Drake – Certified Lover Boy: Review

With a title like Certified Lover Boy and an album cover that is twelve pregnant female emojis, you’d question if this is reality. It is. Unfortunately, this reality contains one where Drake becomes a parody of himself instead of bringing his consistent wit and unique social commentary to the forefront. What we are ultimately delivered on Certified Lover Boy is a 90 minute mess full of corny Drake songs and some solid and focused Drake.

Certified Lover Boy is bold. Drake uses unique samples and delivers some baffling lines. It is the first album by Drake where the only lead-in single didn’t make the cut, and oddly it should have compared to other songs on the album. From the random Life After Death Intro sample on “Love All” to the Right Said Fred sample on “Way 2 Sexy,” CLB keeps itself on a path of obscurity. It continues with the music video for the latter, as Drake, Future, Young Thug make a video that makes less sense than the song. The artists alternate through eras like the 80s and 90s, as well as other pop culture references — Los Angeles Clipper Kawhi Leonard makes an appearance, and he is doing what fans would expect he’d do.

In the song “Girls Want Girls,” Drake tackles his toxic masculinity by implying that women from Toronto are a tight-knit group, and it makes it hard for Drake to pursue at the club. Like Drake, we’ve heard the “oh I’m gay” or “I only girls,” but Drake and Lil Baby keep the pursuing consistent. They try to imply their common ground with common traits like the love of pussy and more. It doesn’t help that it halts you at the end of the chorus as Drake implies he is a lesbian.

It sort of continues on the song “Papi’s Home,” one of the better songs on Certified Lover Boy. However, it is one of the few songs where you start to get confused by who Drake is directing these raps to. It begins with these braggadocios bars about his career compared to the competition, and it ends with a beautiful soliloquy with backing harmonies from Montell Jordan. His son is the target as he reassures him for a better future with love and care. Listening to it once through, it doesn’t come across that way; fortunately, it doesn’t deter you, like “Girls Want Girls” and “In The Bible.”

Certified Lover Boy shares one thing in common with Donda, and that is the plethora of features. Ironically, the best songs are when Drake is performing by himself. Some features stand out, like Future and Young Thug on “Way 2 Sexy” and Rick Ross and Lil Wayne on “You Only Live Twice.” The latter is a new path for Drake after the YOLO era, “You Only Live Twice” is a monstrous song.

What works for Certified Lover Boy is that Drake accepts himself, and he rides it out. A lot of the music details aspects of love, betrayal, personal worth, and promiscuity, though it is more prevalent in the second half. Like Donda, CLB has a great album stored inside a bloated mess of corny and focused songs. Fortunately, the messiness is in the first half, where it’s hard to understand what Drake is trying to embody, except for the opening song “Champagne Poetry.”  

The second half of Certified Lover Boy has better features and songs, which has Drake focused on his career and life. After a slow first half, Drake took me by surprise with the intricate and aggressive “No Friends In The Industry.” What follows isn’t always aggressive; however, the intricacies between production and construction give most of them a better footing. “No Friends In The Industry” is about his relevance within social groups as he realizes who is around his orbit. He isn’t taken aback and has a clear understanding and focus on what he wants to say. His delivery and flow are better than most of the songs in the first half, as we get that wit and slick and truthful commentary that was predominately missing in the first 11 songs.

Certified Lover Boy isn’t devoid of great samples on the production. “Knife Party,” featuring 21 Savage and Project Pat, is a personal favorite. It flips the Three 6ix Mafia song “Feed The Streets” into a sample that helps boost the identity of the production, which is chopped and slow and reminiscent of the predominant style of the area. 21 Savage sounds a little more natural with his flow than Drake, but Project Pat steals the show, despite only being on the intro. I’ve never heard these artists over this kind of production, and though they deliver with finesse. Ultimately, you’re left wondering why they wouldn’t include Project Pat more. 

The first half of Certified Lover Boy contains a lot of the corniness one expects from Drake, and it surprises me when he delivers the opposite on the second half with the songs “Race My Mind” and “Get Along Better.” The glossy and twinkly piano keys add a different element to Drake’s smooth-talking flow on “Race My Mind,” which makes it an easy song to return to and enjoy to the max. The same goes for “Get Along Better,” where Ty Dolla Sign delivers an elegant contrast to Drake’s confliction with a past lover and his directness with the verse.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to make sense what Drake was going for this album. It’s a trove of loosies that could have been left in the vault, since within the ninety minute runtime is a fantastic album if constructed better. However, I’m not Drake and making this was his choice, despite most choices being bad ones. Certified Lover Boy starts strong, before middling into boredom. You can skip most songs after “Papi’s Home,” and find what comes after “Yebbe’s Heartbreak” rewarding — for the most part.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Kanye West – DONDA: Review

A little over a year and one month have passed since Kanye West first announced his 10th LP, Donda, his long-anticipated follow-up to Jesus is King. In 2020, Kanye dropped two songs fans thought were singles in anticipation for his 10th LP, but only one of those songs matched the kind of energy and sound his new album brings onto center stage: “Wash The Blood.” After about a year, fans got three different live stream album listening parties, and each time a new version of Donda, whether improved or rearranged. Donda is a new creative journey for Kanye that sees an album conceptualized and delivered with broader ideas; at the same time, Donda is a personification of an established career with a treasure trove of features, despite having its missteps.

