Drake’s new house music album continues a recent dilemma for hip-hop chartologists

(June 22, 2022).  People often criticize Drake for trying to be too many things for too many people with his albums.  His recent releases have been called bloated and formulaic with the Canadian superstar rap-singing or sing-rapping in his traditional monotone delivery over a collage of trap beats to the tune of 20-plus songs per album, giving fans of hip-hop, R&B and pop more than enough to satisfy their diverse palettes.

It’s been great for his chart dominance—he has ten No. 1 albums and a gazillion charted Hot 100 songs—as well as satisfying for much of his loyal fan base, which in the age of stanning means a whole lot.  But it does become boring after a while and makes it hard to distinguish between one Drake release and the next. 

So Drizzy did something different this time.  

He gave us studio album No. 7, one that could easily have been dubbed a mixtape, containing just fourteen tracks with a unifying common thread that runs through most of them: pulsating dance beats that blend well and, in some song sequences, make for a pretty long house mix that would keep butts on dance floors for more than a hot minute.

Drake with new album cover inset

Honestly, Nevermind, surprise-released last Friday (June 17), is ironically Drake’s most cohesive set yet, with the rapper mostly singing over a variety of house beats, including Chicago house, Baltimore house and Jersey house.  Released just nine months after Certified Lover Boy, which has been in the top ten nearly all of its existence, the new album should join its immediate predecessors (based on early projections, its expected to sell just north of 200,000 units in its first week) and become Drake’s eleventh consecutive No. 1 album on its first date of eligibility—the Billboard 200 chart dated July 2.

Incorporating atmospheric house beats into a would-be hip-hop album is a departure for the rapper and a major moment for the dance scene, especially when it’s done by the biggest music superstar on the planet.  The exposure that Jersey house alone has been getting thanks to TikTok and other social media surely will be getting a boost thanks to Drake upping the gain.

Give him an A for the concept.

He gets a more modest B-minus for its execution, though.  

While the dance beats are mostly dope (check out his clever use of a funny squeaky-bed loop that weaves in and out of the groove on the song “Current,” or the “$100,000 Pyramid” game show ticking-clock note that pulses throughout “Massive”), Drake has a penchant for being too repetitive, both in the songs’ themes and in the lyrics themselves. 

For instance, Drizzy drones on incessantly about his borderline toxicity with women: bad relationships with women, losing women, questioning women, having multiple women, women with issues, women he wants but doesn’t need and vice versa, women with good p…

He also finds himself locked in several lyrical ruts—perhaps for effect, as is common in dance music, but to an annoying effect no less.

For example, on the first full song (the one with the polygamous video) “Falling Back,” Drake repeats the title line “falling back on me” twenty times in succession near the end, rarely changing its cadence or pitch.  You wonder when is it gonna stop before he even gets halfway through it.

The next track, “Texts Go Green,” gets this same treatment at the end where Drake echos the phrase “you’re dealing with me rough” about eight times in succession.  On “Keeper,” he spares listeners by only burning the phrase “why would I keep you around?” into our psyche a half-dozen times in the opening chorus (it comes up often again later though…aplenty).

Drake seemingly breaks out of this rut towards the end of the album and, aside from those minor Drake-being-Drake moments, his Honestly, Nevermind makes for a pretty good dance music set, one that should have no problem getting lots of play throughout the summer as the festival and club scenes reopen fully for the first time in three years (even if radio doesn’t come along for the ride).

Now the dilemma

It’s that dance/singing element that creates a dilemma for hip-historians who’ve been tracking Drake’s and other rappers’ chart milestones over the years.  

With Honestly, Nevermind nearly certain to top the Billboard 200 next week, it would give Drake his eleventh No. 1 album and put him in some very rare air with other artists who’ve reached that milestone (only the Beatles, Jay-Z, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, and Bruce Springsteen have had eleven or more chart-toppers).

But when it comes to tracking hip-hop albums exclusively, only Jay-Z has had more.  In this blog’s exclusive listing of all the hip-hop albums and artists that have topped the Billboard 200, which is also the blog’s most read article over the past year, Hova stands at the top with 14 No. 1s, followed by a three-way tie between Eminem, Kanye West, and Drake with ten apiece.

Drizzy’s new album would, under normal circumstances, give him eleven No. 1s in the genre-specific rankings, except it can hardly be called a hip-hop album.  Honestly is squarely in the dance category with the Toronto superstar doing far more singing than rapping (only two of its 14 tracks boast the 6 God’s MC’ing skills: “Sticky” and “Jimmy Cooks,” the latter featuring 21 Savage).  The album’s penultimate track “Liability” might also qualify, but even counting that would give Honestly just three rap songs out of fourteen total.

In the blog’s article listing all 244 of the Hip-Hop No. 1 albums to-date, a rule states: “albums that only contain a small percentage of rap or hip-hop songs are excluded (from the recap)—as are R&B or pop albums in which rap artists mainly serve in feature roles.”

Drake doesn’t play a featured role on his own album, of course, but it clearly has just a small percentage of rap music, so the question becomes: if Honestly, Nevermind tops the Billboard 200 next week, in addition to it being Drake’s eleventh, does it also become the 245th hip-hop album to do so? 

Or is it left off that recap altogether?

This argument doesn’t come without precedent.  Several rappers over time have skirted the line between hip-hop and other genres.

Post Malone has famously denounced hip-hop in the past.  His sing-songy cadence has made the decision to include on the running tally his two No. 1 albums, Beerbongs and Bentleys and Hollywood’s Bleeding, a tough one (we erred on the side of inclusion).  The Posty dilemma was further avoided earlier this month when his latest album, Twelve Carat Toothache, failed to top the chart.

Rocker Machine Gun Kelly made leaving his albums off of hip-hop’s running No. 1 tally an easy decision

Another rapper-turned-rocker, Machine Gun Kelly, had a different outcome when he went full alternative-rock on his two No. 1 albums Tickets To My Downfall and Mainstream Sellout.  Before then, he recorded exclusively as a rapper.  

But none of MGK’s rap albums hit No. 1, so aside from the genre-switch being a great career move for the Houston native, it didn’t require a bate-and-switch from this blogger when the decision was made to exclude the two No. 1 rock albums from the running hip-hop tally. 

More recently, djrobblog revisited the status of Bad Bunny, the Puerto Rican rapper/singer whose last two albums went to No. 1.  Previously, the blog didn’t include his first No. 1 on the hip-hop tally because we didn’t consider it “hip-hop” in the truest sense.  

However, upon further review and after listening to Bunny’s two chart-toppers more open-mindedly, the blog revised the list to include both El Último Tour del Mundo and Un Verano Sin Ti, the latter being the most recent “rap” album to top the chart earlier this month.

In the end, none of this may really matter because No. 1 album totals are artists’ accomplishments and Drake will have his eleventh No. 1 no matter how you slice it.  Also, Drake is a much more established hip-hop icon than those other artists and the answer may boil down to whether or not his album gets a pass and is added to hip-hop’s No. 1 list by virtue of its two or three rap tracks and simply because the 6-god is who he is.

But to those hip-hop purists who know better, Honestly, Nevermind is not hip-hop, and they’ll certainly be expecting no less than a footnote or disclaimer if the album is included in the blog’s hip-hop No. 1 tally.  

It will also be interesting to see whether Honestly, Nevermind is included on Billboard’s Top Rap Albums chart next week, where Certified LoverboyTake Care and Scorpion are currently (still) listed.

Drake, 33, will have eleven No. 1 albums if ‘Honestly, Nevermind’ tops the chart next week, making him the youngest artist to reach the milestone

Stay tuned. 

DJRob 

DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.

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