Drake tried to evolve. He didn’t try hard, but he tried. Less than five months ago, Drake released Honestly, Nevermind, a full-album experiment in sleek, propulsive house music. On paper, that was a fascinating move with all sorts of historical threads worth unraveling. In practice, that shit was boring as fuck. Some of those beats were amazing, but Drake approached those beats with aloof, lazy singsong poor-me vocals that barely qualified as a first draft. When Beyoncé colored in some of those same lines on Renaissance shortly afterward, it was a Botticelli painting to a stick-figure scribble. But Drake also left himself an escape hatch, and the new album Her Loss is the result.
The last song on Honestly, Nevermind was the moment when Drake finally broke away from the album’s dominant sound and went back to something that he actually knows how to do. On “Jimmy Cooks,” Drake and his old friend 21 Savage went back and forth, talking reckless. Drake: “I can tell her head good before I even know/ Bitch, don’t tell me that you model if you ain’t been in Vogue.” Savage: “This Glock 45 came with a switch/ If I was Will Smith, I would’ve slapped him with a stick.” This was more like it. “Jimmy Cooks” wasn’t just the best song on Honestly, Nevermind; it was also the album’s only real hit. Drake had tried to do something different, and it hadn’t worked out. We, the public, let Drake know what we want from him, and Drake complied. With Her Loss, he’s given us, more or less, a whole album of “Jimmy Cooks” type beats. That was exactly what he needed to do.
In some ways, every Drake album is a reaction to the one that came before, or maybe a reaction to the public’s reaction. Honestly, Nevermind was Drake hitting reset after the pop-star bloat of Certified Lover Boy. But Honestly, Nevermind didn’t do what Drake wanted it to do, and now Her Loss is the reaction to that. It’s Drake going back to something that he knows how to do, bringing along a collaborator who knows how to get him there. Up until now, every Drake/21 Savage collaboration has been good. These guys get each other. Drake and Savage come from vastly different backgrounds and musical sensibilities, though I guess they both have Queen Elizabeth on their money. But whenever they get together, Savage brings something out in Drake. It’s been that way for years.
Drake and 21 Savage first worked together on the ghostly one-off single “Sneakin'” in 2016, just a few months after Savage and Metro Boomin released the big breakout hit Savage Mode. This was standard operating procedure for Drake — teaming up with a new rapper on the come-up, trading his largesse for whatever buzz he could glean. That fan-turned-benefactor instinct has extended Drake’s dominant run for longer than anyone could’ve thought possible. Sometimes, that tendency comes off cold and calculating. But Drake and Savage sounded right together. Drake didn’t come off like he was working too hard to match Savage’s menace. Instead, Savage’s presence seemingly helped Drake access the kind of casually imperious charisma that he brings when he’s at his best. They seemed to like each other, too. That year, Savage had the world thinking that Drake had bought him a Ferrari for his birthday. (The car turned out to just be a loaner.)
Drake and 21 Savage worked together a few more times — the unreleased leak “Issa,” 2020’s “Mr. Right Now,” 2021’s “Knife Talk.” Every time, they found the same calm-but-hard chemistry. It’s also worth noting that 21 Savage has been on a crazy run lately. He’s grown enormously as a rapper in the past five years. Now, whenever he shows up, his presence feels like an event. On Pharrell’s “Cash In Cash Out” earlier this year, Savage outrapped an on-fire Tyler, The Creator. On “Jimmy Cooks,” he put Drake in the ground. By making a whole album with 21 Savage, Drake has given himself a real test. He’s passed. Drake raps his ass off on Her Loss.
On the opener “Rich Flex,” Drake makes it clear that he’s in rapper mode now. In an exhilarating run of flexes, Drake effortlessly reels off a whole laundry-list of initials: “Nan’ n***a seein’ me, I’m Young Money CMB/ I used to roll with CMG/ The house is not a BNB/ The bad bitches waitin’ on a n***a like I’m PND/ I’m steady pushin’ P, you n***as pushing PTSD/ I told her ass to kiss me in the club, fuck a TMZ/ I used to want a GMC, when Woe was doing B and E/ We revvin’ up and goin’ on a run like we DMC/ I lay up with her for a couple days, then its BRB.” That’s face-scrunch material.
Later on, Drake deadpans the most Drake line he’s written in years: “I’m a gentleman, I’m generous/ I blow a half a million on you hoes, I’m a feminist.” Hand it to the guy: That’s terrible, but it’s hilarious, too. Even when Drake goes into self-pitying poor little rich boy navel-gazing at the end of the album, he still keeps coming up with quotable lines: “Couldn’t even land in the Hamptons; they didn’t have the stairs for the shit I fly/ Swear it’s like a metaphor; I can’t even get down from the shit I climb.” That’s such an obnoxious private-jet humble-gloat, but I won’t forget the image.
