The Boy is back for the summer. Boardroom’s Megan Armstrong and Randall Williams lay out their gut reactions after listening to Drake’s latest album.
Drake knows how to monopolize a summer.
Scorpion dropped in June 2018, and his fifth studio album was everywhere with smashes such as “In My Feelings,” “Nice For What,” and “I’m Upset.” The same applies to Views, his fourth LP arriving in April 2016. Millions of people are wistful for summer 2016 solely because of Drake — and dancehall bangers such as “Controlla,” “One Dance” featuring Kyla and Wizkid, and “Too Good” featuring Rihanna. And who could forget the Summer Sixteen Tour? The vibes were immaculate — and they flowed right into March 2017’s More Life.
Drake pulled out a similar paintbrush for Honestly, Nevermind, his seventh studio album announced Thursday afternoon and released by midnight, and the dance/pop palette is arguably more vibrant here than anywhere in his discography.
The Toronto icon has eight No. 1 albums to his name, including last September’s Certified Lover Boy that made Billboard Hot 100 history. And regardless of how much Honestly, Nevermind caught most everybody off-guard, it’s bound to be Drake’s ninth No. 1. It doesn’t matter what the early reviews say because ultimately, Drake has everyone’s ear. We’re still listening to, and talking about, his music.
But what’s the harm in a hasty reaction? Read our first-listen impressions below.
Make the strongest statement about the album you can make.
MEGAN ARMSTRONG: Drake has always been great at naming things, and he struck again with Honestly, Nevermind. The 14-track project is a passive listening experience. There are some lines that fall under the classic Drake umbrella, prone to invade Instagram captions everywhere. “I found a new muse / That’s bad news for you” from “A Keeper” comes to mind. “Sticky” and “Jimmy Cooks” featuring 21 Savage provide plenty, too. (This man really said, “F–k a pigeonhole, I’m a night owl.” Phew!) But for the most part, Honestly, Nevermind is hypnosis by design.
RANDALL WILLIAMS: The critics asked for Mr. Graham to stop making the same music, and this is the result: music that feels inspired by MarioKart’s Rainbow Road. I can truly say that the only people I undoubtedly know will passionately love Honestly, Nevermind are folks who currently work or have previously worked at H&M, Forever 21, Hollister, Zara, and Abercrombie & Fitch.
I think for casual Drake fans like myself, and for the OVO Sweatsuit mob, this will take some time to enjoy. The album walked down a path that no one expected Drake to pave. The Honestly, Nevermind walkway has me feeling queasy. Over time, I may be able to stomach this music. That day is not here yet.
How does the album square with expectations?
MEGAN ARMSTRONG: Coming off of Drake’s heralded verse on Jack Harlow‘s “Churchill Downs,” I think the expectation was weighted bars. Instead, Honestly, Nevermind is the soundtrack of a night out to the bar. House Drake came to play. Actually, maybe this is how Drake and Jack’s vacation to Turks and Caicos sounded. I’d seen some fans reacting to “Churchill Downs” by tweeting that Drake was in the pocket they wished he’d been in on Certified Lover Boy. The same sentiment has now been stretched to Honestly, Nevermind. But there’s also a legion of fans who have been begging for Drake to sing more again. He did, after all, claim 10 years ago to be “the first person to successfully rap and sing.” True fans know this is part of the Drake package. You can never please everyone — even if you’re Aubrey Drake Graham.
The abrupt announcement of Honestly, Nevermind reminded me of Scary Hours 2, so I guess memory association had me braced for a similar product. But it turns out Drake wanted to vibe for the summer. That should be perfectly fine. Artistic versatility should be celebrated. Unfortunately for Drake, he’s in the pantheon of artists who aren’t expected to just put out a record for fun.
RANDALL WILLIAMS: Considering it was a surprise album, I didn’t know what to expect. However, what I wanted was bars. I wanted raps. The pen to the paper. I wanted 16s and 24s laid. Instead, we got dancehall and music that reminded me of Jersey club music. (For the record, I am not coming for Jersey club music). I’ve heard the tired narrative about Drake repeatedly making the same song, but that is not true. Drake’s subject matter hardly ever changes, which makes it feel like he makes the same music. The same can be said for Honestly, Nevermind. Drake is somehow, someway, still heartbroken and yearning for love. As for the music itself, it is easily the farthest he’s ever strayed from traditional rap music.
When Drake released Views in 2016, the album had massive hits and did incredibly well on the charts. Yet the project was subject to harsh criticism because of how far it strayed from what rap fans had come to expect from Drizzy. Years have passed since then, and now people say Views is underrated. Even Drake knows it. “Come with a classic and they come around years later and say it’s a sleeper,” he said on “Wants and Needs.” Maybe Honestly, Nevermind will do the same. Maybe it will age like wine. Or maybe it won’t. Maybe it will spoil like grilled fish left out overnight.
What’s the first track you just had to listen to again?
MEGAN ARMSTRONG: “Sticky.” He uses the third verse and outro to honor Virgil Abloh, to whom the album was dedicated, and advocates for Young Thug (“Free Big Slime out the cage”). Plus, this is an entire flex: “They only givin’ n—s plus ones, so I never pull up to the Met.” But the only reason “Sticky” was the first track I ran back is because it’s positioned before “Jimmy Cooks” featuring 21 Savage on the track list.
RANDALL WILLIAMS: Despite 21 Savage displaying the best rapping on Honestly, Nevermind, the track I think I pressed play on was “Sticky.” I can’t comfortably say that I love the song, but it is the closest thing to what Drake has released in the past. Producers Gordo & Ry X forced my head to nod in the midst of me being still and stale-faced for most of this album. The “Sticky” beat feels infectious. I can visualize the song coming on, and one person beginning to dance — lighting up a room full of spectators around — and everyone else slowly but surely joining in as energy flows throughout the dance floor. In short, “Sticky” is wavy and Drake is an excellent surfer.
What’s a track you’re still wrestling with?
MEGAN ARMSTRONG: “Falling Back.” Drake really repeated “falling back on me” 20-plus times in four minutes. Guess what? He’s so influential that I listened to the whole damn thing. And then I watched the music video in which Tristan Thompson prepared him to marry 23 women. Maybe this actually isn’t the right way to answer this question because I’m not wrestling with the fact that Drake has pop culture in a chokehold, no matter what he does. (I, for one, will still attend the inevitably forthcoming tour with my mom and sister, as we have since Nothing Was the Same.) I am left with one question, though, after listening all the way through: Who hurt Drake this time?
RANDALL WILLIAMS: A better question is, what’s a track that I’m not wrestling with? I’ve come to expect singalongs from the 6 God just as well as I expect the raps. There are no bars. Damn near every song on this album is meant to be a bop. And what do the ladies say? “The bops ain’t bopping.” (I’ve actually never heard a woman say that phrase, but I can hear it.) Someone just insert the Jay-Z head-nodding meme here.