Drake’s new album, ‘For All The Dogs,’ is mid

Written by on October 9, 2023

Superstar rapper/singer Drake. (Photo: Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I love listening to great MCs flowing like water and spitting mind-blowing lyrics. But sometimes, I listen to Drake. He has made some super-catchy monster hits — I still love “Nice For What” and “In My Feelings.” But most of the time, Drake’s rhyming sounds like the talk part of an R&B song. Sometimes I listen to him and think, is he a rapper or a slam poet with music? I grew up loving the slam poetry scene in NYC and it wasn’t uncommon to hear someone get up onstage and bemoan how difficult it was to date and how hard it was to understand the opposite sex and what it was like to feel sad feelings. This is Drake. But hearing a young, broke poet talk about women troubles is entirely different than hearing a superwealthy famous rapper do it over and over on an album called “For All The Dogs,” which is such a childishly bro-ish title. Joe Budden was right — how is he still out here whining about women and how they do him wrong? If someone made an album caricaturing Drake, it would be called something like “For All The Dogs” and it would probably sound like this album.

Budden was also right that the album is mid. In fact, calling it mid is being nice. NME called it “painfully mid,” which is getting closer, but that’s still not enough. At this point, I rate songs by putting them in one of three categories — 1.) I want to never hear that song again 2.) If I heard that again it would be fine, it’s interesting or 3.) I need to hear that again and again. Everything on “For All The Dogs” is a solid 1. I expect Drake to concoct one or two monster hits every album — unquestionable 3s — but this time, all the little Drake lovers’ stockings are empty. Because Drake did not deliver. 

Just so we’re clear, Budden is with the majority of critics. Lots of people have called this album mid or worse — Variety called it, “a deflated slog, a cogent argument for the necessity of a creative reset.” They also said this album, “signals an end of some sort, the work of an artist with little left to say and little reason to say it.” It’s getting panned all over the place. But more than that, if you put out music, you will get critiqued. It’s part of the game. It’s super lame for Drake, one of the biggest artists in music, to fire back at a broadcaster over a bad review and say, well, I’ve got a plane and you don’t so … So what? Budden has the right to his opinion on your art just like anyone else. And Budden made music so he knows what the game is all about. 

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Budden’s right that it feels weird to hear Drake, who’s like 36 and a half or 36 and 11/12ths, going on about the downs of his relationships with women. Drake goes super hard on women on this album, from Rihanna on “Fear of Heights” to Esperanza Spalding on “Away From Home” to women he dated on “Tried Our Best” — “I swear that there’s a list of places that I been with you, I wanna go without you/ Just so I can know what it’s like to be there without havin’ to argue.” Popular music is filled with songs about men crying about women, but Drake is so focused on that topic that it’s strange. NME wrote, “Any boyish charm has abandoned him on ‘For All The Dogs’ though, instead replaced with bitterness, pettiness and finger-pointing at the supposed flaws of women in Drake’s life.”

To see a man of his status — wealthy, famous, attractive — complain about women feels very Men’s Rights-ish. As Pitchfork said, “He’s trying to get the Men’s Rights conference scene to howl back at him.” Pitchfork also wrote that Drake has turned, “from bachelor to vile cretin.” 

Stereogum said, “All the Drake-iest of Drake-isms appear on For All The Dogs: The passive-aggressive toxic-relationship talk, the blatant co-optation of rising rap trends, the boldface-name collaborations, the slip-sliding between rapping and singing, the general triumphal poor-little-rich-kid depression-fog, the long stretches in the deep doldrums, the uncomfortable levels of self-disclosure…” Drake whining about his struggles with women is not fun to listen to. It’s giving I love women but I hate women.

I struggle with Drake because he’s a pretty poor rapper who many millennials think is a great rapper. I like Drake, but saying he’s a great rapper is ludicrous. My first test when evaluating an MC is to follow his flow. I mean the rhythm in the way he rhymes. His rhythmic relationship to the track. Can he become another line of percussion within the beat so that he’s like an additional drum line, which creates that sense of polyrhythm that makes great hip-hop so entrancing? 

Drake really struggles with rhythm. He’s almost never in the pocket in that MC-as-percussive-instrument way that real hip-hop fans crave. Rappers can say almost anything as long as they’re in the pocket so your sense of rhythm is being tickled. That’s not what Drake does, which, to me, makes him like an NBA star who can’t really shoot. I love Draymond Green; he’s a great player, but you’re never going to say he’s the best player in the NBA. After rhythm, I’m listening to lyrics. What are you saying and how are you saying it? Drake’s lyrics are usually nothing special. He’s not super witty. His metaphors are usually corny. He doesn’t have some big point to make. He says catchy things and he’s got a great voice. He’s got charisma. but so much of what I like about MCing is absent from his music.

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Look, I like a lot of Drake songs, but I get triggered when people say he’s a great MC or — get ready for the fingernails on the chalkboard — that Drake is one of the best MCs of today. That’s laughably ludicrous. The core things I judge MCs on are flow, lyrics, beat selection and the quality of their voice. In no imaginable way does Drake belong on a plateau that includes real modern MCs like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Benny the Butcher or A$AP Rocky. From them, you get flows and lyrics that are far more compelling than Drake’s. 

It’s incorrect to think Drake’s sales somehow prove his talent. His massive sales numbers are impressive, but that doesn’t mean he’s a better rapper than someone he’s outselling. If you’re a great rapper who rhymes so quickly it’s not that easy to hear every word, and who talks in a way that’s not meant to be easily understood, like your lyrics require some work to decode, then you’re not going to be a massive pop star like Drake because most consumers won’t understand what you’re saying. Drake is easily understood by soccer moms, prep school girls and white guys who don’t really like rap. He’s palatable and understandable for the non-hip-hop crowd. That’s why he gets into massive sales numbers, and that’s fine, but that doesn’t make him better. 

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of Masters of the Game on theGrioTV. He is also the host and creator of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show “Star Stories with Toure” which you can find at TheGrio.com/starstories. He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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