Drake – Honestly, Nevermind
We’d never have imagined that we’d be covering a Drake album here at The Playground, but for all accounts, Honestly, Nevermind feels significant. No one could have anticipated that the Canadian hip-hop superstar would pivot toward dance music, and with little warning at that. It makes Honestly, Nevermind one of the most intriguing releases of the year, an intrigue that ripples simultaneously through the worlds of hip-hop, pop, and electronic music. It’s really this intrigue that carries the weight of Honestly, Nevermind, an album that otherwise oscillates somewhere between a parlour trick and something to be taken seriously.
The reception to Drake’s previous album Certified Lover Boy had been at best polarising, and his next move was widely anticipated to be a likely course correction of sorts. It makes this nosedive into house music, released as a surprise drop within hours of its announcement, both audacious and somewhat contrived. In the music video for what is arguably Honestly, Nevermind’s lead single, Falling Back, Drake plays on this gimmick with a sly wink. He stands at an altar, marrying an endless queue of brides one after the other. “I really think he’s taking these ones seriously,” a woman mutters excitedly from the pews, echoing the hopes of Drake fans around the globe. The video cuts jarringly from Falling Back’s breezy highlife-house to a wedding singer crooning questionable smooth jazz, before picking up again on a completely different track, Calling My Name. If anything, the nine minute visual serves as a thesis statement for Drake’s state of mind going into this album, which itself is best summed up by the album’s title. The more time you spend with Honestly, Nevermind, the more apparent it becomes that this is a joke that takes itself very seriously.
Musically, the album is one of Drake’s most sonically cohesive to date. There’s some immaculate production moments to be found here as the songs ooze through a blend of jazz, house, Jersey club, and afropop. This is largely thanks to the efforts of the album’s producers, particularly Black Coffee, Klahr, and Gordo. In just two minutes, Gordo & Klahr’s Calling My Name swerves from minimal alt-R&B to propulsive bass driven deep house, while Tie That Binds features some lush and delicious downtempo tech house. On Currents, Black Coffee and his collaborators turn a tongue in cheek sample of a cartoonish bed creak into a Jersey club bounce. It’s not so much Honestly, Nevermind’s beats that lack inspiration, but rather Drake himself. One of the widest critiques of his latest work has been centred around the lack of actual rapping going on, and there’s almost none to be found on this album. Rather, Drake relies on his formula of crooning sweet nothings through layers of reverb or repeating trite phrases on loop. It’s all strikingly familiar to most of his post-Hold On, We’re Going Home catalogue. On Calling My Name, the track’s exhilarating house breakdown is met with Drake’s repeated call of “your pussy is calling my name.” Similarly on Currents, he leaves expanses of space and offers a disjointed R&B refrain that makes the song’s jersey club drop feel unearned. One could only imagine how the cleverness of Currents might pop off in the expert hands of Cookiee Kawaii for instance, or how most of these tracks would flourish under the genius flow of Azealia Banks. Left to Drake, it reads as complacent.
The most frustrating part of this is how Honestly, Nevermind had all the potential to be game changing. In the male-dominated and oft misogynistic world of hip-hop, the idea of house and dance music is too often dismissed as for “the girls and the gays.” Drake, with his influence over a significant male demographic, could have turned this on its head. Instead, his lacklustre performance risks affirming these assumptions. It’s difficult not to draw comparisons to the only other male artist straddling pop and hip-hop with dance music right now. On Overdrive, Drake tries out The Weeknd’s late-night synthwave pop, though he appears to lack conviction in meeting the louche intensity of the music with his performance. It’s not all entirely bleak, though. Drake’s flow on the bounce of Sticky is mostly satisfying, while his wistful vocal approach works particularly well on Massive. This song in particular is easily the strongest on Honestly, Nevermind. It’s a five and a half minute Chicago house epic, featuring a banging piano riff and a stylish micro-house four on the floor that works with Drake’s subdued vocals, if only due to its brilliant production.
Honestly, Nevermind could easily have been one of the bravest releases by a mainstream superstar in contemporary hip-hop in recent memory. A Yeezus for Drake, if you will. Unfortunately, it never quite gets there thanks to what feels like a lack of trying from its MC. Still, the album finds its place in the current pop zeitgeist quite nicely. With imminent house influenced music on the horizon from Beyoncé and with recent dance inspired epics from The Weeknd, it’s inevitable at this point that the sound of 90’s Chicago will find its way into the hip-hop mainstream. For now, maybe it is better off with the girls and the gays after all.
Watch the music video for Falling Back from Honestly, Nevermind below.