all three of these things.
While there are many good songs, there are maybe one or two songs that even come close to “great.” Though Certified Lover Boy will be blasted at strip clubs, basketball games and Top 40 radio stations for the next year or so, there’s no reason to believe that it will have any further staying power.
Daily Arts Writer Ryan Brace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.