On Friday, Drake dropped his sixth studio album, Certified Lover Boy. The album had been gestating for about three years, following his 2018 release Scorpion, although the Canadian rapper did Dark Lane Demo Tapes as a sort of preview of Certified Lover Boy last year. It’s everything you’d expect from Drake: braggadocio, multiple guest spots, unwieldy length. Like any artist, Drake is forgoing quality control and restraint for maximalism and world domination. It’s not a bad strategy to hang on to, and it mirrors another recent album release, Donda.
The recently restarted Drake/Kanye feud is mostly just petty and ridiculous, but it was a canny move on both artists’ part: not long after news of Kanye doxxing Drake, and Drake laughing it off on Instagram live, both long-delayed albums suddenly manifested on streaming services. It’s unclear if it was all necessary to bring either back into the spotlight, considering that both pretty much live in the spotlight, but promotion is promotion.
Donda and Certified Lover Boy are like bizarre alternate-reality versions of each other. They both come from two of the biggest pop stars in the world, they both feature a number of the same guest artists, and they both are overlong messes that still manage to hit some high notes. Neither album is perfect, or even halfway to perfect, but they accurately represent not only the mindsets of their respective makers but also the current landscape of pop music today.
So why not compare them? Let’s hone in on some of the finer points to see just where Donda and Certified Lover Boy cross over.
This one is fairly straightforward, at least for Kanye. Donda refers to his mother, Donda West, who died in 2007 as a result of post-operative complications from cosmetic surgery. West’s guilt over the role his fame and visibility played in his mother’s death was a major factor that informed Donda, although just like everything else about the album, the sentiment seems to get lost in Kanye’s maximalist approach to memorializing her.
Certified Lover Boy is more open to interpretation. There are multiple references throughout the album about Drake’s embrace of fatherhood (it’s literally the first line on the album’s first track, ‘Champagne Poetry’), and theories relating to its labour day-adjacent release continue to proliferate. Or maybe it’s just another reference to Drake’s self-assured abilities as a romantic. Take from this what you will.
Oh my, where to start with either of these. For two of the highest-profile and most hotly anticipated albums of the year (of the past few years, honestly), these have to be two of the laziest, most poorly thought out album covers I have ever seen.
Kanye goes the Spinal Tap route by producing an all-black cover. Make the logical connections to mourning if you like, but it just seems like another unfinished element to an album that was always too big to fail. The album had two previously previewed covers that fit with the stark aspect of some of his other covers, but the all-black just feels gimmicky.
Drake went for the opposite: a garish emoji-filled cover created by artist Damien Hirst. I have no other explanation for this other than it being a troll but some have pointed to the album’s nine-month delay as the reason. A world-renowned musician hooks up with a world-renowned artist to prank anybody who might have taken his upcoming album rollout seriously. I guess any publicity is good publicity, but people are clowning on this cover for all the right reasons, and it somehow looks worse in the future than it does right now.
Drake and Kanye are two of the leading forces behind the overstuffed album of the modern-day. I’m not quite sure if it’s to game streaming services into maximizing plays and profit, or a genuine inability for either to pare anything back, but ever since Views was feature-length, things have gotten unwieldy.
Donda takes the crown both in terms of duration and tracklisting, with 27 songs stretched across an ungodly 108 minutes. Drake looks downright economical in comparison, with Certified Lover Boy being kept to 21 songs and 86 minutes. Both collectively bite off more than they can chew, however. Hey Kanye, remember when Ye was under half an hour? Good times.
The crossover between whose on both Donda and Certified Lover Boy is a fascinating dissection of rappers and artists who can freely move between the warring camps. Kid Cudi, Jay-Z, Lil Dirk, Lil Baby, Travis Scott, Young Thug, and Ty Dolla Sign are all able to play both sides.
Otherwise, Donda is notable for having official guests on 25 of the album’s 27 songs, with artists like Roddy Ricch, Jay Electronica, Playboi Carti, Lil Yachty, Chris Brown, and Pop Smoke all contributing. Drake has his fair share of features, including his pals Future, Yebba, Lil Wayne, and Rick Ross, but only about half of the album contains official feature credits.
Of course, Kanye’s specific choice of two collaborators are a lot more problematic: his inclusion of DaBaby and Marilyn Manson. I firmly believe that DaBaby just said some stupid things and went about his “apology” in a truly idiotic way, but he seems ignorant, not dangerous. Marilyn Manson, is something else entirely. Giving him a platform of any kind feels like the single decision that was made with the worst possible taste on Donda.
This is where the debates really turn nebulous. There are fantastic 40-minute albums in both Donda and Certified Lover Boy, but we no longer live in a time where albums come with time restrictions. Besides, Donda and Certified Lover Boy are what they are because of their lack of restraint, not in spite of it. Kanye set out to make a sprawling mammoth tribute to his late mother, the kind of extravagant commemoration usually saved for religious saints. Drake simply can’t muster anything resembling self-control, but if you honestly believe you’re the greatest artist of a generation, why would you hold yourself back.
The themes are where the major divergence comes in these albums. Donda is dark, haunted, and confused. Certified Lover Boy is bombastic, brash, and completely confident. Kanye wrestles with regret and religion, while Drake embraces fatherhood and his freewheeling lifestyle.
Where they overlap is fascinating as well. The best songs on both albums are basically Kid Cudi songs in everything but name. Both albums were set to reveal something profound about their creators, but both stumbled on the way getting there. Both favour an open door policy, and both occasionally get upstaged because of it. The legacies of Donda and Certified Lover Boy will mean in the pantheon of their artist’s respective discographies isn’t quite clear yet, but for both rappers, there’s a massive need to scale back. Trying to go bigger than these two albums is almost impossible.