Drake’s “Honestly, Nevermind” Review: Now’s the time to dance
For more than a decade, the Drake factory has been operating at full capacity – recalibrating the relationship between hip-hop, R&B and pop; balance big ambitions with granular experimentation; embraces the meme-making of his celebrity. But in recent years, for the first time, it has felt as if the machines can grind for a break. Maintaining the throne is hard work, and the wear and tear began to show.
What Drake has needed is an opportunity to refresh himself, a chance to be relieved of old assumptions. It’s the kind of renewal you really only find after work.
“Honestly, Nevermind”, Drake’s seventh solo studio album, which was released on Friday just hours after it was announced, is a little wonder of bodily abundance – appealingly weightless, escapist and zealously free. An album with enchanting club music, it is a sharp development towards a new era for one of music’s most influential stars. It’s also a Drake album that consists almost entirely of the parts of the Drake albums that send hip-hop purists into connotations.
However, the expectations Drake is trying to raise here are his own. Throughout most of the 2010s, hip-hop – and most of the rest of popular music – revolved around his innovations. By mixing song and rap together, making music that was unconsciously pop without following the old way of making pop, Drake has long understood that he could build a new kind of global consensus both because he understood the limitations of older approaches and because the globe changes.
Nevertheless, the inflated “Certified Lover Boy” released last year was his least focused album, and also his least imaginative – he sounded nervous, tired of his own ideas. Besides, the people who have come up behind him may also have exhausted them.
However, these conditions force innovation, and “Honestly, Nevermind” is a clear turning point, an increasingly rare thing for a pop icon. Drake embraces the dance floor here, making house music that also touches the Jersey club, Baltimore club, ballroom and Amapiano. Each of these styles has seeped up from a regional phenomenon to a taste of taste in recent years, and like the skilled scavenger he is, Drake has harvested pieces and parts for his own constructions.
Part of why this is so striking is that Drake has made a career out of caresses. His productions – always led by his longtime collaborator, Noah Shebib, known as 40 – were emphatically soothing. But the beats here have sharp corners, they kick and strike. “Currents” contains both the squeaky-bed sample which is a staple in the Jersey club, and a famous vocal ad-lib which is a staple in the Baltimore club. “Texts Go Green” is driven by nervous percussion, and the piano-sprinkled soulful house construction towards the end of “A Keeper” is an invitation to liberation.
This approach proves to be well suited to Drake’s singing style, which is lean and does not put open pressure. It’s conspiratorial, romantic, sometimes erotic – he never sings about you as much as he sings about you, in your ear.
Most of the songs are about romantic intrigue, and often Drake is the victim. In some places, this is a return to the Instagram caption era Drake. “I know my funeral is going to be lit because of the way I treated people,” he notes in the hard-hitting “Massive.” On the slurry “Liability” he groans, “You are too busy dancing in the club to our songs.”
But part of the trade-off for this album is lyrical liveliness – on most of the songs, Drake alludes to things more than describing them. The words are encouragement, suggestions, light abstractions that aim to mimic the mood of the production. (Social media is also moving too fast now, and does not reward the same kind of patient emotional strain that he excels at.)
There is a recent precedent for Drake’s choice here: Kanye West’s “808s & Heartbreak” and the multiple fleet parts of “Yeezus”; Frank Ocean flirts with dance music.
But music like this has always been part of Drake’s grammar: think “Take Care” with Rihanna from 2011, with the Gil Scott-Heron / Jamie xx collapse. Or the calm sunrise anthem “Passionfruit” from 2017 (which also had a Moodymann rehearsal); “Fountains” from “Certified Lover Boy”, a happy duet with the Nigerian star Tems, was also in this spirit, but seemed to warn that the next hard Drake pivot would be against Afrobeats, whom he has long been engaged in, including collaboration with Wizkid.
But Drake chose club music – the average beat per minute here is over 100 – and built an explicit musical bridge to black and weird musical subcultures. That said, the sweaty, countercultural house music from which he draws has also become a template for privileged music in recent years – it is the soundtrack to the global money elite, the same in Dubai and Ibiza as Miami and Mykonos. It is music that is inviting, but also innocent; it is filled with meaning and reference, but also smooth to the touch.
Drake is in a slightly enviable position only a handful of pop superstars have been in before – he is one of the most famous musicians on the planet, and his fame is based on being something of a chameleon. But it is difficult for a man to be nimble. Nevertheless, “Honestly, Nevermind” is the work of someone who is not bothered by the potential to alienate old allies. The last two years have been unpredictable, and the pandemic has freed artists to do the unexpected simply by removing the old reward structures. (Structurally, “Honestly, Nevermind” is a similar twist to Weeknd’s electro-pop experiment “Dawn FM”, released in January.)
The coronavirus era has also fueled the emergence of hip-hop scenes that thrive in the virtual chaos of social media. It has been most evident in the emergence of drill, which has newly created hip-hop in gravel and nerve. Although Drake has played with drill before, in collaboration with Fivio Foreign and Lil Durk, among others, “Honestly, Nevermind” is an anti-drill record. Drake is 35 now, and is undoubtedly counting on how he will live with the children’s children.
He only really raps on two songs here: “Sticky”, which borders on hip-house (“Two sprinters to Quebec / Chérie, où est mon bec?”), And “Jimmy Cooks”, the latest song, which contains 21 Savage , try Playa Fly and feel like a sharp coda of blowing after 45 minutes of pure ecstatic release.
It’s the kind of hip-hop insider flash that Drake’s album has long shown, but as he and his fans get older, they may not be his future. Whether “Honestly, Nevermind” turns out to be a headache or a permanent new direction, it may be an indication that he is leaving old Drake – and everyone who followed him – behind. As a great quarterback, he throws the ball where the receivers are already on their way, not where they have been.
“Honestly, do not worry”
(OVO / republic)