Quality control is bound to be an issue when you put out as much music as Drake. This seventh album arrived with no warning just nine months after the Canadian rapper/singer’s 21-track Certified Lover Boy, which had come not much more than a year after his Dark Lane Demo Tapes. Despite his superstar status, he’s comfortable with experimenting in public, knowing that when faithful fans get over the initial shock, a detour could end up being considered a classic.
One such surprise was his song Passionfruit, a relaxed, romantic dance number that appeared on his mixtape More Life in 2017. Mixtapes are generally more low-key than official albums, sketched and eclectic, but this song spent seven weeks in the UK top 10, went double platinum and ended up being covered by John Mayer, Paramore and Mabel. Get It Together, from the same collection, featured Jorja Smith and South African producer Black Coffee and had a similarly unhurried housey style.
Black Coffee, real name Nkosinathi Maphumulo, worked on multiple songs on Honestly, Nevermind, which takes the Passionfruit/Get It Together feel and extends it to almost an hour. Drake only raps on Sticky and Jimmy Cooks. On the former, murky synths and house beats underpin brags about his high-end lifestyle and a sample of late fashion designer Virgil Abloh, to whom the album is dedicated. The latter features the only guest, London-born Atlanta rapper 21 Savage, and switches the sound towards darker, jazzy hip hop.
Otherwise, Drake is planted firmly on the dancefloor and seems to be having a good time musically even if the lyrics aren’t so chipper. He announced the album on Apple Music with a rambling, ambiguous statement that sounded like a dig at some anonymous betrayer: “My urge for revenge wins the game against my good guy inside every single fckn time.” The Auto-Tuned snub of A Keeper could just as easily be about a disappointing former musical collaborator as an ex-lover: “I found a new muse/That’s bad news for you/Why would I keep you around?” Massive, the cheesiest moment with its big piano chords and fizzing energy, finds him imagining his own funeral. It’ll be “lit, cause of how I treated people”, apparently.
Too often, however, he sounds like he isn’t trying very hard. Currents is dominated by a squeaky bedspring sound that one play back could have told him is incredibly annoying. On Falling Back the vocal melody and delivery sound like so many other mid-paced Drake songs, and the lyrics sound dashed off. Most of Honestly, Nevermind feels like summery background music, a minor work in a vast catalogue.