Drake’s R&B Revivalism Panders to the Right Crowd
The second track off of Certified Lover Boy conjures up the right amount of nostalgia.
For the last decade Drake has swam with the current. As the accolades continue to pile on — most Hot 100 Top 10s, best selling singles artist — he’s held firm in his presentation. When the trap sound swept over the musical landscape in the mid-2010s, he curried favor with trunk rattlers like “Grammys,” “6 God” or the bulk of his collaborative album What a Time To Be Alive.
When streaming brought international clout to formerly far flung corners of the rap-o-verse, he co-signed UK standouts like Giggs, and Headie One. With the latter, Headie One’s “Only You Freestyle” (which was certifiably not a freestyle), the self-proclaimed Champagne Papi doubles down on his world acuity, flinging Arabic around with guttural ease. That track simultaneously ushered in the drill sound that would fold into his mixtape/loosey collection Dark Lane Demo Tapes. “Demons’’ gets the assist from Pop Smoke contemporaries Fivio Foreign and Sosa Geek while relegating Drake to cheerleader — Fivio and Sosa use the cut to commit heinous acts while Drake skirts by with bars about wearing runway Hermés and sipping his drink of choice.
Other flits include afrobeats (“Get It Together”), bass-infused bedroom pop (“Pain 1993”), and Houston fanaticism (“Faithful,” “TSU”). More than anything, the last decade has proved Drake’s penchant for scouting new talent. I won’t soon forget the early summer 2015 hit “My Way”, which blasted Fetty Wap from radio magnet to international superstar, if only for a moment. He engages with different sounds like a tourist, lining up destinations that will fill up a passport and a handful of photo albums.
With Certified Lover Boy, Drake attempts to cement the legacy he’s been penning since 2009’s So Far Gone — that he’s a lover not a fighter. Cheap bars on “Girls Want Girls” or the frontrunning track “Way 2 Sexy” paint the Grammy winner as Mr. Promiscuous, even as portions of the tape hunt for the sanctity of fatherhood and settling down.
On pace with his past discography, CLB hops around like a “not-Pepsi” snorting bunny, in the process fleshing out a review narrative focused on Drake’s unchanging ways. CLB has at least one bright spot — the second track “Papi’s Home.” Produced by South Carolina-native Supah Mario (previously of “Ice Melts” fame), “Papi’s Home” builds on Drake’s time tested affinity for sonning his competition. As rap’s perennial taste maker, Drake drops inevitably produce a cycle of beat biters and flow snatchers with each release. 2015’s Meek Mill diss “Back to Back” inspired a bevy of copycats, all while tracing back to the Six God’s original beef following their collaboration on “RICO”. “Hotline Bling” jumpstarted the industry in a similar way, with the track going as far as inspiring Erykah Badu to drop the telecommunication themed But U Caint Use My Phone.
“Papi’s Home” is a self-aware look at his place in the industry, as well as a Drake song that highlights yet another of his recurring themes. The song’s sample, Montell Jordan’s “Daddy’s Home,” is a melodic piece of 1990s R&B. Like the “Way 2 Sexy” flip of Right Said Fred’s 1991 hit, “Papi’s Home” stirs a wave of nostalgia that’s aimed right for one of Drake’s target demographics — aging millennials. Critics argue about Drake’s inability to mature just as “Papi’s Home” reflects on an artist best known for his 90s party hit “This Is How We Do It” and uses it to appeal to listeners who pine for days unburdened by fiscal responsibilities, whether back in the carefree 1990s or a yet unwritten future.
Past years have seen Drake employ a similar strategy — 2018’s “Emotionless” takes a bite out of Mariah Carey’s 1991 smash “Emotions” just like 2017’s “Teenage Fever” borrows from Jennifer Lopez’s 1998 cut “If You Had My Love.” The samples stand as nods to the sounds that tend to see Drake at his best — vulnerable R&B-adjacent jams that overshadow his philandering ways with emotional honesty.
Though Drake the brand is hardly relatable, his code switching ways appeals to the masses. In 2021, the millennials who reflect fondly on nostalgic 90s tracks are also saddled with school debt, housing woes, and mental health challenges, all while attempting to present as fully functioning adults. These short-lived but poignant musical shout outs embody a distinctly millennial struggle, one that Drake, despite is riches, appears to deal with himself.
Unlike some of CLB’s recurring tropes, the R&B flip is more of a technique than a crutch for Drake to lean on. And on an album in a line of something-for-everyone drops, nostalgia-pandering might be among the most earnest ways for Drake’s latest to get a few extra views.