Photo Credit: Republic Records
The best Drake songs captivate people as soon as they first hear them – it’s why he’s responsible for some of the biggest hits of the 2010s. A trio of acclaimed albums and mixtapes from 2011-2015 – Take Care, Nothing Was the Same & If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late – cemented Drake as one of rap’s biggest and most important voices. Still lacking, however, an inescapable, legacy-making hit, Drake and his label decided he needed to make his music more accessible to the public at large. It worked; just a few months after the release of If You’re Reading This, Drake released the lead single from his next album Views, “Hotline Bling” – which defined the summer of 2015. Nearly a year later, he released the album’s next single, “One Dance”, and it defined the summer of 2016 – becoming Drake’s first number one in many countries and breaking countless records along the way.
However, Drake’s newfound commercial domination came at a cost; as he gradually shed his music of the individuality and authenticity that had initially charmed listeners. What followed If You’re Reading This was one of the most terrific declines in artistic quality in recent memory. Views was saved by the success of its singles but was ultimately a drag from front to back, while Scorpion was filled with music as colorless as its album cover. Drake’s artistic nadir – or at least what I dearly hope was his artistic nadir – came with 2021’s Certified Lover Boy. Cynical, tone-deaf, and hap-hazardly created, it dragged across a tortuous 86 minutes and peaked within its first five minutes.
Let’s get it out of the way, Honesty, Nevermind is better than CLB – if for no other reason than it is mercifully 34 minutes shorter. Drake’s embrace of house music livens up the album considerably, but many of the problems that have recently plagued the Canadian rapper persist, as do some new ones. Drake sounds bored and his singing is monotone – on “Overdrive”, he sounds as if he is on the verge of sleep, slurring his words to the point of near-indecipherability.
“Falling Back” is emblematic of the first-thought-last-thought lyricism that defines Honestly, Nevermind – “I know you know how I feel // I know you know how I feel // How do I, how do I feel? How do I feel?” Drake sings, sounding as if he’s filling up the time until he decides his next lines. The lyrics of “Texts Go Green” feel less carelessly constructed and more like they were created by a focus group on executives trying to pander to Gen-Z (“Texts go green, it hits a little different, don’t it?”) These are not new problems for a Drake album. However, what is Drake’s insistence on singing in – or attempting to sing in – a falsetto that he, frankly, cannot pull off with any success. Also, atrocious-but-in-a-new-way is the sampling of a creaky bed spring that extends across nearly all of “Currents.”
Drake occasionally hits the mark. “Forced into submission, got you a Mercedes-Benz // But that don’t make you driven,” is the sort of cringey-but-clever bar that only Drake can pull off, while Drake performs surprisingly well in the album’s more sincere, down-to-earth moments (“I’m struggling to let go // Although there’s distance between us // There’s no place I’d rather be”). “Sticky”, meanwhile, is the clear album highlight; one of the only songs where Drake is actually rapping, not attempting to sing. It is an all too fleeting reminder of the heights he is capable of scaling at his best. Moments like these are a testament to the fact that Honestly, Nevermind could have been a legitimately great Drake album with a little more fine-tuning, and a few more people in the studio willing to say “no” to Drake’s worst impulses.