Drake's album covers, the standards we hold him to and crediting abusers

This week, the boys had some thoughts on raising the bar for Drake, his interesting choice in album covers and how both "Donda" and "CLB" contain credits to abusers.

Welcome back.

If you’ve listened to our podcast, or read previous editions of this newsletter, you know that Certified Lover Boy and Donda have been on our minds *a lot.*

And now that we’ve gotten the chance to sit with 2021’s two biggest albums, we have thoughts.

We’re reviewing Drake’s latest effort on the next 97 Demo podcast, and based on our group chat conversations, it will be… interesting to say the least.

But, we figured we’d give newsletter readers a sneak peak at some of our takes ahead of the episode.

Avery is writing about how both Drake and Kanye credited and platformed known abusers on their respective albums. Which is awful.

Nnamdi thinks we should be holding Drake to a higher bar.

Noah is theorizing whether or not Drake’s album covers are corny or brilliant.

But first…

97 Demo Review: Kanye West, “DONDA” - 7.3/10

Listen to the podcast!

Stop crediting abusers.

Avery, @AveryDalal

In the past two weeks, we’ve seen two of the biggest music stars ever release albums back to back. First was Kanye West’s Donda, followed shortly after by Certified Lover Boy, from Drake.

Both albums have a troubling similarity: they contain or credit artists who have a history of violent abuse. 

Combined, the two albums either showcase or feature the voice of separate artists around 45 times. Yes, some artists are featured on both albums, but if I am counting them combined this is how many I get. 

Drake and Kanye are in unique positions at this point to highlight and showcase artists who are up and coming or are at the top of their game. Why then, on these albums, can you find the voices of Marilyn Manson, Chris Brown and DaBaby as well as a credit to R. Kelly

In the 97 Demo DONDA review, I talked about how a big problem I had with the album was an unearned and forced theme of redemption that showed up on the album, and was none more apparent than on the song, “Jail 2,” which features the aforementioned Manson and DaBaby. 

Manson is currently facing accusations from actress Evan Rachel Wood, among many others, of abuse. 

Wood said, “He started grooming me when I was a teenager and horrifically abused me for years. I was brainwashed and manipulated into submission. I am done living in fear of retaliation, slander, or blackmail. I am here to expose this dangerous man and call out the many industries that have enabled him before he ruins any more lives. I stand with the many victims who will no longer be silent.”

It’s clear that on the album, “Jail” is a song about redemption, and God loving you despite your sins. In the first version of the song, it felt fair, with Kanye and Jay-Z, where they both have publicly made mistakes and publicly have grappled with the effects of it. It feels earned and right that they could be rapping about this. 

In the case of Manson and DaBaby, neither of them have proven they are reformed in any way or have faced repercussions of their actions. The news just came out that DaBaby met with nine HIV organizations, but nothing publicly has come out about that, and the rapper deleting his PR apology does not tell me that he’s learned anything. Not to mention that his verse on the song, “Jail 2,” comes off as whiny and not understanding of his actions. 

Elsewhere on Kanye’s album, Chris Brown can be found on the song “New Again,” and his abuse towards women and homophobia is well documented. He, by the way, is a frequent collaborator of both Kanye and Drake. 

Speaking of Drake, on his new album, there is a song called “TSU,” in which R. Kelly is credited as a writer. 

Drake’s producer, Noah “40” Shabib, explained why R. Kelly is featured on the album, saying, “It has no significance, no lyrics are present, R. Kelly’s voice isn’t even present but if we wanted to use Ron C talking we were forced to license it.” 

This begs the question, why didn’t Drake and his team just get Ron C to re-record what he was saying? Or why didn’t Drake just say the intro himself? 

I recap all of this to say, to anybody that makes music out there that is reading this, or anyone who is thinking of crediting and platforming known abusers, stop. 

All you are doing is perpetuating the cycles of violence that these men are contributing to. Whether it is violence against women, women of color specifically, or those in the LGBTQIA+ community. This isn’t even exclusive to physical abuse, in the case of DaBaby, his words were violent, perpetuated stereotypes long held by men of color and contributed to a false sense of masculinity. 

Holding those accountable who have committed acts of violence is essential to reforming our society and letting individuals know that there is no place for abuse. Drake and Kanye are influential people, and all they did was reward their friends whose violent behavior is clearly tolerable to them.

Y’all hear about this?

When are we going to raise the bar for Drake?

Nnamdi, @NnamEgwuon

Do you want to know what really sets Drake apart from the rest of his peers?

His commercial success. The feats he’s achieved don’t put him in the same ballpark as his contemporaries. They put him alongside music icons.

In March, Drake broke the all-time record for Billboard Hot 100 hits. Granted, it was courtesy of a feature on Lil Yachty’s Oprah’s Bank Account, previous solo record holders include Lil Wayne and Elvis Presley.

