So once I got his last album — September’s very unnecessary “Certified Lover Boy” — out of my system, I made a resolution: Instead of waiting for the next Drake song to materialize against my volition like a rash or a robocall, I would try to recalibrate my listening. Instead of hearing redundancy, I would listen for commitment. Instead of hearing solicitousness, I would listen for generosity. Instead of hearing rap songs, I would try to listen to Drake’s relentless sameness as if he were making drone music — like Pauline Oliveros, or Pandit Pran Nath, or Future, or Lungfish, or Laraaji, or the Ramones. Instead of being an omnipresent irritation, maybe Drake could be the hum of the world.
Then, on Friday, he made it easy by releasing almost exactly that — a surprise album titled “Honestly, Nevermind” that takes a welcome left turn onto the dance floor, into a zone of ecstatic repetition. Over a steady sequence of four-on-the-floor rhythms, Drake hardly ever raps, choosing instead to sing the way cotton candy accumulates on a twirling paper stick.
Conceptually, this qualifies as the brightest lightbulb to appear over his head in a decade, so it’s too bad that everything eventually goes sideways during his 52-minute astral projection into clubland. “Finding a way to stay out of the way,” he sings buoyantly at the album’s outset, either acknowledging his refusal to compete with Kendrick Lamar for rap’s crown (smart), or perhaps making an aesthetic resolution he knows he can’t keep. Because, musically, Drake simply can’t stay out of the way. He’s too in love with the sweetness of his own voice, and here he seems to be listening to himself more closely than his new surroundings, allowing the overconfidence of his phrasing to drag on the aerodynamics. Trying to sound carefree, he ends up sounding careless.
He’s also made a dance album that doesn’t sweat. In terms of the tracks themselves, “Honestly, Nevermind” is rife with stylish nods to Chicago house, Baltimore club and other regional styles of Black dance music, but the album’s producers buff the respective edges away until everything sounds as smooth as the man holding the microphone. There might be a principled symmetry in that tactic, but these pulses ultimately feel too faint to induce any kind of trance state, let alone a committed two-step.
So where does all that almost-danceable softness go? “Honestly, Nevermind” feels propulsive, sure, but it doesn’t seem designed for nightclubs so much as headphones, brunch, H&M and TikTok. That’s because Drake is more interested in reaching people than moving them. His knack for depositing music in spaces where crowds have already congregated has made him one of the savviest superstars of our time — but he continues to make his music feel like our most insidious cultural ambiance: advertising. Even when they take pleasant new shapes, a Drake song is still just a commercial for Drake. I haven’t been able to recalibrate my listening for that one yet. Om.