Not sure which is more surprising: that Toronto 6 God Drake dropped a new album at midnight, or that said album — “Honestly, Nevermind” — is about as far removed from hip-hop as you can imagine.
For his seventh studio album — released a scanned nine months after the long-awaited-and-long-delayed 21-track “Certified Lover Boy” — we get the singing Aubrey “Drake” Graham on this 52-minute opus mainly focusing on the dance floor with a somewhat chilled, often-semi ambient vibe and 100-plus beats-per-minute on the majority of these 14 tracks.
There’s only a couple of spitters on here, and not surprisingly, they’re the album’s strongest offerings: “Sticky,” an aggressive and urgent ripper that talks about his desire of loyalty and safety in numbers both in public and private matters, and “ Jimmy Cooks,” with a rhyme that’s predominantly delivered by the album’s only feature by 21 Savage — sort of a coda at the end of this work.
“Sticky” also contains the one thing that the rest of the numbers on “Honestly, Nevermind,” save for “Flight’s Booked” lack — a chorus — and although you have to applaud Drizzy for stretching his artistic boundaries, the lack of a strong song structure anchor makes it a bit of a slog to get through.
If you’re used to Drizzy’s conversational singing, the album starts out promisingly with “Falling Back,” layered over a percolating synth beat as the artist sings about a dead-end relationship and manages to show off a range that includes an appealing falsetto.
But it’s also here that the problems begin, because Drake tends to drone on . . . and on . . . and on to the point where your ears just kind of tune out. As each song melts into the other — and appealing rhythmic and percussive motifs with lush electronic backdrops set up engaging opening verses — there’s a little too much vocal meandering to maintain interest.
It’s a little unsettling, considering that in his way to becoming the world’s biggest superstar, Drake knows how to write a hit. It’s not like people are not used to his singing — he’s employed it often enough on previous projects — but his instincts are misplaced enough on “Honestly, Nevermind,” whose topics mainly deal with romantic assessments, to the point he never really gains the proper traction to make anything memorable.
Despite the kvetching, there is nothing unpleasant about this record: whether it’s “Texts Go Green,” “Flight’s Booked” or the house flavor of “Massive,” the musical arrangements by a production team whose double-digit membership includes his most trusted producer /comrade Noah “40” Shebib and Anderson “Vinylz” Hernandez, Brytavious Lakeith “Tay Keith” Chambers and Cubeatz, the German production team of brothers Kevin and Tim Gomringer, and a cadre of new producers — Gordo, Kid Masterpiece and Alex Lustig — are ideally suited to a club atmosphere and there enough distinctive vocal treatments that it establishes a nice flow.
One of the main contributors here is a producer that first appeared on “More Life” in “Get It Together” — South African DJ Nkosinathi “Black Coffee” Maphumulo, who contributes to three tracks: “Currents,” “A Keeper” and “ Down Hill,” earning him an executive production credit.
When Drake debuted his new SiriusXM Radio show “Table For One,” from Toronto restaurant Sotto Sotto Thursday night and premiered the album, he didn’t offer much in the way of motive, other than saying, “this is an album that I always wanted to make” and that it took “six or seven months” to complete.
As for future projects, Drake mentioned he’s working on another “Scary Hours” and will be releasing a poetry book with Kenza soon. He also hinted that we will see another OVOFest hit Toronto before the end of summer.
But looking back to “Honestly, Nevermind,” this will ultimately be seen as the most polarizing effort of Drake’s career — fans will either love it or hate it. Maybe, given time, it will grow on some of the naysayers.
However, that’s what being innovative is all about: sometimes experiments work; sometimes they don’t. Stretching boundaries is never wasted labor — and you know that the lessons learned here will inform Drake’s next work and bounce him back into the wheelhouse for which he is so greatly and deservedly revered.
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