Two months later, Drake broke the record for most Billboard Hot 100 Top 10s ever, a record previously held by Madonna and the Beatles. And he did it in a fraction of the time.

Drake is in high company here. 

The one thing that every single one of those musicians have in common is their uncanny ability to master the pop landscape of their time, grow massive audiences and make hits that stick. 

But as the age-old adage goes, popularity doesn’t necessarily mean quality. Or impact.

The musicians in the true upper echelon of generational mainstream success, as Drake now seems to be, cement their musical legacy not by their hits, but by their innovations within their respective genres.

And that is where Drake seems to lack. It’s the ultimate irony of his success. He’s found a lane that works for him, and though he’s managed to perfect it, he never seems to drift from it. Drake can make an amazing “Drake album,” as is Certified Lover Boy. But there doesn't seem to be growth. And when you consider the full scope of Drake’s discography, it leaves you wondering if we’ll ever get more. More experimenting. More refining. More innovating. 

And I’m starting to worry the answer is no.

And considering who Drake is in music at this moment, it’d be a disservice to his legacy to not ask him to strive for more.

Say all you want about Kanye West, but he was a commercial behemoth in addition to an innovative presence in rap. And I want that from Drake. I don’t want to believe that he peaked.

Certified Lover Boy just delivered Drake new streaming and sales records. Many people are content with Drake’s formulaic approach to creating rap hits. And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with Drake playing it safe and reaping the benefits of mastering a lane within rap. But, I want us to demand more from a man who is poised to set records that will remain untouched for decades. I don’t want us to be content with “good” anymore. Or a 21-track album with 5 or 6 good songs. Innovating is risky, expensive and doesn’t always have a huge payout. But that’s the responsibility on your shoulders when you’re at the forefront of an entire industry. And it’s time for Drake to bear that responsibility.

So, let’s raise the bar.

Now on the97 Demo Mix:

Songs from: Indigo De’Souza, FINNEAS, Charli XCX, JPEG Mafia

Drake’s album covers: Corny or Brilliant?

Noah, @noahamcgee_

The first time I saw the cover of Drake’s latest album, Certified Lover Boy, I wondered, is that all? This can’t be it, right? No way this is the cover art? Three rows of pregnant women emojis. Is this the best that Drake has? Turns out it is. (The animated album cover is even creepier to look at).

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Drake’s album covers. Excluding the cover art for Nothing Was The Same, which had incredible cover art from artist Kadir Nelson who also designed the artwork for Michael Jackson's posthumous album, Michael. But other than that, his album covers have been very uninspiring, unimaginative, uncreative and just overall uncool. 

But, there is one thing I failed to consider when it relates to Champagnepapi. He has mastered the viral moment, something that many mainstream artists wish they could do regularly, but Drake has somehow managed to do annually with his album covers alone. They take a life of their own and become bigger than Drake himself. 

For example, the cover of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake’s 2015 mixtape. At first glance, it looks like an album with terrible handwriting as its cover, nothing more, nothing less. But days after its surprise release, the cover art became a viral meme, with people substituting the album title with their own words

The next year in 2016, his album cover hit new heights with the release of Views. It is a picture of the CN Tower in Toronto, with a photoshopped Drake sitting on top of it. Not the most eye-catching cover. But of course, people ran with it and it became a viral moment. People would photoshop a tiny Drake on pretty much anything and photoshop anything on top of the CN Tower. 

The rap star has continued that legacy with Certified Lover Boy. This album cover is possibly the most meme-worthy out of his entire catalog because it’s just a bunch of emojis. You can replace them with pretty much anything and it will be humorous. And like his past album covers, it has taken on a life of its own and become associated with everything in modern human culture. For example, Adobe, a computer software company, that is in no way associated with rap culture, has just memed the cover art for rap’s biggest artist and it was perfect! 

People, including myself, accuse Drake of being corny. But he is also the coolest rapper out right now because he is so in touch with everything that goes on in mainstream culture. Social media, sports, TV shows, streetwear, kicks, jerseys you name it. All of that knowledge is reflected in the rollout of Certified Lover Boy. He knew it would be a viral moment when he put billboards up in cities across the country teasing the features on his album. He knew that by releasing this cover, social media would make fun of it and in turn make a viral meme and now everyone from Crocs to The Maury Show is making their versions of it. 

So instead of harboring on the corniness of Drake’s album covers, maybe we should focus on the brilliance of it. Because after 11 years of releasing studio albums, Drake’s album covers continue to get people talking and memeing.

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Ep. 59: Kanye West - “DONDA” Review

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Coming up on the 97 Demo Podcast: A review of ‘Certified Lover Boy’ by Drake