Where Is Drake's Career Heading Before 'Certified Lover Boy'?

How was Drake’s year in 2020? How much momentum does he have before 'Certified Lover Boy'? What will he try to accomplish? The Complex Music staff debates.

Drake 'Dark Lane Demo Tapes'

Image via Getty/Samir Hussein

Drake 'Dark Lane Demo Tapes'

Drake is getting ready to drop his sixth studio album, Certified Lover Boy. It’s already been delayed a couple of times, but whenever it finally arrives, it will help set the tone for the next decade of his career. By most metrics, he ruled the 2010s on a commercial level, putting up record-breaking sales and streaming numbers. He also won over many critics who praised his versatility. In the 2020s, though, there’s a clean slate and new questions. In a new decade, how long will he be able to keep up this dominant run? 

There has been some chatter lately from media personalities like Charlamagne, who argued that the “Drake era” is over. There have also been whispers about whether he’s “falling off” after somewhat lackluster critical receptions to projects like Scorpion and More Life. So, what direction is Drake’s career really heading before the release of Certified Lover Boy? What (if anything) does he have to prove on this album? What would define a successful album, and what would be a flop? What will happen when the album finally comes? As we wait for CLB to arrive, members of the Complex Music team answered these questions and made some predictions.

How was Drake’s year in 2020?

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Eric: I’ve heard people talk about Drake having a disappointing year in 2020, but they must have already forgotten about the pandemic that derailed everyone’s plans in the entertainment industry. Drake had to push his album back, which means he didn’t have the kind of year some had hoped for, but I think he actually adapted to 2020 better than most rappers. Putting the album on hold, he still figured out a way to stay part of the conversation by releasing a mixtape of “leaks and new vibes” that included No. 1 hits (“Toosie Slide”) and deep cuts that gave him room to experiment with new sounds (“From Florida With Love”). He also linked up with Future for one of the biggest songs of the year (“Life Is Good”), gifted DJ Khaled with a couple hit singles (“Popstar” and “Greece”), and delivered a standout guest verse on Headie One’s “Only You Freestyle.” And that’s without even mentioning the Lil Durk-assisted single, “Laugh Now Cry Later.” That’s an impressive year for someone who had to scrap their plans and come up with a new strategy on the fly. On paper, it was nowhere near his best year. But considering the context of 2020, it proved he’s more resilient than most of his peers, and he’ll always figure out ways to keep the Drake machine moving (even in a pandemic). 

Andre: It felt like Drake took 2020 off, even with Dark Lane Demo Tapes. The project had some strong tracks, but the way he treated it made it seem like an appetizer leading up to an album that never came. It felt easy to overlook, if that makes sense. I think he’s been intent on building up a mythos and he has a lot of pressure to live up to, with fans who expect “top 2 and not 2.” I’m not sure if the music over the past two or three years has reflected that, so 2021 is a bit of a crossroads for Drake. It’s fitting that it’s happening at the beginning of the decade, because it just may set the tone for where he goes from here. 

Jessica: His pre-album releases haven’t been bad, but they also haven’t had quite the level of impact and critical reception that we’ve come to expect from Drake records. Despite some of the harsher reviews, though, I enjoyed “Laugh Now Cry Later.” It was a fun and triumphant record that was certainly built for radio and had a strong music video. It sounds a little safer than some of his releases from a few years ago, and it’s not up to par with meteoric hits like “Hotline Bling” and “Started from the Bottom,” but it still stands out. I have noticed a quieter reaction from fans, though. Compared to “God’s Plan,” the lead single on 2018’s Scorpion, the conversation around records like “Laugh Now Cry Later” has not been as inescapable, even with a star-studded music video and Lil Durk’s mention of 6ix9ine. Even Dark Lane Demo Tapes and the DJ Khaled songs “Popstar” and “Greece” didn’t land as expected. “Toosie Slide” found viral success, thanks to TikTok, but the obvious ploy to create a viral challenge received some pushback, even for an artist like Drake who has been known to use strategies like that in the past. Drake’s career right now isn’t exactly on a decline, but it does bring up questions about whether he is coming to a roadblock. 

Waiss: It’s kind of funny that we’re doing a temperature check on Drake after he was the most-streamed artist of 2020. I understand he’s had a sustained period of success, so anything that doesn’t meet expectations is eligible for criticism, but music in 2020 has to be discerned through the lens of the pandemic. The lack of tours, promotional runs, LIV pop-up sets, and being able to hear music outside plays a big role in how we feel about who’s hot. I’m not saying “Laugh Now Cry Later” is on par with the impact of “God’s Plan” or “One Dance.” I’m just saying it never really had the same chance as those other songs. In a year where the clubs are closed, the rooftops are empty, and all we have left are metrics, I’ll let the numbers show for themselves how successful Drake’s 2020 was: 5.6 billion streams, one #1 song (“Toosie Slide”), one 8x platinum feature (“Life is Good”), 7 Top 40 hits, and more accolades I can’t fit in here. So yes, Drake had a good year and his career is going really well.

What about the "Drake's era is over" talk? Is he "falling off"?

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What does Drake have to prove on 'Certified Lover Boy'?

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What will make for a successful album?

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What would be a "flop"?


What's your prediction?

Drake 'Dark Lane Demo Tapes'

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