Listening party after listening party, we witnessed the creation of Donda slowly, as Kanye tried different mixes, track listings, features/his verses blended into one. Kanye is privy to an amphitheater-like performative art as he has done similarly with Jesus is King and The Life of Pablo. Like them, Donda isn’t a cohesively linear album, as he tests waters by containing alternatives to the songs and allowing us to create our version, which may shorten the overall length. Donda benefits from having a conscious idea of sounds to make your version as smooth as most albums.

Donda has two sides; one where we hear Kanye and his features on production that is operatic and bombastic; another where he brings gospel elements, like the array of organs and choirs elevating the production and vocal performance from Kanye and the featured artists. It becomes telling with the features that appear in the first half compared to the second — Fivio Foreign, Playboi Carti, Lil Yatchy, Baby Keem, and Travis Scott, instead of subdued lyricists like Jay Electronica, Westside Gunn, and Conway the Machine, to name a few. 

Many songs work in each half, and the few don’t work because of uneven tonal shifts. It sounds like Kanye is trying to represent a journey toward Heaven as he deals with his emotions, denial, grief, and past misgivings/mistakes while escaping Hell. These tonal shifts deliver new levels of depth from each respective featured artist. Fortunately, Kanye’s inclusion of alternatives allows for certain songs to carry different meanings. Before his Soldier’s Field listening party on August 26th, we received news of an exclusive Stem player — a device made for editing and mixing songs smoothly, though not an alternative — the performance made it evident why the promotion was there. Kanye introduced other versions of songs that day, specifically a longer version of “Junya” and “Jesus Lord” and an alternate version of “Jail” and “Ok Ok.” Instead of Jay-Z, the new version features DaBaby and Marilyn Manson.

“Jail Pt. 2” is problematic on paper due to controversial comments and allegations about the featured artists; however, one can’t neglect that DaBaby delivered the best verse of his career. Though one probably won’t understand Marilyn’s involvement, as his vocals are subtle within the chorus. Maybe it was for the sake of controversy, but a part of me wants to believe Kanye is just ignorant of the world. DaBaby’s verse, on the other hand, is a beautiful painting of his life and his rise from the ashes, relating back to the lord and family as his cruxes. 

Similar to DaBaby and Marilyn Manson, some of the features may not be free of sin, like the previously mentioned, and some have remote eyes on them due to allegations and affiliations that may overshadow one’s opinion, like Lil Durk and Don Tolliver. However, separating the art from the music, their respective songs are fantastic and slightly tame and hollow.

“Moon,” with Don Tolliver, is a high-pitched choral-centric song that lifts the listener’s spirits to an elevated plane. The symphonic organs, eerie electronic beeps, and haunting guitar riffs emphasize Don’s performance on the chorus, in turn contrasting Kid Cudi’s lower-pitch melodies on his verse. The beeps appear prior, on the Lil Durk and Vory featured, “Jonah.” “Moon” follows a similar path to “Jonah,” as the latter incorporates the beeps and spacey traits to Vory’s chorus and each verse by Durk and Kanye. Unfortunately, I’m not that crazy about “Moon” as others. It’s too focused on a mood instead of being this luscious lullaby that can have it both ways. Every time it plays, my focus shifts to Tolliver’s beautifully haunting vocals and the guitar riffs while everything gets muddled.

But on Donda, Kanye is more direct, displaying an understanding of the world around him. His emotions are in control, and we hear him at his rawest and lyrically astute within a triad of songs that precede the “closer,” “No Child Left Behind.” These songs — “Lord I Need You, Pure Souls, Come To Life” — represent a sullen nature he has been showing over the last year, which he has been fighting; especially, as he speaks to his mother in part of the verses of “Come To Life.” So whether it’s showing regret for his behavior and lack of understanding or subtle context clues like the line, “Brought A Gift for Northie/All she wanted was Nikes” on “Come to Life.”

Donda has a lot going behind it. I could progress and break down every aspect of this album, but the keen one is the idea that one can make their version. As mentioned prior, the alternatives are personifications of an artist trying different things to find the right one. If you prefer the version of “Ok Ok” with Rooga and Shenseea, then make a playlist and replace it the one with Fivio Foreign and Lil Yatchy. You can do it with others, and at the same time, create one where it has a consistent tone with your favorite songs. It has been an evident theme throughout each listening party, as he tried different track listing orders, versions, mixes, and so forth. It isn’t unlike Kanye to make this be a bigger spectacle than expected, and he has done so with what he has given the fans, as opposed to the more structured albums of the past. But within this theoretical island and others is the notion that Donda is more than just a tribute to Kanye West’s mother; it is the legacy of an artist who has shifted the musical climate in hip-hop and pop. 

