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THE DRAKE MEME: THOUGHTS ON CERTIFIED LOVER BOY

Nice guys finish first. With his record-breaking Certified Lover Boy (OVO/Republic), Drake once again gifts us all with a comfortable, dare I say easy-listening experience that’s pretty much exactly what we’d expect it to be. From his point of view, Drake’s continual stranglehold on hip-hop’s zeitgeist puts him on the same GOAT tier as a Jay-Z. But the safety zone sweet spot of his whole discography threatens to make him far more of a post-millennial Will Smith: smiley, commercial, non-threatening.

His sixth official studio album leaves no doubt that Drake was probably first in line for Sade’s recent box set, This Far (she’s literally tattooed on his torso), insofar as Certified Lover Boy leans heavily—as always—on mood. “My heart feel vacant and lonely,” Drake confesses right away on the opening “Champagne Poetry” (amidst a no doubt expensive interpolation of The Beatles’ “Michelle”). On “Fair Trade,” he considers “losin’ friends and findin’ peace” to be a reasonable exchange. As a post-chorus aside on “IMY2” (featuring Kid Cudi), he says to himself that “all these people that love you don’t know you.” Here’s a 34-year-old MC who sounds like he could use some meditation (or therapy, which he also mentions on the opener). But closing out the album with “The Remorse,” he acknowledges, “I can’t even hear myself when I get quiet time.”

There’s more genuinely felt introspection here than on Kanye West’s recent Donda. Speaking of which, the drama of last week’s competitive tête-à-tête between Ye and Drake made for the most compelling spectacle in hip-hop this side of a Lil Nas X video.

Never one to switch up his blueprint for success, Drake sticks mainly to rapping about women, his own greatness and the discontent shadowing his success. Surprisingly, Certified Lover Boy expands this to include his cold-war rivalry with Kanye, whom he attacks on “Pipe Down” (“he fell off twice,” Drake disses), “7am on Bridle Path,” “The Remorse,” and the standout “No Friends in the Industry.” Kanye’s rejoinder, “Life of the Party”—which Drake himself leaked on SiriusXM last week—lost out by including a verse from the unwitting André 3000 that was unrelated to their whole brewing conflict.

Drake wins (Certified Lover Boy broke Donda’s record for the most-streamed album in 24 hours on Apple Music) because he, as the saying goes, “understands the assignment.” His album cover, full of a dozen emojis of pregnant women, became an instant meme because Drake has an unerring eye for instant memes—something of extreme importance these days, given social media’s omnipotence. His “Way 2 Sexy” video—including 1980s nods to John Travolta in Perfect, Rambo, Prince and Michael Jackson—is one big, self-deprecating, knowing wink to his image as a pop-star babe magnet. He plays to his strengths, makes fun of himself before his rivals can, and throws in enough pathos to create the illusion of some depth.

Certified Lover Boy doesn’t push any envelopes, and absolutely no one really expected it to. For as long as his formula lasts (and it’s been 11 long years since Thank Me Later), expect Drake to deliver on it.

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