There are tracks on His lossDrake’s new quasi-collaborative album with 21 Savage, which seems like the natural evolution of those from 2009 so far gone. “Hours in Silence,” to take one, is built around a much livelier Memphis rap song that sounds like it’s being replayed underwater; Drake croons through his web of gossip and self-mythology, where cryptic commentary about ex-finstas and villains ripped from mob movies also weighs on his mind. As he once did with Lil Wayne, he gives in to a considerably more magnetic Southern rapper some time before chanting, over and over, that things are “my fault,” the lines asking for the counterbalance “ of course not” from a former lover who would absolve her, but never comes.
This song’s brief turn from 21 finds the Atlanta rapper affecting something just short of a Drake feel, the danger posed by armed enemies made almost romantic (“They’re looking for myyyy faaaaace”). But to his great detriment, His loss relegates 21 to a supporting role, neutralizing the textural and thematic contrast that sold “Jimmy Cooks,” the beloved “Bound 2” style hedge stuck at the end of Honestly it doesn’t matter, Drake’s otherwise dance-focused album released earlier this year. There are moments of thoughtful writing and bursts of Drake at or near his mischievous best, but in the middle the record becomes inert, making the bits of self-aware misanthropy as tense as they are joyful, as if identity could be focused-grouped.
At its start, His loss hints at a smoother and more natural interaction. After a brief intro from Atlanta’s Young Nudy—whose style of traveling interior monologue would have been a welcome destabilizing force on this album—Drake opens “Rich Flex” with the kind of hook rapping against each other (“21 , can you do something for me?”) which blows past so far gone to call back bands from the ’80s and early ’90s. And throughout, he and 21 are most effective when imitating each other, as 21 do on “Hours in Silence” and Drake on “Major Distribution,” or when they retreat to their opposite stylistic poles: Drake pounces on “BackOutsideBoyz.” as the only man to ever be sad in a nightclub, 21 rapping on “More M’s” that “I was in these rooms / never thought about it”, his trademark language unsettling as ever.
It’s the muddy Drake-dominated middle ground that usually doesn’t work. As the title of the album seems to promise, His loss is littered with bitter barbs and very online for women who betrayed Drake and 21, wronged them in some other undetermined way, or simply drifted into numerical expanse. Both artists, but especially Drake, have streaked songs about those years gone by; what drags His loss is not so much a moral failure as a creative failure, the feeling that Drake is turn a large dial tagged MISOGYNY while staring at an imaginary audience for approval. It’s sometimes colorful (from “On BS”: “I blow half a mil on you hoes, I’m a feminist”), but more often than not it’s boring, even depressing. The group chat jokes sound like they’re coming from Twitter, and punchlines like the already infamous one that trades on rumors that Megan Thee Stallion was lying about being shot by Tory Lanez cast Drake as desperate to provoking, rather than in its ideal mode: someone tortured by the competing impulses of restraint and excessive sharing.
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