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Here’s what you should know about my orientation around Drake. I’m absolutely going to listen to whatever he drops. Whether or not I like it, is neither here nor there. I enjoy watching Drake work. Always have. He's unwavering in his hunger for our attention, for our affection. But what mainstream rapper in the digital age isn't? Now I tend to gravitate toward sadboi Drake. The records where he’s leaning on the sweetness of his voice tend to move me—in both the literal and figurative sense—far more than when he’s performing bravado. This is to say his dance forward surprise album Honestly, Nevermind has been on repeat since its release a few days ago. The conceit alone was catnip for me. This is pop star Drake on his absolute bullshit. Doubling down on the buttery melodies that made him a commercial beast and wrapping them around propulsive dance beats? Right in time for summer? Right as we are flocking back outside by hook or by crook—Covid be damned? The man certainly knows what the masses want. It’s easy to cook him for his commitment to being of the moment and for the moment. But the idea of a Drake house album incensed those who have grown tired of the very commitment he's had to being so in step with the disparate sounds moving any given scene at any given time. He's flirted with fluttery vocals and intoxicating four-on-the-floor beats plenty but this time he's channeling Chicago house, Baltimore club, ballroom and other regional subgenres of dance music innovated by Black producers. Rapping largely took a backseat in favor of floating and beneath the exuberant, escapist grooves powering the record are the sadboi musings we love and hate him for. But the conversation around Drake's new music was by and large drowned out by the debate around whether or not he was allowed to trespass into a genre space so defined by its many regional nuances.
Honestly, Nevermind is unabashedly frothy, and far more playful than any rapper of Drake’s mainstream status has dared attempt to pull off in recent memory—which makes it both the most interesting thing Drake has done in years and easily his most polarizing. I’ve already played this album more than September’s Certified Lover Boy, a record that felt unfocused, redundant and far too concerned with outpacing and out rapping Kanye West in a bid to see which of the two could move the culture more. It’s fascinating to consume the discourse that surrounds a Drake release. Little of it is about the music itself, as the idea of Drake and the persona he channels in his music requires as much unpacking as the ideas he presents as a tastemaker. He’s an artist who, like Kanye, uses his music as a tool of curation. Drake is relentless in his commitment to trying out new sonic identities. He transposes sounds and styles and tastes. A Southern drawl here. A smidge of patois there. He is a sponge. Or a vulture. Depends on how you see it. Like Kanye, I've seen Drake's knack for pivoting—and trying out new ideas—a necessary tool for him to realize his pop star ambitions. It's certainly served him well. But again, it depends on how you look at things.
Because this is Drake we're talking about, his new album was immediately debated and weighed towards that age old (and tired) question of who the best rapper alive is. There was a point where I thought my brain was going to melt as the quick takes on Honestly, Nevermind rolled down my timeline. Somewhere between people extolling how Jay Z would never make a dance album, criticizing Drake’s decision to surprise release the album on Kendrick Lamar’s birthday and sliding into homophobic rhetoric I had to tap out of the conversation entirely. So much of the discourse on music Twitter is about who can scream their point the loudest. The wittiest. The quickest. There’s a rush to say something about the thing the moment the thing comes out in order to lead the conversation about the thing and be seen as the authoritative voice about the thing—or the person. Everyone is right and no one is wrong or everyone is wrong and no one is right. Depends on how you see it—or if you see it. It’s all an echo chamber to me, but that’s just my orientation around how I consume music at this point in my life. I enjoy watching artists try new things, and dip into new waters. To see an artist who has influenced popular music for as long as Drake has venture into musical subcultures shaped by the innovations of Black queer musicians is liberating—even if his status protects him from any real risks with doing something adventurous. Drake's dip into clubland is no different, for me, than whatever regional flow he’s adapted over the years. His greatest talent is being a master tastemaker and like it or not, the man knows how to move the masses.
In case you missed it, I sat down with Janet Jackson for Essence Magazine's June/July cover. That's actually quite a surreal sentence to write. But it happened. What struck me the most about Janet is the space she's currently in now. But Here's an excerpt:
Running back this essay about hip-hop being at another crossroads when it comes to confronting its homophobia and how Isaiah Rashad and Joe Budden might have shown us a way forward. Between the gay jokes being thrown at Drake for making an upbeat dance album and every straight man still asking me what I think about Kendrick Lamar's "Auntie Diaries" I am tired.