Not In Love With Certified Lover Boy

Certified Lover Boy album cover

This is my review of Drake’s album Certified Lover Boy, which is his thirteenth album release. The album came out on September 3rd, 2021 amidst a lot of hype. It was competing with Kanye West’s album release, Donda, which came on August 29th, 2021. Two of the most celebrated rap artists of all time, Kanye West and Drake, wagered with each over who’s album would sell more records in their respective first weeks. Well, Drake won by a landslide, nearly doubling Kanye’s first week sales, moving 613,000 units to Ye’s 309,000. Popularity is one thing. But, what about CLB’s quality? I would argue that CLB is a great body of work when compared to other rap artists’ music, generally speaking. But, by Drake’s standard it is subpar and did not live up to the hype. But, let us explore the project.

Let us start with CLB’s album cover. It left a lot to be desired. The cover is a grid of 4 x 3 pregnant woman emojis of all races. While it seems as if the album cover was a ploy to go viral by encouraging influencers and fans to make their own versions of the album cover and post them on social media, I didn’t see that happen so much. The cover is kind of drab. I would have expected something more artistic, as opposed to commercial and robotic. It was too pragmatic.

Musically, the album starts off with a bang. The intro, “Champagne Poetry,” is a strong start to the album. Drake is known for great intros. The song starts with the beat chanting “I love you” and then it loops and chops up a vocal phrase. This is introspective Drake at his best. This is my favorite lyrical sequence of the song:

“Champagne poetry, these are the effortless flows

Supposedly something else is controlling me

Under a picture lives some of the greatest quotes from me

Under me, I see all the people that claim they over me

And above me, I see nobody

I’d have to be dead for them to say you took it from me

The 20 percent of you that we own is my tootsie’s money”

BARS. If we could quantify it, I’m almost certain Drake would be the most quoted rapper in the caption of Instagram posts. I have done it more than a few times myself. The aggression when he says you would have to be dead to take it from him is much appreciated. And the 20 percent Tootsie’s money line elicits a laugh. Ah, cocky diss lines, those are the best. Really, this song shines because of its overall feel and lyrical content. It’s emblematic of that dark Drake Toronto sound, like riding around in a blacked-out Benz on a cold rainy night in Toronto, complete with the “party next door” sound effect when the beat transitions to the second half of the song when the beat switches up.

The next highlight of the album is “Girls Want Girls” featuring Lil Baby. The hook “girls want girls where I’m from” is so relatable. This song is a commentary on the games girls sometimes play in socializing and hooking up. “Said that you’re a lesbian. Yea me too.” In describing his album on Apple Music, Drake said his album contained toxic masculinity. This is surely an example of that, but playfully so. Ironically, or perhaps not so, this is a lot of girls’ favorite song on the album, according to a poll on @theshaderoom on Instagram. It is most definitely a strip club jam.

The next highlight is the song “Love All” featuring the legendary MC, Jay-Z. A lot of people consider Jay-Z the G.O.A.T., Greatest of All Time. It’s always special when Jay and Drake come together on a track. There is always a lot of anticipation when Hov drops a new featured verse. He is selective about what he releases these days and it’s as if he always tops himself with each new verse. This one did not disappoint. Jay-Z poured out his heart about people hanging out with people who wanted to kill him and still expecting to be friends with him. He said he had the power to kill him and he knows where he lives. We assume he is talking about his estranged best friend and his business partner Dame Dash back when they were CEO of Roc-a-fella Records with Biggs. I guess Jay-Z’s version of “Love All” is exercising forgiveness and mercy but not forgetting. It was skillfully written and expertly delivered by Jay. And, Drake’s verse was dope as well.

Now, in one of the most quoted hooks under Instagram pictures and on Twitter on the album, let’s talk about the song, “Fair Trade,” featuring Travis Scott. The hook goes, “I’ve been losing friends and finding peace. Honestly that sounds like a fair trade to me.” Before you throw up pics on Insta cropping out friends, please understand that Karma works both ways. The beat by Travis Scott pretty melodic and intricate. It was rather beautiful. But his vocal contributions to the track seemed negligible. The record is mostly for the memories of all those friends we’ve lost. Adios. Good riddens. I’ve been losing friends and finding peace. Honestly that seems like a fair trade to me. You see what I did there.

As a DJ, this next song is the most requested song I get at the club. I’m conflicted. I’m not sure I want to write about it. I’m sick of playing it. But, here goes… The next highlight (or lowlight) of the album is “Way 2 Sexy” featuring Future and Young Thug. I do NOT like this song but somehow EVERYONE else does, drunk partygoers, especially. I appreciate their spirit. But, I’m too sexy for this song.

