On his seventh studio album, Drake’s risktaking is in shaky territory, but is certain to shake dancefloors for a few summers.
There comes a time in a superstar’s career where it’s time to complete the side-missions. That’s where Canadian giant Drake is at right now. His career has entered its third decade, which up to this point has seen him conquer hip hop and R&B on a fraternal level. He’s also tested the waters with a slew of other genres; trap, dancehall, drill, and afrobeats have all shown up on his last seven projects. Dropped with a few hours notice, Drake’s latest project takes an unexpected left turn.
Honestly, Nevermind takes some long-yearned risks with a handful of payoff, though comes at the cost of sounding like entry-level house music.
Drake critics have asked him to do something different for a good decade now. Well, here it is. Honestly, Nevermind is a dedicated house record, fleshing out the sound from songs like More Life’s “Passionfruit”, “Get It Together”, and Scorpion’s “Summer Games”. It is shades above the likes of Certified Lover Boy, Dark Lane Demo Tapes, and certainly Scorpion. Singing Drake takes over the microphone, leaving the raps as absentees aside from two instances, which was the predicted route for the album upon announcement. The record dons a marmite mask, knowing it’ll either be hated or adored. For this fact alone, it’s Drake’s most courageous work to date, taking the leap to finally provide something bold and refreshing.
Honestly, Nevermind is not a disaster. It may offer a shocking first-listening experience, but after expectations are cleared becomes a project to revel in. The length helps its case; a tight-knit affair of 14 tracks, making it Drake’s shortest solo album since the 2010 debut, Thank Me Later. On “Texts Go Green”, Drake lays his R&B croons over tight tropical house beats, carrying the energy of peak Views. “Flights Booked” is a sunset soundtrack with a well-incorporated Floetry sample. “Massive” is as dance as the album gets, one credit away from being a 2012 Calvin Harris hit.
A Drake album hasn’t set a concrete mood like this for years. Every project attempts to be a genre chameleon to appease his large pool of consumers. Honestly, Nevermind is ready to disappoint those that aren’t accustomed to the house sound, but knows it’s fulfilling a vision. Tracks like “Overdrive” and “Down Hill” unlock a new chapter in his popstar era, one that’s much better than his dancehall sagas, and the snoozing R&B found on his previous two albums.
But its full potential cannot be pulled off, all due to the nature of Drake as an artist. Even with Black Coffee by his side, Drake cannot avoid Honestly, Nevermind sounding like entry-level house music. It feels cheap and withdrawn from authenticity, a consistent problem found in much of Drake’s sidequests. It’s the safest experiment you can expect from an artist like Drake, who never goes the extra mile to fascinate the listener. This makes the efforts on Honestly, Nevermind more of a pinch than a punch.
Melodically, Drake doesn’t bring anything new. Honestly, Nevermind recycles the same melodies for at least 40 minutes, which are borrowed from his usual R&B endeavours. It’s hard to shake off the thought this is a remix album by an internet producer that huddled Drake acapellas together. Vocally, Drake is firmly delivering R&B pockets à la Take Care, because that and self-reflective raps are the only things he knows how to do. Though the real problem is they’re his worst vocal performances yet; it takes more than several listens to escape the struggling falsettos of “Falling Back” and flat keys of “Overdrive”.
The writing is also a consistent low-point for Honestly, Nevermind. But it simultaneously provides a break from the Canadian’s rap content. For once, we’re not hearing about Drake’s day-to-day. The complaints, guilt tripping and self-conscious lyrics are absent for the most part. Matter fact, we hear more lover-boy lyrics here than on last year’s CLB. Once again, it’s a push and pull experience with Drake as a songwriter.
Honestly, Nevermind is a cohesive effort, although it breaks the mould by sticking the 21 Savage collaboration “Jimmy Crooks” at the end of the album. Though a highlight, it taints the project’s intended wholeness, included to give the rap fans one takeaway they can talk about. Just when you think Drake was meeting a single vision, he makes an evasive move to relieve pressure.
There’s still major asterisks around the attempt, and whether there is a shelf life for it. But Honestly Nevermind is a welcomed departure from the usual Drake formula, a summer soundtrack that finds him holding a rose in a dimly-lit disco. Honestly, it’s not that bad.
6.5 / 10
Best tracks: “Texts Go Green”, “A Keeper”, “Flight’s Booked”, “Jimmy Cooks”, “Massive”