Teased for longer than two years, the 21 tracks in “Certified Lover Boy” represent Drake in typical form: an immature man-child who is not interested in evolving in the slightest, choosing instead to pump out the same hit tracks he’s been releasing for over a decade.
“Certified Lover Boy” is the sixth studio album by Canadian superstar rapper Drake. In less than 15 years, Drake has successfully transitioned himself from a corny teenage sitcom actor to one of the biggest rappers in the world. His album releases have become massive events, routinely peppered with some of the biggest hits of the year and a crooning and rapping split that only Drake can successfully pull off.
However, “Certified Lover Boy” comes with a different kind of fanfare than a typical Drake album, largely because of Drake’s slowly sizzling beef with Kanye West. West released his highly anticipated tenth studio album, “Donda,” just five days before “Certified Lover Boy,” pitting the two albums against each other both in terms of commercial popularity and critical quality.
While “Certified Lover Boy” will almost certainly outsell “Donda,” the differences in creative ambition between the two artists are clear. Where Drake is comfortable putting out an 86-minute long album that rehashes ideas he’s been rapping about since 2009, West is willing to take more risks with his music.
Notably for Drake, “Certified Lover Boy” was released without any preceding singles. Murmurings about the feud with West and the meme-able cover art, featuring 12 pregnant emoji women designed by famed British artist Damien Hirst, was enough to excite any Drake fan or critic.
The two songs most viable as singles, however, are clear from the start. “Girls Want Girls,” with Lil Baby, is a captivating listen featuring sultry tones from Drake over an atmospheric beat paired with high-pitched vocals from Lil Baby. However, when Drake raps, “…say that you a lesbian, girl, me too,” any goodwill the song may have created instanly vanishes.
“Way 2 Sexy” with Future and Young Thug follows the same pattern as “Girls Want Girls.” Future’s hook is sonically captivating and grounds the track between each rapper’s verse, even if it grates with multiple listens. Drake and Future provide energized verses, while Young Thug’s vocals fade into the background. However, this track is most notable for sampling the 1992 dance-pop track “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred, a sample that is humorous at best and ridiculously cringeworthy to hear repeated.
Drake shines the most on this album on the occasional solo track with impassioned rapping. “No Friends In The Industry” is a cold-blooded track where Drake reflects on how small his inner-circle is and how his privileged position as one of the world’s biggest rappers means he isn’t actually competing with anyone. This song sounds similar to many on Drake’s 2015 mixtape “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” even if he has moved away from that sound in the six years since.
“Certified Lover Boy” is, excitingly, littered with features from A-List rappers like 21 Savage, who passionately goes back and forth with Drake on “Knife Talk,” even if 21’s second verse is cringe-inducing. Rick Ross and Lil Wayne combine with Drake on “You Only Live Twice” to deliver a song that sounds straight out of 2013, when each rapper was at their highest point. Ross’s bars, which reflect on his upbringing in Miami, are especially memorable.
Most of the features on the album ultimately underwhelm. Jay-Z on “Love All” makes next to no impression and Travis Scott ruins one of the more hit-worthy tracks with a surprisingly dull verse on “Fair Trade.” Lil Durk and Giveon try to recreate the magic of their 2020 singles with Drake, “Laugh Now Cry Later” and “Chicago Freestyle,” respectively, but their joint track “In The Bible” represents a missed opportunity for each to grow even more.
In the 21 tracks on “Certified Lover Boy,” Drake manages to prove and say nothing. He remains a 34-year-old rapper at the top of the music charts who refuses to innovate. The rare chance he does take is either poorly calculated or clearly designed for virality. The few bright spots in the tracklist, notably when Drake actually chooses to rap, are ultimately bogged down by an album populated with filler tracks. His hit-making ability remains intact, but Drake’s schtick can start to wear thin on even the most loyal of listeners with every new album.