We should be clear: Her Loss is a Drake album, not a 21 Savage album. This isn’t like when Drake and Future made What A Time To Be Alive — when Drake went into Future’s zone, living in the studio in Atlanta for a few days and working with all Future’s favorite producers. Instead, Her Loss is Drake inviting 21 Savage into his world. There are moments on the album where Savage actually sounds like Drake, which I wouldn’t have previously thought possible. Savage knows that he’s a supporting player on this album, though he still gets off plenty of great lines of his own. (I like this one: “Pink slip in the glove for the ownership/ Limping with the .30 on like a broke hip/ Red flag, giving blood on some donor shit/ All the opps get a bullet on some Oprah shit.”) Savage is on this album for gravitas and because his presence helps get Drake into rapper mode. By this point, someone has probably already broken down the album’s running time and figured out that Drake’s voice appears on Her Loss twice as much as Savage’s. (If that number isn’t right it feels right.) The album’s narrative is Drake’s narrative.
But if Her Loss is a Drake album, it’s probably the best Drake album since More Life, more than five years ago. (I’m not going to get into Drake’s goofy-ass taxonomy where some albums are albums and some are mixtapes or playlists or whatever.) Her Loss is good. This shit hits. The songs rarely drag. The production is clean and varied and interesting. Drake doesn’t really overdo the beat-switches, the way some recent A-list rap albums do, but his beat-switches tend to sound epic. There’s no real production auteur on Her Loss. Some of the tracks come from relative unknowns, and some come from big-name beatmakers. Plenty of the tracks have five or six producers. This time around, though, Drake seems to understand what kind of tracks fit his voice. The samples are genuinely pretty: the O’Jays, the Isley Brothers, Ginuwine. The voices fit together right, Drake’s confident baritone complementing Savage’s nasal hiss. The whole thing just glides.
Her Loss wouldn’t be a Drake album if it didn’t include some aggravating bullshit. The album is too long, and it sags in the middle. When Drake goes into singer mode, as he does a few times, he gets deeply indulgent. “Hours In Silence” is an endless passive-aggressive complaint about how the end of a relationship is really Drake’s fault because he was too nice to a girl and bought her too much stuff. Even Drake’s pillow-talk sounds condescending: “She askin’ why haven’t I nut/ I didn’t know we in a rush/ Enjoyin’ the moment, so hush.” At one point, Drake interpolates the hook from T.I.’s “24s,” continuing his unfortunate habit of handing out songwriting credits to accused sex offenders. (That shit does sound cool, though.) The only guest is Travis Scott, which is definitely a loaded decision. I truly cannot understand why Drake felt the need to take a subliminal shot at Megan Thee Stallion. Those frustrations just come with the territory. If you already can’t stand Drake, or if you’re starting to get sick of him, then Her Loss probably won’t change your mind.
The timing of Her Loss is also regrettable. The album was supposed to come out a week ago, but Drake’s friend and collaborator Noah “40” Shebib caught COVID during the mastering process, and the album got pushed back. 21 Savage’s punchline about turning someone into a ghost for Halloween is no longer timely. And now Her Loss arrives in the wake of tragedy, a few days after the murder of Drake’s former tourmate and collaborator Takeoff. That sucks. The loss of Takeoff hangs over a few Her Loss moments. Drake does some version of the Migos flow more than once. He also mentions a past Migos collab as if it’s just part of his own lore: “Quavo might’ve sent me a song that he called ‘Versace’/ I really can’t remember it properly/ All I know is that God got me/ I’m sittin’ on large properties.” Maybe Drake should’ve pushed the album back again and given it another edit just to keep from coming off disrespectful. Maybe it couldn’t be helped. But a few of those moments took me out of the flow.
Still, Drake is truly in peak-Drake form for most of Her Loss. He understands his place in the universe, to the point where it’s weird to hear Drake and 21 Savage bragging about putting up Bad Bunny numbers and Harry Styles numbers. (They never mention Taylor Swift numbers, though. They know better than that.) Drake continues to involve the world in his whole ongoing soap opera. He tells us how he feels about the Supreme Court overturning Roe V. Wade: “Damn, just turned on the news and seen that men who never got pussy in school are makin’ laws about what women can do.” But he also steps away from any sense of political engagement by shouting out a porn star: “Who the president? I never voted once/ If I did, I would vote Teanna Trump.” That line is probably a subliminal at Kanye West. Drake also dismisses his 2021 peace summit with Kanye as a favor to a very connected friend: “Linking with the opps, bitch, I did that shit for J Prince.” (Kanye is just “the opps” now.)
The best thing about Her Loss is that Drake is having fun. He’s singing along with his screwed-up Daft Punk sample. He’s ad-libbing 21 Savage’s verses and making up hooks about Savage’s hardness. He’s joking about his own reputation for career-making endorsements: “I jump on your song and make a label think they need ya.” He’s making fun of some unnamed rapper for buying a house instead of a Drake verse. He’s talking about joining the Pussy Posse, unless the bit about “Spider-Man and Leonardo” is about Peter Parker and a Ninja Turtle instead of Maguire and DiCaprio. He’s even having fun with the fact that he made Honestly, Nevermind: “N***as so ignorant in our hood; they be likе, ‘Why the fuck you makin’ techno?'”
For the first time in a while, I’m having a good time listening to a new Drake album. Her Loss isn’t anyone’s idea of a masterpiece, and Drake doesn’t really need to make one of those at this point. He just needed to remind us of why we liked him in the first place. He’s done it. Sometimes, critics see Drake, and they underestimate. Take it from a vet: That’s a rookie-ass mistake.
Her Loss is out now on OVO/Republic.