With Donda being his 10th LP, it almost feels like a poignant mark in his career — he has been consistent and relevant throughout, despite negative publicity — it has shown a steady progression with his character as he finally listens to advice from others. Kanye wants to atone and be reborn, and he does so on the album. It is beautifully represented by being torched on fire for around 15 seconds as “Come To Life” transitioned into “No Child Left Behind” of the Chicago Livestream. It may not be Kanye’s best, but it leaves enough intrigue to keep returning.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Lil Baby & Lil Durk – The Voices of The Heroes – Review

Like people 1.5 times my age (27) and older, the intrigue in this new trend of melodic rap/hip-hop has been something we complain about when compared to others who deliver in more esoteric and nuanced ways, like Denzel Curry or 21 Savage. However there have been a few that have kept my attention, even if a little belated in the trend; and from the few that have, Lil Baby and Lil Durk have released their first collaboration, The Voices of The Heroes. This LP from the Atlanta and Chicago rappers, respectively, arrived with a lot of buzz and heartwarming gestures as it was pushed back a week so it wouldn’t compete with DMX’s Exodus. And despite the hype, the album delivers exactly as expected – mild. It’s riddled with so many sonic and contextual redundancies, it’s hard to distinguish these tracks apart without hearing the producer’s ad-libs at the beginning of the tracks, but there is enough to keep your interest at various moments. 

The initial hype behind the release of The Voices of The Heroes had some merit from Lil Baby’s monstrous 2020, and Lil Durk turning out some consistently great verses since Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later” and reaffirming on “Every Chance I Get,” off DJ Khaled’s latest release. But the production comes from 12+ producers that don’t bring much to the table, so the way the autotune is used to inflect and add layers to the flow gives it that extra boost to make the production become an afterthought and the rappers take center stage. 

A lot of the production hits the same notes, where the little differences come from them subtly sprinkling underneath the base of the production. You can tell who mainly produces what by the intro drop that hypes the producer’s name. And though a fan of it, it feels like this overly reliant on it to keep the monstrous percussion and bass keep its redundant consistency hidden from the overall spectrum. From Wheezy to London On The Track and Murda Beatz, the many co-producers make it seem that there should have been some derelict of the duty to make it sound different, but the landscape is a flat terrain. You’ll either find songs that are good and bad based on what Lil Baby and Lil Durk bring to the table with their verses, delivering auspicious themes. 

The Voices of The Heroes is filled with themes they’ve tackled before. Some pertain to the struggle imposed by societal and political influence on minorities, and others to their wealth in a generalized sense. And Lil Baby and Lil Durk bring a lot of energy and bravado in their deliveries on most of these tracks with enough momentum to keep some of these on loop. There are many moments that keep you flowing with that constant momentum like on “2040,” or “That’s Fact.” It benefits that a lot of the production has that repetitive consistency so it is almost natural for them to flow over them. But it’s when they steer in a more conscious – or rather conscious based on their standards – that they shine as rappers. 

On the London On The Track produced “Still Hood,” Lil Baby and Lil Durk vibrantly deliver this anthem where they exclaim with emotional weight the notion that you can take the kid away from the hood, but you can’t take the hood away from the kid, though in this regard its meaning is more aligned with the PTSD that comes from it. On the track, both Lil Baby and Lil Durk trade off verses, retelling their life and the huge contrasts it has to their person today. These artists have climbed the ladder of success and often let their appearance tell different stories about who they are, opposed to the person they rap on their tracks. And with unique twists, they take the approach to redefine music as they call out faux “hood” rappers and personalities on “Lyin’.” As they have done throughout tracks on the album, they’ve delivered bars after bars that carry depth about their past life and their current life. For example, we’ve seen rappers like YG flaunt like these artists, but like others he still has affiliation with a street gang and that life is still part of him, despite his monetary wealth. The same goes for Lil Durk. But as it is with them all, they try to spread awareness through their music. 

However, there are more moments than not where it treads too much on redundancy that you find yourself going back to older tracks evoking similar themes. “Okay,” is one of those where they spend too much focus on the flex, that everything that is already problematic with the production becomes more apparent. The percussion led production is one-dimensional and doesn’t go anywhere interesting. Lil Baby and Lil Durk can’t save this as they bring a slightly weak delivery that becomes sleep inducing. They do something similar on “Hats Off” with Travis Scott, where the construct is fun and infectious as they trade off on many occasions before Travis closes strong.

The Voices of The Heroes is muddled with a bloated tracklist running 18 tracks long, but there is fortunately enough to keep the music flowing. Lil Baby & Lil Durk have great chemistry and their future looks bright if they continue to collaborate. Their stylistic similarities and energy they have consistently stored in the tank can keep any fan somewhat invested throughout.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10.