New York Times, For more than a decade, the Drake factory has been operating at full capacity — recalibrating the relationship between hip-hop, R&B and pop; balancing grand-scale ambition with granular experimentation; embracing the meme-ification of his celebrity. But in recent years, for the first time, it’s felt like the machines might be grinding to a pause. Maintaining the throne is hard work, and the wear and tear were beginning to show.
What Drake has needed is an opportunity to refresh, a chance to be unburdened of old assumptions. It’s the sort of renewal you only really find after-hours.
“Honestly, Nevermind,” Drake’s seventh solo studio album, which was released on Friday just a few hours after it was announced, is a small marvel of bodily exuberance — appealingly weightless, escapist and zealously free. An album of entrancing club music, it’s a pointed evolution toward a new era for one of music’s most influential stars. It is also a Drake album made up almost wholly of the parts of Drake albums that send hip-hop purists into conniptions.
The expectations Drake is seeking to upend here, though, are his own. For almost the entire 2010s, hip-hop — and most of the rest of popular music — molded itself around his innovations. Blending singing and rapping together, making music that was unselfconsciously pop without kowtowing to the old way of making pop, Drake has long understood that he could build a new kind of global consensus both because he understood the limitations of older approaches, and because the globe is changing.
Nevertheless, the bloated “Certified Lover Boy,” released last year, was his least focused album, and also his least imaginative — he sounded enervated, fatigued with his own ideas. What’s more, the people who have come up behind him may have exhausted them, too.Sign up for the Louder Newsletter Stay on top of the latest in pop and jazz with reviews, interviews, podcasts and more from The New York Times music critics. Get it sent to your inbox.
Those conditions force innovation, though, and “Honestly, Nevermind” is a clear pivot, an increasingly rare thing for a pop icon. Drake fully embraces the dance floor here, making house music that also touches on Jersey club, Baltimore club, ballroom and Amapiano. Each of these styles has trickled up from regional phenomenon to tastemaker attention in recent years, and like the skilled scavenger he is, Drake has harvested bits and pieces for his own constructions.
Part of why this is so striking is that Drake has made a career out of caress. His productions — always led by his longtime collaborator, Noah Shebib, known as 40 — were emphatically soothing. But the beats here have sharp corners, they kick and punch. “Currents” features both the squeaky-bed sample that’s a staple of Jersey club, and a familiar vocal ad-lib that’s a staple of Baltimore club. “Texts Go Green” is driven by jittery percussion, and the piano-drizzled soulful house buildup toward the end of “A Keeper” is an invitation to liberation.