Skip a track and play “N 2 Deep” and it’s like a sigh of relief. The screwed up sample gives Pimp C vibes (RIP). H-Town was in full effect on this record. Drake starts off the song saying he kept the Galleria open until 10 p.m. for her and her friends. Major flex. We’re already drawn in. Ballers and models. The stuff hip-hop is made of. She’s special and he made a connection with her. It feels like an inside view into his world and celebrity. Then beat switches up into an aggressive darker tone. He tells her to “pop that sh*t” and repeats he’s in too deep into that you know what.

“Yebba’s Heartbreak” was a beautifully melancholy number by Yebba the artist. It offered a brief respite from the aggressive overtones of the album and offered a moment of sincere introspection. It starts, “How much better can I show my love for you?” Her skillfully played piano chords are haunting and seem to echo the chambers of the heart. Drake is known for selecting beautiful interludes for his albums. He certainly lived up to that reputation with this selection. On a side note he has raised Yebba’s profile as an artist by placing her on the album. I overheard Charlemagne tha God hyping up Yebba’s own album on his show The Breakfast Club, the number one FM radio hip-hop show in the country.

Finally, I get to talk about my favorite song on the album, “No Friends In The Industry.” I really enjoy this record because I am a DJ and a producer and I am in the music industry so I can relate. I used to DJ for Grammy-nominated rapper Logic for a few years and I currently DJ for a rapper named Born I and I co-executive produced his recent album release, In This Moment. The entertainment industry and Hollywood are shady places. You have to watch out for the snakes. People want to use you and abuse you. People will stab you in the back when there’s the first opportunity. People will literally use violence to get on. They’re that thirsty for it. I have experienced this first-hand. No joke. It’s not a game. As soon as you get some hype, the hangers on show up. You have to keep your circle tight and keep infiltrators out. I understand completely why Drake says “no friends in the industry” because you have to draw boundaries between friends and business associates and keep people at arm’s length. When lines get blurred, that opens the door for attacks and conflict. Stay in your lane. The beat is hard and I love getting hype to it. It’s great to play in the car.

The gangster vibes of “No Friends In The Industry” are a great transition into the song “Knife Talk.” Bringing back the rap legend Project Pat to start the song was a genius move. Back when I was in high school, we used to ride around to his music all day. The major highlight of this record was the rapper 21 Savage. He bodied his verses like a real gangsta rapper is supposed to. Then, he repeated in the hook, “gang sh*t is all I’m on” and created the refrain for the rest of the year. Everyone can feel like that’s all they’re on too. And, doesn’t everyone want to be a gangster? Isn’t that what this is all based on?

Overall, Drake’s album Certified Lover Boy is enjoyable. It is a good quality album. Drake always puts out good albums with great singles, but, he has yet to put out a classic hip-hop album. He has come close to that a few times, but he has never reached that bar. I suggest he reduces the number of tracks on his next album to a solid 10-12 with no songs we feel like skipping over so we can play it straight through like classic albums back in the day so we can truly appreciate the body of work. Even amongst Drake’s own collection of albums, CLB is nowhere near the top. Compared to the hype, it was a disappointment, but so was Kanye West’s. And, Drake’s was better than his. I guess that counts for something. Or does it? Someone needs to bring real music back.

Top 15 Albums of the Decade

The 2010’s was an eclectic decade of good music. As a hip-hop DJ, I’ll assert that mainstream rap took a turn for the worst, a la Post Malone and Lil’ Uzi, but the best of the best, a la Kendrick and J. Cole, still put out sterling projects. Overall, music production evolved beautifully, while some went new age, like KAYTRANADA, and others kept it more acoustic, like D’Angelo, in his classic fashion, others went back to the future like Calvin Harris and A Tribe Called Quest. Drug rap is a dying art, but Pusha T kept it pumping in vintage fashion. Beyonce was Beyonce and SZA burst onto the scene with freshness. Chris Brown opened up his broken heart and Jay-Z and Kanye made sure we kept our eyes on the throne. Anderson .Paak grooved us and Kanye took us to a fantastical world, musically and in the press, as we all know, unless deprived of the internet.

We lost two of hip-hop’s greatest artists of all time in Nipsey Hussle and Mac Miller. I’m friends with one of Mac’s DJ’s, DJ Money, and I met Mac several times. It’s not hype. It’s true. Mac was a pure and kindhearted soul. May he Rest In Peace. And Nipsey is in the real nigga hall of fame. His music still gives me inspiration and motivation. He’s the only artist I can put on shuffle in Apple Music and just let play. May their music and souls vibrate from the Heavens forever. And, surely, all of these albums will vibrate to the cosmos for decades to come.

