For the second time this year, one of the undisputed legends in the Hip-Hop community made time stand still with an unexpected album announcement. Months after Kendrick’s unforgettable quote tweet that revealed the release date for Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Drake took to his favorite social media platform to announce his seventh studio album — in typical 6 God fashion — just six hours before its release. Certified Lover Boy hadn’t even had a full year to grow on people, but with one Instagram post, the world was on standby for Drake’s mysterious new release.
With no lead single, no video teaser, or any indication as to what fans should expect from his seventh studio effort, the moment felt similar to the days leading up to February 13, 2015, when Drake shocked the world with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. However, once the clock struck midnight and countless people pressed play, it immediately became clear that Drake’s surprise release is not the spiritual successor to his lauded 2015 mixtape after all. To nearly everyone’s awe — and most certainly chagrin for many — Honestly, Nevermind isn’t even a Hip-Hop album.
Drake just released a dance album. It doesn’t even feel real typing that sentence. It feels just as odd reading it back, but alas, this is the direction that one of Hip-Hop’s most decorated and beloved hitmakers chose to go for his follow-up to Certified Lover Boy. Over the next several days, the internet will be inundated with reviews, hot takes, and first-week stats, but before we get to all of that, let us all just take a step back and recognize the full magnitude of this moment in Drake’s career.
Cole Burston/Getty ImagesHonestly, Nevermind puts Drake alongside the likes of some of the most fearless artists in Hip-Hop history. Of course, it’s easy to draw parallels between Drake’s latest move and the erratic creativity of his idol, collaborator, and former foe, Kanye West. After going on one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful Hip-Hop runs of the 2000s with The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation, Ye completely flipped the script on his entire fanbase by releasing his electro-pop and alternative R&B fourth studio album, 808s & Heartbreaks. Five years later, he ditched the lavish Hip-Hop sound of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and dived headfirst into experimental industrial rap on Yeezus. For the record, Lil Wayne — another one of Drake’s all-time favorites — opted to venture into rock with Rebirth, and that creative decision, however ill-advised, was on the heels of Tha Carter III, the 20th fastest-selling US album of all time.
Beyond his idols, a significant number of Drake’s most acclaimed contemporaries have risked alienating their fanbases for the sake of their creative vision at some point or another as well. In 2015, Kendrick Lamar made the brave decision to incorporate jazz, neo-soul, and spoken word into his experimental third studio album, To Pimp A Butterfly. Later that year, Kid Cudi unleashed Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven, his unbelievably out-of-the-box alternative fifth studio album that — apart from André 3000 — most people still despise to this day. As the 2010s progressed, both Childish Gambino and Tyler, The Creator would make similarly daring sonic departures on Awaken, My Love! and Igor, and both of those non-Hip-Hop albums ultimately helped their creators get their first Grammy awards and reach a new level of stardom and commercial success.
On its release day, there’s no point in debating whether Honestly, Nevermind will one day give Drake the reputation as one of Hip-Hop’s greatest innovators à la 808s & Heartbreaks, become a Grammy darling like Awaken, My Love! or Igor, or temporarily make Drake a music industry pariah like Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven. At this moment, Drake has delivered the riskiest album of his decade-spanning career, and it’s arguably bolder than any of the aforementioned albums because of the type of artist that Drake has long been known as.
His loosies and temporally-titled freestyles are almost always incredible reminders of Drake’s creativity, passion for rapping, and ability to push sonic boundaries, but there’s no debating that when it comes to albums, Drake is one of the most formulaic record makers in the music industry. When looking back at the six projects that he has deemed grand enough to elicit the label of “studio album” — Thank Me Later, Take Care, Nothing Was The Same, Views, Scorpion, and Certified Lover Boy — it’s evident that the Grammy winner and his team know how to put together a mix of Hip-Hop, pop, R&B, and a touch of new, experimental sounds that will be easily devoured by the masses. Even Drake’s more experimental projects — that have historically been slapped with labels like “mixtapes” or “playlists” — don’t stray too far from the comfort food formula that has landed him countless Billboard 200 chart-toppers and RIAA plaques. Love it or hate it, Drake’s bulletproof strategy has resulted in a consistent string of albums that will, at the least, make for great background noise and, at best, supply fans with a palatable soundtrack for their lives for the next year or so.
Drake’s surprise seventh studio album marks the end of that formula, and it might even signal the beginning of an era in which Drake chooses unbridled creativity and experimentation over fan expectations. Whether this mystifying moment will ultimately be remembered fondly or scornfully, the release of Honestly, Nevermind definitely is shaping up to be a major turning point in Drake’s career.