Drake Finally Stopped Trying to Do Something For Everyone

On ‘Honestly, Nevermind,’ Drake finally diverted from his something-for-everyone formula and made a focused album. Here are our thoughts on Drake's dance record

Drake 'Honestly, Nevermind' album visual

Image via YouTube/Drake

Drake 'Honestly, Nevermind' album visual

Drake is a people-pleaser by nature, sometimes to his own detriment. 

He keeps his public image polished to perfection, his loose thoughts are pruned through carefully written Instagram captions, and he has catered to the wishes of his fans on each new album. When the people wanted him to sing more, he released More Life. When the people wanted a healthy balance of bars and melodies, he tried to deliver a double-sided album with both on Scorpion. And when they wanted all of his leaks and loosies in one place, he made Dark Lane Demo Tapes. 

For over half a decade now, Drake has found himself stuck in a cycle of constantly trying to make albums that appeal to both his rap fans and his pop and R&B fans. “I’m the only one who has a commitment to do two things every album,” he said during his 2020 Rap Radar interview, explaining why fans will never get a “10-song Drake classic.” “I have to give the people that like the singing enough to hold onto, and I have to give LeBron enough bars.” 

Because of this, his recent projects have prioritized a wide selection of flavors, at the expense of focus and precision. Drake’s 2021 album, Certified Lover Boy, suffered because he reused his patented something-for-everyone formula and delivered microwaved bars over predictable beats. He knew the strategy would still pay healthy streaming dividends, even though it was uninventive. He wasn’t wrong, but in the case of CLB, those same stories of love, jealousy, pettiness, and distrust were getting old.

Drake’s latest studio album, Honestly, Nevermind, is his first project in years where he made something entirely for himself, instead of catering to each faction of his massive fanbase. Rather than attempt to make all of his hip-hop fans happy, he made a dance album for dimly lit clubs and dizzying lazer-light raves. He finally strayed from the formula, and focused on a singular new sound instead of trying to appeal to everyone at once.

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Shock-dropping the project four days before the official start of summer was a strategic choice, reflecting the type of “outside” music Drake has been surrounded by lately. The surprise-release strategy is reminiscent of his If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, a self-described “mixtape” that is revered as one one of his best projects to date. Honestly, Nevermind didn’t received the same immediate praise yet, but the two projects are similar in how they both sound like Drake was letting loose for a change. No one asked for either IYRTITL or Honestly, Nevermind, but both feel like Drake is having actual carefree fun on them, and sounding great while doing it. Honestly, Nevermind differs, though, because it also reflects Drizzy finally “going left” and making an album that charts new territory for him. 

When Drake announced that he was about to drop a new project on the night of its release, everyone expected it to be a rap album. Instead, Honestly, Nevermind swings the opposite direction. It’s a dance record, in which he only raps on two songs. It’s “outside” music, without question, but it’s not the same type of outside music that we’ve grown accustomed to hearing from Drake. On projects like More Life, he tapped into Caribbean culture, utilizing dancehall and Soca as the vessel for its dance-centric tracks. Honestly, Nevermind is a full-on dance album, labeled so on streaming platforms, and it’s heavily influenced by house music scenes, including Chicago house, Baltimore club, Jersey club, Philly club, and others. 

On Honestly, Nevermind, Drake honors his late friend Virgil Abloh in the album’s Apple Music description and through intentional production choices (Abloh was a DJ himself in addition to his work as an influential fashion designer and other creative pursuits.) The album was executive produced by Black Coffee, a Grammy-winning house DJ and record producer from South Africa who has a collaborative history with both Drake and Abloh. And one of the other main producers on the album is Gordo, formerly known as Carnage, has cited Baltimore club influences being incorporated into several songs. Despite what you may have read on Twitter, calling it “Forever 21 music” belittles house’s Black origins and universal appeal. Black musicians like Chip E., Farley “Jackmaster” Funk, Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, and more are credited as forefathers of the genre. Since then, house music has traveled overseas and become extremely popular in the European club scene, which is one of the reasons why it’s often associated with whiteness, despite having Black roots. 

Drake isn’t the first rapper to make a dance album, of course. IDK recently linked up with Kaytranada to release his project Simple., which features a more rap-leaning fusion of house and hip-hop. Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory is another example of a rapper tapping into the dance music scene, and artists like Kid Cudi have incorporated electronic dance influences throughout their catalogs. Because Drake is one of the biggest artists on the planet, Honestly, Nevermind has gained more attention than some of these other albums, but he isn’t reinventing the wheel. As far as Drake albums, though, there is nothing like Honestly, Nevermind in his catalog.

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Honestly, Nevermind is one of the most concise, seamless albums Drake has released in years. It’s focused, with smooth transitions between songs, and compared to albums like CLB, Scorpion, and almost everything else since If You’re Reading This, it finally feels like a complete thought. Drake doesn’t have to rush through themes in order to make room for all of the different flavors in his bag. Honestly, Nevermind isn’t a “playlist” or a “collection of vibes” or a double album that would have been better off as two separate albums. It has a clear structure and brevity. 