I just can’t wait until my artist Born I and I drop our mixtape. No hype. Just wait. He was actually the inspiration for this list because he posted on Facebook that he co-signed Billboard’s selection of Kanye’s MBDTF as the best album of the decade. Clearly, I disagree. But, that’s what lists are for. Here’s mine. Enjoy. I challenge you to make your own.

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

2. Calvin Harris – Funk Wav Bounces vol. 1 (2017)

3. KAYTRANADA – 99.9% (2016)

4. Anderson .Paak – Malibu (2016)

5. Pusha T – Daytona (2018)

6. SZA – Ctrl (2017)

7. D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)

8. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (2016)

9. Chris Brown – Heartbreak on a Full Moon (2017)

10. Beyonce – Beyonce (2013)

11. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne (2011)

12. J. Cole – 4 Your Eyez Only (2016)

13. Nipsey Hussle – Victory Lap (2018)

14. Mac Miller – Swimming (2018)

15. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)

I used to love h.e.r.

I used to love h.e.r. By h.e.r., I mean hip-hop, as exemplified by Common’s classic record. Now, I love H.E.R., the R&B songstress. It’s funny how things change.

I used to sit in my room for hours listening to the latest tapes and CDs I bought from the record store. I would sit by my boom box all day just to catch my favorite songs on the radio and record them to make mixtapes. Artists like Tupac, Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr and the Wu Tang Clan permeated the halls of my suburban home from behind the closed door of my 3rd floor bedroom.

I could always relate to hip-hop, although I always felt partly removed from it. Hip-hop was from the streets. I certainly wasn’t. My interaction with the streets came from playing street basketball and going to parties and go-go’s.

During the day time, I was at private school, busting jokes with my homies at lunch and macking on chicks in the hallways. I got very good grades, but not as good as my sister’s. She went to Harvard. So, did my mom (RIP). My dad was an economist at the World Bank.

I grew up with a privileged background. It was much different than the lives of the rap stars I looked up to. But, it was still the music in my heart. Its stories were the closest I could find to my experience as a young black male in America. I was far from a nerd. Girls loved me. I was tall, handsome and athletic and filled with anger and aggression at the oppressive American system and what I saw as moral weaknesses at certain people I encountered.

In hip-hop music I found like-minded individuals who yearned for change. When I discovered Black on Both Sides by Mos Def, I had found my favorite album and my favorite song, “Umi Says.” Hip-hop music had violence, drugs and misogyny from early on. But, it had redemptive qualities. It told the truth, a truth that wasn’t being told in the mainstream media. It was a serious art form. MCs took care in their lyrics. Producers created hot beats with beautiful melodies. Hip-hop was something to appreciate.

Now the youth listen to artists like Tekashi 69, Lil’ Xan and Lil’ Uzi Vert, etc and think it’s good music. They don’t know any better. I used to be excited to rip off the plastic on a new album from a record store. Now I illegally download the latest trash records onto my laptop so I can DJ at parties for millennials and younger audiences.

I get jealous of earlier eras of music. The 60’s had Motown artists like Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross. The 70’s had Soul Train, Marvin Gaye and the Stylistics. The 80’s had Prince, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. We have Jay-Z, I guess. That’s actually somewhat laughable compared to the names I mentioned.

Call me a cultural critic and I’ll say I’m just observant. What if I told you there was a musical genre and culture that glorified murder, drug dealing, adultery, premarital sex, wasting money, disrespecting women and other crimes. You might say that music must have come from the devil. Currently, hip-hop culture, which highly influences black culture is morally bankrupt. We are in need of change, desperately. As Mos Def said on Black on Both Sides, “We are hip-hop.” We need to change our culture for the good of society and humanity, really.

Don’t get it twisted. There is good hip-hop out there. Artists from the new generation like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar come to mind. It’s just for the most part good artists like them don’t get popularized. A lot of that has to do with record label executives restricting the type of music artists can make. They think gangsta music equals dollars. But the blame doesn’t lie solely with them. It’s on us. People still support the terrible music rappers make these days.

I’m in love with a different woman now. I’ll keep playing H.E.R. songs on repeat until the original love of my life decides to come home.

The Day I fell in Love with Music…

I fell in love with music on my 12th birthday. My dad bought me a boom box as a present. I jammed to the radio nonstop. But, I didn’t have any CDs. It just so happened this classmate Oswald was selling used CD’s the next day at school. I bought Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest from him for $5. I ran straight to my room when I got home, put the CD in and let it play. As the CD started spinning, the robotic female voice on the intro entranced me. The Afrocentric jazzy beats gyrated my spirit. I was hooked. I fell down the rabbit hole. At that moment something in me changed that I can’t quite describe. A new person was born. And, I’ve been spinning records ever since.

