Drake's Small Risks Pay Off on 'Honestly, Nevermind'
Published Jun 20, 2022For an artist who's been playing it safe for over a decade, Drake sure does generate a great deal of commotion. His unwillingness to switch up his sound has been the centre of years of countless debates. Recent albums like Scorpion and Certified Lover Boy offered nothing new to the Drake mythos, rehashing his predictable mix of meme-friendly songs, R&B loverboy joints and an introspective, fully-rapped outro. By the latter album, it began to sound like even Drake was getting bored with Drake. If he wasn't, he certainly wouldn't have dropped a follow-up with no warning less than a year later.
Honestly, Nevermind, Drake's seventh studio album, is the furthest he's strayed from his formula since Nothing Was the Same, his third album, in 2013. Drake's attempt at a dance record borrows heavily from South African house and Jersey club music, and it's one of the most fascinating decisions he's made in a long time. Even when trying to branch out, like on between-album-cycle mixtapes More Life and Dark Lane Demo Tapes, he still clung to his trademarks. On this new record, he takes a step back, letting the producers do the heavy lifting.
On "Massive," Drake's appearances are minimal, separated by lengthy instrumental breaks, distancing himself just enough from the experience that he doesn't overstay his welcome. He's often been his own worst enemy on previous albums, either lingering too long on on the back end of the tracklist or not knowing which songs to leave on the cutting room floor, but here, he's delivered his shortest full-length since 2015's Future collab What a Time to Be Alive. This surprising self-awareness is crucial in making a dance record, especially for an artist best enjoyed in small doses, who can't seem to go more than a few tracks without inducing some eyerolls (Though there's enough room on Honestly, Nevermind for at least one classic groaner, "Sticky" lyric "Ayy, two sprinters to Quebec / Chérie, où est mon bec?")
Hints of the album's atypicality are apparent from its opening minutes, for better or worse. "Falling Back" makes for a questionable lead-off, as Drake's falsetto has never been particularly strong, but Honestly, Nevermind rarely falters from there. "Texts Go Green" sees Drake searching for a reason to understand why he's been blocked on iMessage, crooning over Black Coffee's spacey beat before taking a back seat at the end, letting it play out without interruption. Like any popular Drake song, its influence transcends music; it's already made waves at Google, where the Android Twitter account invoked the song in pressuring Apple into making their long-exclusive iMessage service compatible with non-Apple devices.
Though Drake does try to do something different on Honestly, Nevermind, there are still echoes of his usual formula littered across the 14 songs. "Currents" has the making of a typical Drake meme track, using bed squeaks as the anchor for the song's beat. "Liability" is Drake's recurring reminder of his ties to the South, using chopped-and-screwed vocals to wallow in his puppy-eyed poutiness ("You put your words together like you getting points for that shit / Like you playing Scrabble on me"). As always, Drake ends with a rap track (the second of only two on the 14-track album); here, it's "Jimmy Cooks" featuring the ever-reliable 21 Savage, who dabbles in his host's coy humour ("I be with my gun like Rozay be with lemon pepper").
Considering the initial sales projection for Honestly, Nevermind, released with no promotion and marketing campaign, are below those put up a month ago by Kendrick Lamar's far more daring Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, it's clear that Drake could have released more experimental music in the past without taking a huge financial hit. If it took enough critical uproar for Drake to start taking risks, even small ones like Honestly, Nevermind, then it should be enough for him to set himself up to break even more creative ground without endangering his bottom line. (OVO / Republic)