Despite the new sonic direction, Honestly, Nevermind still has all the makings of a Drake album in terms of its subject matter. “If I come around you, can I be myself? Wind up in the mirror just to see yourself/ If I was in your shoes, I would hate myself/ Left all this behind to be with someone else, oh/ Why should I fake it anymore?” he croons on “Texts Go Green.” These are the same love-stricken bars that we’ve grown accustomed to from Drake, just delivered through a different sonic vehicle, as he pairs sobering lines with esoteric beats. Songs like “Flight’s Booked,” “Liability,” and “A Keeper” are highlights, delivering narrative structures and flow at the same pace of their grumbling production. It’s the type of music that sounds muffled yet clear, like you’re listening to Drake profess his love and illustrate his heartbreak through the damp walls of a dark underground club. This style of house is effective for what Drake is trying to achieve on Honestly, Nevermind, as he delivers club records that still contain caption-friendly lyrics.

“Calling My Name” is one of the songs that most effectively captures Drake’s vocal and lyrical ability while also keeping the production at center stage. The first half is centered around smooth melodies, before shifting into a bouncing club beat. At times, though, it’s clear that Drake is still feeling out how to navigate this new space, and much of Honestly, Nevermind finds him relying on the production more than his patented storytelling. There are too many moments where Drake’s words are buried behind the bells and whistles of a song’s pounding base, and the vocals become an afterthought. Alternatively, a song like “Tie That Binds” has some of the cleanest production on the album, but because of that, it would sound better if Drake’s vocals were cut short and the beat was allowed to breathe more. When the content does ring through, though, the lyrics are less vapid and more emotional than recent projects like Certified Lover Boy, and it makes the album’s core themes of balancing longing with separation feel more relatable. It’s comforting to know that even Drake’s texts sometimes go green, too. 

“Jimmy Cooks” is a clear outlier on Honestly, Nevermind, because it’s a straight-up rap song and diverges from the album’s otherwise cohesive dance themes. It almost feels like he only added it at the end to please the fans he knew would be upset if there was no rapping on a dance album altogether. Even though it adds another impressive entry to Drake and 21 Savage’s strong collaborative history, and might be one of my personal favorite songs on the album, it could have just as easily been released as a loosie rather than the outro for this cohesive dance album. It skews too far away from the project’s core themes. 

After being in the game for over a decade, breaking nearly every numerical record in the book, delivering several critically acclaimed albums and EPs, and changing the way melodic rap is perceived in hip-hop, Drake has already covered a lot of ground in his career, and he’s self-aware. He knows that he’s petty, distrusting, damaged, and, at this point, too rich for his own good. He puts all of that into his music, and part of the reason his subject matter hasn’t changed is because he hasn’t found solutions to those problems yet. He makes music that’s influenced by his life and surroundings, so he isn’t going to make an album about therapy like Kendrick Lamar (even though he will finally rap about it on a song like “Churchill Downs”), or drop a Gangsta Grillz mixtape like J. Cole. Based on the music we hear throughout Honestly, Nevermind, the next stage of Drake’s career still involves the club and “being outside,” which is not a stark change in lifestyle like we’ve seen from other superstars.

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Drake’s career has been a continuous sparring match with himself, trying to top every record he’s set, defeating enemies that his paranoia has created, and making music that the masses will enjoy the same way he does. He’s still growing as a person, but he’s not putting all of that progress in the music just yet. At this new intersection of his life, though, he finally appears to be less concerned with pleasing everyone, and more focused on releasing the things he likes. So it’s ironic that he received such heavy scrutiny for relying on his same old formula throughout CLB, but has still been criticized for dropping an album like Honestly, Nevermind, which is the polar opposite of that. That’s why being a people-pleaser in music is a damning quality; it’s impossible to make everyone happy. 

In true people-pleaser fashion, though, Drake confirmed on his OVO Sound radio that he’ll be releasing another Scary Hours project soon, which will likely come packed with the bars that hip-hop heads will enjoy. This could be a successful new formula for him to utilize going forward, allowing him to please large portions of his fanbase while also giving them a taste of the things he enjoys. Making a bunch of different albums that are each focused on specific aspects of his canon (from an R&B Drake album to a rap Drake album), would not only reflect his range, but also give him a chance to experiment with sounds in a concise way rather than trying to fit a bit of everything onto each project. 

You don’t need to be a global citizen, have a credit score of 740, or a rooftop patio to enjoy Honestly, Nevermind, regardless of what Twitter says. Music, like life, doesn’t always have to be so serious. Artists should be critiqued when they don’t meet the high bar they’ve set for themselves, but the art should also be allowed to breathe. Love it or hate it, Drake already accomplished what he set out to do with Honestly, Nevermind by making his rap fans ignore the literal interpretation of the title and embrace the spirit of summer by trying to experience something new. He’s finally back to making music that he likes to hear when he’s at the club, and by following his heart and ear, has strung together one of his most authentic projects in recent years.

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