Where Can Drake Go After ‘Certified Lover Boy’?

a man with his mouth open


Most young kings get their heads cut off; Drake just got a

new haircut. After 11 years in music, Drake’s crown seems

to be so firmly established that he has time to relish some

of the visual conceits that come with being a chameleonic

rapper living out his megastar aspirations. The much-

discussed Valentine’s-inspired design he’s been sporting

for the rollout of his overachieving new album, Certified

Lover Boy, is something like a half-moon part — that

thugged-out barber’s chair staple, à la Raekwon — for the

set who serenades by candlelight.


Drake’s closest analogue in rap, LL Cool J, had similar

designs in the late 1980s. Not in his hair, which was

hidden by his signature red Kangol for the entirety of that

decade, but in his music. Back then, the Hollis, Queens

legend’s malleable modus operandi — rough rhymes to

captivate dudes in the barbershop, and smooth ballads to

thrill ladies in the salon — drew fire from a slew of

rappers (Kool Moe Dee, Ice-T, MC Shan, to name a few)

who begrudged his crossover hits and found him too

materialistic. Basically, the feeling was, “My would-be

high-school sweetheart’s prom date ain’t supposed to



That success can be hazardous is a theme that Drake’s

chief rival, Kanye West, who depicted himself in the video

for 2010’s “Power” standing beneath the mythical Sword

of Damocles, has explored at length. Long before the

tacky spectacle of two grown men in a high tax bracket

taking shots at each other, he’d had enough public

meltdowns to illustrate this truism in his life as well as

his art. For Kanye, a relentless drive to capture the

world’s attention has ended in media scrutiny and not a

little scorn; for Drake, it means more legit blockbuster

moments, with little lasting backlash. Ambition for Ye

has proved a handicap. For Drake, it’s just another settle-

all-scores victory lap.


CLB contains some signs that the OVO algorithm is finally

loosening its grasp. The Right Said Fred-sampling “Way 2

Sexy” is a no-brainer anthem, but despite a sticky Future

hook, there’s something that rings a bit hollow: Drake

deliberately lags behind the track, sounding sluggish,

rather than sui generis (as on 2017’s triumphant

“Gyalchester”). Meanwhile, he gives us only one likely

caption for social media: “I’m way too sexy to go

unprotected.” Most artists would give up half their

publishing for just one trending-worthy line like that.

When it’s coming from Drake, it feels like more of the



For the longest, it’s seemed clear that Drake cracked the

code and used timing to his advantage. If he’s a millennial

LL Cool J, he hasn’t gotten many chin-checks from the

culture. The most casual Drake fan — and the OVO

machine has ensured that there are many of those —

seems to recognize there’s something special about him.

His music is about being in the moment while reflecting

on it. Good and bad memories, past grudges, regrets, and

old flames color the present moment with the takeaway

usually being, This isn’t as enjoyable as it should be. 


A decade ago, with “Marvins Room,” Drake took that

angst and made it pop. He created a new kind of stardom

by making social awkwardness somehow social again —

just ask the groups of friends on crowded club floors that

year who sang “I’ve been drinking so much that I’ma call

you anyway.”


A couple decades before that, LL did much the same

thing. In 1989, he was at a comparable place to where

Drake is now. With the release that year of his

glossy Walking with a Panther album, his placate-

everyone approach had finally begun to grow stale. No


half-hearted passes for a less-than-stellar product,

though. During the height of Black nationalism in hip-

hop, he got booed offstage at a rally at the Apollo for slain

teen Yusef Hawkins. He responded a year later with what

many consider to be his best album: The rugged, Marley

Marl-produced Mama Said Knock You Out, which re-

solidified his hardcore bona fides.


Drake now has a chance to follow a similar route. Instead

of appealing to the broadest possible audience, he might

lean into a specific pocket. Do we want to hear a socially

conscious Drake? Surely, his expertly curated collabs and

heartfelt videos, with cameos from Big Freedia, Tracee

Ellis Ross, Issa Rae, and City Girls, display a hyper-

awareness and diversity that keeps the think-pieces

churning. But we have yet to hear more than a few cogent

words from The Boy about, say, the Movement for Black



If he wants to, Drake still has time to make sure he

doesn’t get too gassed on his unquenchable yearnings for

success. He’s proven he’s both a lover and a fighter. His

next battle doesn’t need to be against himself. The OVO

imprint is solidified. Long live Drake.


Source: Tyshawn smith

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