Top 10 Favorite Hip-Hop Albums

Rules:

For diversity’s sake, artists can only appear once.

1. Mos Def – Black on Both Sides

2. The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die

3. Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt

4. Nas – Illmatic

5. A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders

6. 2Pac – All Eyez On Me

7. Common – Be

8. Mobb Deep – The Infamous

9. The Roots – How I Got Over

10. J. Cole – 2014 Forest Hills Drive

Honorable mention (in no particular order):

Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Drake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Scarface – The Fix

Kanye West – Graduation

AZ – Doe or Die

Dr. Dre – The Chronic

Wu Tang Clan – Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers)

Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele

Big Pun – Capital Punishment

If you disagree, I DON’T CARE.

What Hip-Hop Is: A Manifesto

Hip-Hop is a rebel yell from the soul. It came from the Bronx, which was literally on fire back in the 70’s with slumlords burning their buildings for insurance money after the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway dropped property values.  People were poor and suffering.  They needed an outlet.  So they raged.

Hip-Hop rages against the machine.  It fights against the system and definitely shouts, “Fuck the police!”  Hip-Hop is a haven for the youth and a way out for those desperately searching for one.  Hip-Hop is the essence of speaking things into existence. We started with a trap house and now we’re living in a mansion.

Hip-Hop is real. It comes from a place of truth. It comes from the heart. Home is where the heart is and, in hip-hop, where you’re from means everything.  Whether you’re from its birthplace in the fiery Bronx, the suburbs of Washington, DC or a trailer park in Alabama, you’ve got to rep your hood.

Hip-Hop is the never ending party and the after party at that. It’s Saturday night at the hottest club with the hottest celebs or a sweat box house party where girls in tight jeans, drinks, smoke and a dope underground DJ are salvation. It’s that moment where the MC drops the music and the whole stadium raps along a capella to his or her hit song.

Hip-Hop is most definitely BARS and dope beats, battles and beef. It’s graffiti on a subway train or breakdancing on cardboard. It’s cutting and scratching on Technics and beat boxing and rapping in the streets.

Hip-Hop is snapbacks and tattoos and fitteds and jerseys. It’s Levi’s and white tees or Yves Saint Lauren and Louis V. It’s sagging your ripped jeans just to show off your Gucci belt or wearing a crisp pair of 501’s around your waist just to keep it thorough. Hip-Hop must be authentically you.

Hip-Hop is all of the above and so much more.  But, above all, it is the voice of the unheard.

One thing hip-hop most definitely is not is Pop. Hip-Hop may be a global phenomenon but, at its core, it will always be DJ Kool Herc yelling over break beats at a house party to pay the rent like that first house party back in the 70’s when the Bronx was on fire.

SZA’s In Ctrl

So, apparently, bougie Black chicks love SZA.  Well, so do big bosses because that album is fire.  SZA set the internet ablaze with her new album Ctrl, which debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart.

I had a startling moment with Ctrl while I was getting dressed in my room one day.  I was entranced by her record “Broken Clocks,” I was playing it on repeat, when I noticed it was 12:34 p.m.   I looked up 1234 in numerology and it said that means change is coming, which is ironic because I had been struggling getting over my ex.  I know.  Sad.  But, this omen gave me hope.  So, if not for anything else, thanks SZA.

Otherwise, throughout the album, her raspy and smooth melodic voice is enchanting.  There’s an edginess and a mysterious, sultry tone and a realness to it as if she were a siren beckoning one to either tremendous pleasure or eternal damnation.  Musically, on Ctrl, I’ll go with the former.

This album is intensely personal and, on the first track, “Supermodel,” SZA brings you right into her insecurities right off the gate.  She lamented her ex-boyfriend “left her lonely for prettier women” and took a trip to Vegas without her on Valentine’s Day.  So, she “banged his homeboy” out of spite.  For shame.  I thought you were a good girl SZA.

On “The Weekend” she romanticizes being the side chick.  And, she expresses her urge to revel in love which she finally found on “Love Galore” opposite the rapping of Travis Scott.

Overall the album paints a concise picture of overcoming insecurities to the triumph of self-esteem.  And demonstrates the power of being vulnerable as a woman.

G.O.A.T.

With his thirteenth studio album, once again, Jay-Z changed the game.  As he did with his previous LP, Magna Carta Holy Grail, Hov set new rules.

