Drake has officially returned with his sixth studio album Certified Lover Boy, one of the most anticipated records of 2021. As people waited in suspense for its release, many questions arose about Drizzy himself: is he still hungry after achieving all that he has? Will he be able to cover new ground at this point in his career? It seems, however, that Certified Lover Boy has answered these questions, with the results being generally positive. The record does show marked emotional and creative growth, as it presents a more mature picture of the artist both thematically and instrumentally. Moreover, the album mostly avoids falling too much into old territory, as it sounds refreshing enough and does not lack in energy.
From the beginning, the album bears the marks of traditional Drake: pitched up R&B samples, sugary percussion, and ruminative lyrics. However, it is also evident that he worked to evolve stylistically. From the first track "Champagne Poetry" one can notice a refined sound palette and more mature, balanced lyrical themes. The song's instrumental features heavily manipulated vocal samples that sound decadent and assured, underscored by minimalistic, ambient drums. Here, Drake's vocals take on a seasoned tone, to the point where you almost expect him to sound jaded, yet he manages to avoid satiation and maintain the energy. He follows this up with the defiant "Papi's Home", which furthers the idea that he has matured without losing his usual vitality. As the instrumental sparkles with bravado, he declares his supremacy over his rivals in the rap game, matching the beat's glorious mood. The classic confidence that he is known for is on full display here, as he reminds us why his self-aggrandizing tracks can be so tantalizing and infectious.
For the next tracks "Girls Want Girls" with Lil Baby, and "In The Bible" with Lil Durk and Giveon, the pace slows down and some more atmospheric production is brought in. Over top of dreamlike synths and clean percussion, Drake delivers a barrage of melodic verses that draw more resemblance to his past R&B material. His renowned songwriting ability shines on these tracks as he delivers some truly catchy melodies, especially on the first verse of "In The Bible". Next, he connects with JAY-Z for the laid-back album highlight "Love All", which contains a luxurious instrumental. Produced by Dez Wright, Leon Thomas III, and Oz, the beat features ambient vocal samples that drift atop sparse drums and rubbery 808s. Over top, Drake and JAY-Z come through with some smooth, reflective verses, as they discuss the pitfalls of success and fame.
This track transitions smoothly into the glamorous "Fair Trade" with Travis Scott. Here, the sound becomes more nocturnal, as urgent vocal samples and expansive, dark synths create an angrier feel. This track gives the album more diversity in mood, providing a change from its primarily warm, opulent atmosphere. An album highlight appears in "Pipe Down", which contains one of the strongest instrumental's on the entire album. Centred around celestial vocal samples and elegant strings, the beat sounds heavenly and refined. Moreover, Drake's vocals are heartfelt and sonically powerful, making for a compelling listen.
On the track "7am on Bridle Path", he seems to finally addresses the elephant in the room by acknowledging his feud with Kanye West. Using subliminal dissing à la The Notorious B.I.G., Drake references his album's competition with Donda as well as Kanye's longevity. However, his remarks feel casual in nature, as if the feud is just a passing thought for him, furthering this album's comfortable, unhurried persona. It seems like a more restrained approach than Drake would have taken in past years, further showcasing his growth and maturation as an artist.
The pace and sound switches up interestingly for the afrobeats influenced "Fountains", featuring Tems. This track is one of the most engaging on the record, featuring intriguing, mystical guitars and watery keys. Beneath, upbeat drums and deep, muted 808s create a bouncy rhythm. Tems shines on this track, providing one of the album's strongest guest performances. Her voice sounds silky smooth as she weaves beautiful melodies over the beat. Furthermore, she and Drake share an effortless, natural chemistry, making this song another standout.
The album closes out with a series of well-crafted tracks, including "You Only Live Twice" with Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, which contains a beat reminiscent of the era Drake first came up in in the early 2010's. The beat is welcomingly nostalgic, and the guests add to the sentimental value, conjuring memories of a different time in hip-hop. Furthermore, "IMY2" with Kid Cudi boasts some strong production centred around optimistic synths, providing an uplifting offering towards the record's tail end. Finally, the album closes out with the bittersweet "The Remorse", which uses heartfelt keys and soulful vocal samples to create a wistful mood. Underscored by airy drums, he delivers some of his most introspective verses, forgoing melodies for stripped-back rap vocals. The overall minimalism of this song effectively captures its raw emotion, making for a moving finale to Certified Lover Boy.
All in all, Certified Lover Boy is a solid offering from Drake, who is deep into his career at this point and has already made a massive impact on culture in recent years. However, despite all that he has achieved, he still maintains his energy and ambition across the album, while simultaneously sounding more mature as an artist. That in itself is an impressive achievement, and a testament to his longevity, focus, and vision. Moreover, the album effectively builds on his past work while still striving to progress sonically and thematically, remaining refreshing throughout. Overall, he mostly avoids the pitfalls that were potentially threatening this release by pushing himself to continue growing, resulting in an improvement from his last official album Scorpion.