The past week was a major moment for music this year as it saw the debut of Drake’s album Certified Lover Boy (CLB) on Sept. 3, featuring 21 new tracks. The record succeeds his 2018 hit Scorpion, which discussed topics expected from the rapper—fame, women, a balance between insecurity and confidence, and long–standing feuds—with a layer of exploring unanticipated fatherhood. CLB delivers classic “Champagne Papi”—yet despite its successful moments, there isn’t much thematic diversity when compared to his past work.
The release of the record drew parallels that of another long–awaited album, Donda by Kanye West, with whom Drake has a long history of feuds. Like Ye, Drake pushed back the date for CLB, which was originally scheduled for a January 2021 release. After several months of anticipation, the artist finally confirmed the release date in late August by posting the album cover art—a colorful collection of pregnant woman emojis atop a white background.
The artwork, designed by Damien Hirst, stands in stark contrast to Drake’s past album covers that feature somber, darker hues. The combination of the cover with the album’s title, both decidedly different from their predecessors, promised a new Drake: perhaps more playful, perhaps more risk–taking. Ultimately, however, the Certified Lover Boy delivers more of what we already know and love.
The opening track “Champagne Poetry,” clocking in at five minutes and 36 seconds, accurately prepares the listener for what’s to come in the 86–minute album. Before Drake can even share his first line—“I been hot since the birth of my son”—a warped yet melodious voice engulfs the speakers with a sample from Masego’s “Navajo.”
As the sample persists, Drake raps about topics he’s all too familiar with: success and family. His feelings about “build[ing] a second guest home ‘cause [he] growin’ too much” are juxtaposed with the sample’s lyrics “I need you, I need you, I need you / I need to make you see / What you mean to me.”
Different beats continue to flow seamlessly throughout the duration of the song. Both of these elements—alternating beats and a long runtime —are common in most of the tracks.
Conflicting ideas are present throughout the album—perhaps even representative of it. In a similar way to most of the songs on the track list, “Papi’s Home” is introduced with a distorted voice, in this case lamenting “I know that I hurt you / I was a child trying to be a man / I walked out on my only son.” The track is immediately accompanied by piano, suggesting a slower, more self–reflective song about fatherhood.
Unexpectedly, the beat drops and the listener realizes that instead of referring to his family, the rapper wants the world to know that their daddy’s home. He returns to singing about his life “standing at the top” with sexy supermodels who “lock the door to the bathroom ‘cause they doin’ something that is not Pepsi.” The song ventures off to a new beat and something else catches the listener’s attention—is that Nicki Minaj? The appearance is initially surprising since her name doesn't appear on the tracklist. Her sassy remarks add an extra layer to the song before Drake replaces his rapping with more melodic singing.
In fact, Minaj’s name was only one on the list of collaborations, most of which occurred with other major artists such as JAY–Z, Travis Scott, Future, Lil Wayne and Kid Cudi. These collaborations were mostly successful, as “Girls Want Girls” with Lil Baby sits at No. 1 on Drake’s Spotify profile. Despite the questionable lyrics—in which Drake declares himself a lesbian—the track features catchy lines that are unfortunately likely to be chanted along to. Another collaboration, “Knife Talk” with 21 Savage and Project Pact, was ranked as the number one song on the album by Billboard critics, who believe that the track elevates the album with its “ominous flare and villainous tone.”
Even with the big names on CLB, some of the most satisfying collaborators were the lesser–known artists in the album: Yebba and Tems. “Yebba’s Heartbreak,” the interlude sang by the songwriter from Arkansas, is an unexpected, soft deep cut in the record. Drake allows her to shine when she sings “How much better can I show my love for you / Than say, ‘I do, I do, I do’?” with the repetition reminiscent of the opening track of the album. Even though the interlude is a successful transition into the record's second half—which includes tracks more sonically similar to Drake’s past commercial successes—it could have been further transformed if it had been developed as a longer song featuring Drake’s bars.
The Tems feature “Fountains”—which joins “Race My Mind” as a track that heavily steers towards R&B as opposed to rap—is a friendly yet fresh reminder of Drake’s 2016 album Views. The rapper is singing melodiously about his emotions—which “threaten to explode like fountains”—when Tems steps in, enhancing the song with her vocals. Despite the similarities to his past hit “Controlla,” “Fountains” goes further by introducing a more Caribbean–like melody, vaguely reminiscent of Doja Cat’s popular “Woman,” as well as Bad Bunny and J Balvin’s “COMO UN BEBÉ.”
Much like the introduction to the album, the outro “The Remorse” is representative of the record in itself. The track is rap–heavy, long (maybe even a little bit unnecessarily), and touches the topics he has mastered: success, relationships, cockiness, and a dash of self–pity. It is sonically representative of the album; as a seemingly unrelated warped voice consistently plays in the background, a change in mood occurs towards the middle of the song before finishing the album off with piano.
Predictably, CLB garnered attention immediately upon its release. Although it rose on the charts, not all of the attention was positive. The album is filled with references to previous music; Drake boasts his budget on CLB with at least 11 of the tracks containing samples from popular songs. One of these is “TSU,” which credits singer–producer R. Kelly, who is currently undergoing a public trial for a myriad of sex crimes.The controversy surrounding R. Kelly also bears comparisons to Ye’s Donda, which created controversy with the inclusion of Marilyn Manson and DaBaby.
Though CLB producer Noah “40" Shebib was quick to clear the air regarding the credits to R. Kelly, claiming that the credit was a “forced license” and nothing but a blip on the album, the sample forces listeners to think about the power dynamics that underline every song on the radio. Samples and collaborations are now inherently political. They’re shorthand for what artists do and don’t believe will tarnish their reputations. And though CLB is fun in a corny, dude–cheugy kind of way, the “TSU” sample begs the question: Does Drake think he hovers above accountability? And who is Drake even accountable to?
The album is a successful release in the 2021 musical landscape. However, when compared to Drake's past discography and paired with the shameful history surrounding the album, the release is not just underwhelming but disgraceful for fans who simply got their typical Drake—mostly unchanged but with a new name as the Certified Lover Boy.