4:44 is what grown man hip-hop sounds like.  To hell with ignorance and debauchery.  Jay-Z had an intimate conversation with his listeners.

The most amazing accomplishment of the album was on “The Story of O.J.” which is a critique of the hip-hop community’s fiscal responsibility and an instruction manual for accumulating wealth.  My highlight of the record is “You know what’s more important than throwing money away in the strip club?  Credit.”

This preaching is necessary for our hip-hop community which currently tends to value the appearance of having money over actually having money, which is backwards and ludicrous.  My father is a banker and taught me the value of money at an early age.  Yet, I still couldn’t resist the urge to pop bottles in the club during my youth due to the hip-hop narrative.  Somehow, blowing money equates to balling instead of saving it.  It doesn’t make sense.  I’ve been saying this for years and I’m ecstactic that our rap god, almighty Hov, proclaimed it from his mountain top.

Maybe now Blacks in the hip-hop community will think twice about blowing money and more about making their money grow, which will ultimately increase our stake in the marketplace and the power schematics.  That conversation and that narrative switch was so necessary.  And, it had long been overdue.

Aside from Jay-Z’s references to money and wealth, the most glaring content of the album is undoubtedly him admitting to cheating on Beyoncé on the title track “4:44.”  I don’t have much to say about it except that no matter how rich and powerful he is, as we’ve seen time and time again, a man is still a man.

Jay-Z is a mogul, but in his heart he is still a true artist, which is what made him successful in the first place and part of what sustains him.  My guess is, as an artist, he couldn’t resist the urge to bare his soul on the record.  For every true artist their work is their therapy.  It was probably cathartic for him confess his infidelity.  I’m not judging him for cheating or Beyoncé for staying with him.  Those issues are solely between them as a couple.

In terms of the production on the album, No I.D. totally hit the nail on the head.  His jazzy samples were so pleasing to the ear that they made Jay-Z’s baritone voice flow smoothly on the beat in a remarkably unified fashion.  I delighted in Jay-Z’s decision to forego singles in favor of a purely soulful concise presentation like a soundtrack to the educated and successful Black man’s life.  Jay-Z’s choice to use the legendary No I.D. as the only producer for the album proved to be an excellent decision.

A highlight of 4:44 was Jay-Z’s song “Bam,” which sampled the reggae classic, “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy.  “Bam Bam” is one of the most sampled reggae songs of all time in hip-hop.  Released in 1982, a timeless record, “Bam Bam” still gets played in hip-hop and reggae clubs to this day.  No I.D. and Jay-Z’s use of the sample is my favorite utilization of “Bam Bam” by a hip-hop record thus far.  And, that’s quite a feat because there’s at least 29 other songs that sampled it.  On the track, the looping of the horns jumps out of the speakers with high energy.  It’s as if you can feel the “bam” from creation that Sister Nancy spoke of in her original record.  Jay-Z’s braggadocios baritone let it be known that his and his team’s ambition would not be denied, as it came from within as well as without.

With this album, Jay-Z earned my selection as G.O.A.T., Greatest Rapper Of All Time.  Really, the title should have already been his.  How is it fair to compare his actual body of work to Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.’s hypothetical albums had they been alive?  They’re not.  And the fact is Jay-Z has done it time and time again.  And, this is, yet again, another number one album.

Jay-Z’s ability to set trends and change the narrative and the conversation is unparalleled.  That’s power.  Guys out here quote Jigga lines like the Bible.  Forget hip-hop, who else do you know in any arena with that type of influence?  Not many.  Aside from all the categories of lyrics, flow, delivery, wordplay, hooks, content, beat selection and authenticity in all of which Jay-Z is ranked near the top, if not at the top, it’s that je ne sais quoi that something you can’t describe that makes Jay-Z the G.O.A.T.  Like Jay-Z said a while back, “It’s just different.”

And, with 4:44, Jay-Z completely switched up his content to something more positive and beneficial to the Black community, as opposed to usual trap drug dealing, shoot ’em up, banged your girl records.  It had a jazzy and mature feel.  Yet, it still appealed to the mainstream, which so desperately needed a popular voice in hip-hop saying the right things.  Content-wise mainstream rap music had become so lopsided in terms of negativity.  Jay-Z’s album 4:44 was food for the soul.

With this album, we saw the evolution of Jay-Z from the smooth hustler getting re-upped on his first album in 1996 called Reasonable Doubt to the grown man talking about his legacy with his children in beyond.  It is Jay-Z’s longevity, versatility and growth that has made him the G.O.A.T.  You can argue whether or not he is a better rapper than the Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac.  What you can’t debate is that he outlived them to make better music.