Every time Drake jumps on a track with another rapper, there’s an intense wave of tweets tinged with the worst aspects of modern sports discourse. It’s always something along the lines of “Drake or [insert rapper here] got washed,” or “so and so got left behind,” throwing the timeline into a frenzy as people try to figure out who out-performed who.
No collaboration is spared from this “horse race” coverage: Future, Lil Baby, Nicki Minaj, and everyone in between have been tossed into the fray. To his credit, it seems as though that’s the one thing Drake’s not self-conscious about, especially when he decided to link up with 21 Savage in recent years, even as the memes about getting outperformed persisted. The Toronto and Atlanta tandem’s artistic relationship has proved fruitful in spurts: the 2016 loosie “Sneakin’” and Certified Lover Boy’s “Knife Talk” are prime examples of the duo’s inherent chemistry, fueled by a stark contrast in tone and delivery that fits like a puzzle piece.
To this point, their collaborations have felt like a merger of equals. The pounding bass of “Jimmy Cooks” felt as though it was better suited for straight-laced raps than the house music on the rest of Honestly, Nevermind, allowing Drake to keep pace with 21’s intensity. The key to their linkups is the violent macabre of 21 and the theatrical mafioso nature of Drake meet in the middle. Their new album, Her Loss, answers the question of what a full-length album from the two would feel like. What arrives is an uneven, hour-long ride that produces moments of quality powered by an invigorated Drake, but often witnesses 21 take a complimentary role instead of an equal one, making it feel as though there’s money being left on the table.
Before Honestly, Nevermind, the mundanity of Drake’s thematic cliches combined with uninspired intensity caused his rap stretches on projects like Certified Lover Boy and Scorpion to grow stale. Lyrically, it’s more of the same on Her Loss. Too often, sounding “toxic” and resorting to messy gossip to fill his bars causes his words to feel vapid and hollow. Whether it’s a random stray at Serena Williams’ husband on “Middle of the Ocean” (he calls Alexis Ohanian a “groupie”), or a vague, adolescent diss at an unnamed emcee on “BackOutsideBoyz” (“She a ten tryna rap, it’s good on mute”), there’s very little depth to draw from and latch onto. At times, it feels as though the urge to artificially produce that viral moment for Instagram or the Twitter timeline is all he’s willing to give.
But where the subject matter falls short, the peaks sneak out from unity between the rappers’ energies. 21’s presence brings out the best rapping that Drake has delivered in the past decade, as if the OVO rapper feels the external motivation to not phone it in. The opening tandem of “Rich Flex” and “Major Distribution” feel like continuations of “Jimmy Cooks,” with the tracks’ beat switches and a blistering determination from both rappers, especially on the latter.
“Changеd, seem like they may need money for coffins/Cuban girl, a fan of ground coffee,” Drake raps, as his voice sounds murkier and more aggressive, while 21 nimbly strings together puns about One Direction members and Andrew Wiggins with his usual menacing register. “Spin Bout U,” with its 1995 B.G.O.T.I sample, is the best example of the pairing’s chemistry, both excavating their emotions for bars. The raps toe the line between sensitive and corny, as 21 spits about preferring to follow a girl’s Finsta to get to know the real her, while Drake begs the subject of his desires to have sex with him in the middle of his verse.
The shooting percentage on the rest of the album is iffy, with the quality either betrayed by production choices or an imbalance in rapping duties that leaves you wanting more. “Circo Loco” with its sample and chorus interpolation of Daft Punk’s “One More Time,” feels cheap and soulless, while “BackOutsideBoyz” registers as a phoned-in leftover from a YSL album. The six-minute suite “Hours in Silence” starts off strong, where both Drake and 21 settle into a smooth pocket with their melodic deliveries over a beat that sounds like it belongs on Nothing Was The Same. (plus a delightful “turnin’ my bitch up” earworm on the bridge). But it eventually veers off the rails as the pace grinds to a crawl and Drake sings for the rest of the track, lacking the raw intimacy of the melodies that worked on the last album.
Tracks like “Middle of the Ocean” and “3AM on Glenwood,” where Drake and 21 are alone respectively, feature some of the best performances on the project. The former sees Drake rap over AZ’s “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Murder” with an intense focus, giving his luxurious ramblings real weight and power, willing to pull any tricks to give his raps a larger-than-life feeling. Her Loss is clearly a few notches below Drake and Future’s What A Time To Be Alive, the only other Drake collaborative album, as well as 21’s outstanding project with Offset and Metro Boomin, Without Warning. It’s frustrating at times because their previous runs together felt far more natural than these 16 songs. The production and tone suit Drake far more than it does 21, as if the Atlanta rapper was invited to the studio last minute. The result is a half-baked, undercooked tandem effort, where the pairing’s collaboration feels more like Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady on the Toronto Raptors than Shaq and Kobe on the Los Angeles Lakers.
— mandy (@ovoxomandy) November 4, 2022
her loss? more like shits mid
— nielöc (@nullniloc) November 4, 2022