One miserable solution to assess the rivalry between hip-hop’s dueling alpha males is to match why every of them concerned an accused sexual predator in his new album.
For Kanye West, who final month recruited Marilyn Manson for the rollout of his long-awaited “Donda,” the motivation seems to have been West’s trollish thirst for controversy — a bitter if targeted longing to infuriate these he regards as having sought to cancel him for his personal misdeeds.
For Drake, whose just-released “Licensed Lover Boy” carries a songwriting credit score for R. Kelly, the rationale appears extra like blinkered thoughtlessness. Writing on Instagram within the hours after “Licensed Lover Boy” dropped Thursday evening — lengthy sufficient for a present of concern to have swollen amongst those that seen Kelly’s title — the rapper’s longtime producer 40 explained that he and Drake had been “compelled” to license an R. Kelly tune as a result of it was taking part in within the background of a little bit of speech they needed to pattern on Drake’s observe “TSU.”
“It has no significance,” 40 added of the Kelly tune, clearly desperate to be the one to determine that time.
Each these rationales suck in glumly predictable methods. But additionally they add to the distinction between the LPs in query, which thanks to shut launch dates — and to an escalating collection of man-child taunts between Kanye and Drake — are being framed as a type of celebrity showdown: Whereas “Donda” feels witless and haphazard, “Licensed Lover Boy,” by far the higher album of the 2, is deeply conscious of itself, its excesses and contradictions (and its charms).
Drake’s sixth studio album so expertly shows his strengths that it got here as a shock to see the 34-year-old stumble over the weekend in his battle with Kanye when he leaked an unreleased “Donda” outtake that includes Andre 3000 — then was left wanting petty and thoughtless when Andre issued a press release lamenting his being dragged into the 2 rappers’ beef.
After all, petulance has outlined Drake’s profitable model since he emerged greater than a decade in the past as hip-hop’s sulking crown prince following an earlier life as a teen actor on Canada’s soapy “Degrassi: The Subsequent Technology.” Certainly, neither the misstep with Andre 3000 nor the ill-advised R. Kelly connection did something to dent the fast success of “Licensed Lover Boy,” which is definite to debut at No. 1 subsequent week after setting new every day streaming information at each Spotify and Apple Music. (The album whose information Drake broke? “Donda.”)
“Unsure if , however I’m truly Michael Jackson,” he raps within the new LP’s “You Solely Reside Twice,” “The person I see within the mirror is definitely going platinum” — a uncommon understatement by a business juggernaut whose earlier album, 2018’s “Scorpion,” went platinum 5 instances over.
At the moment it’s all however unimaginable to overstate Drake’s affect on fashionable hip-hop (and, by extension, fashionable pop); he reshaped the shape round emotion and melody, and the murky but glistening manufacturing beneath his sing-rap vocals has turn out to be the pure sound of the streaming ecosystem. However Drake achieved complete domination solely by constructing on groundwork Kanye laid in an earlier period much less hospitable to adventurous trend plates with gently eccentric flows. So it appears proper in a way that “Donda” got here out first and set the parameters by which to evaluate each albums — even when the comparability hardly advantages West.
Heard within the wake of Kanye’s muddled psychodrama, “Licensed Lover Boy” — which with 21 tracks over 86 minutes one way or the other nonetheless feels tight subsequent to the interminable “Donda” — is an enjoyment even at its bleakest. And bleak it may well undoubtedly be: Alternately merciless and callow, Drake has all types of terrible issues to say about what passes for romantic relationships within the age of the unsolicited DM.
On “Pipe Down” he’s asking a girl how a lot he must spend on her to get her to be quiet; on “Get Alongside Higher” he assures an ex that hooking up along with her buddy wasn’t about revenge. (“It’s flawed, I do know,” he croons as sweetly as if he had been serenading the buddy as a substitute of the ex.) “F—ing Followers,” which many on-line have surmised is secretly about Rihanna, has Drake regretting all of the instances he cheated on a girlfriend with — and he can’t consider he stooped this low — girls who love his music.
“Onerous for me to justify the ladies I used to be into,” he sings, condescension dripping like honey, “Particularly when the entire total world wished they’d you.”
Drake opens “Licensed Lover Boy” by telling us he’s been eager about settling down; he finishes the album by scoffing on the very concept. However the gorgeously vibe-y beats by 40 and a squad of lesser-known studio wizards pull you into Drake’s conflicted headspace, as does his willingness — so welcome amid Kanye’s grim pronouncements — to poke a little bit enjoyable at himself.
As internet-fluent as any A-lister, the rapper has recognized for years that meme-ability is now essential to pop stardom. (Final 12 months he reverse-engineered his single “Toosie Slide” from a meme, then shortly topped the Scorching 100 with it.) Right here, although, Drake actually leans into his caricature, not simply with the album’s self-parodying title and canopy artwork however with songs like “Ladies Need Ladies” and significantly “Means 2 Horny,” which samples Proper Stated Fred’s early-’90s smash “I’m Too Horny” — itself a goof on club-dude narcissism — and arrives accompanied by an over-the-top music video wherein Drake goes full beefcake as by no means earlier than.
In a hard-to-parse word offered to Apple Music, Drake described “Licensed Lover Boy” as “a mix of poisonous masculinity and acceptance of fact which is inevitably heartbreaking” — a sign, offered these phrases might be precisely deciphered, that he’s developed a brand new understanding of his ethical failings (or a minimum of that he desires us to suppose he has).
Even minus this get-out-of-jail-free stuff, “Licensed Lover Boy” is so sharply composed and carried out as to be largely irresistible. There’s “Papi’s Dwelling,” a slyly infectious banger that flips an outdated deadbeat-dad ballad by Montell Jordan to mock Drake’s many stylistic inheritors; there’s “N 2 Deep,” a spacey, two-part sluggish jam set each exterior and inside a Houston strip membership. Cleverly, “N 2 Deep” is predicated on an earlier tune by Texas rapper Bun B; different tracks make equally crafty use of supply materials from the Beatles (!) and the Infamous B.I.G.
“7am on Bridle Path” units an aggrieved monologue concerning the burdens of fame — together with a couple of jabs at Kanye — over an ethereal groove that offers Drake room to rhyme “Preserve it a buck like Antetokounmpo” with “North of the border like Vito Rizzuto.” And regardless of its nasty tone, “F—ing Followers” gives some indelible pictures from the aftermath of his girlfriend’s discovery that he’d had a child with one other lady: “In all probability made you need to hit the streets on every thing / In all probability made you need to pour bleach on every thing.”
As on “Donda,” visitor appearances from a few of rap’s hottest acts — amongst them Lil Child, Travis Scott, Younger Thug, 21 Savage and Lil Durk — attest to Drake’s outsize standing within the area. However probably the most thrilling cameos on “Licensed Lover Boy” come from two veterans, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, who tear via their verses within the bumptious “You Solely Reside Twice” with refreshed vigor and perspective.
“I’m so troublesome to fathom, like a fever within the winter,” Wayne motormouths over a superbly dusty soul pattern, “I received girls within the Phantom with their cleavage out the window.” The road is vivid, humorous, oddly respectful — an object lesson, in different phrases, for a still-maturing lover boy who is aware of he has nowhere to go however down.
This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Occasions.